What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Mr. SPARHAWK Presents his Compliments to his Female Customers of the Town and Country.”
Although editorials elsewhere in colonial newspapers frequently criticized women for indulging in consumer culture too eagerly, most advertisements for goods and services did not single out female consumers are their intended audience. Instead, shopkeepers usually presented their wares to all prospective customers, realizing that men participated in the consumer revolution and kept up with news fashions just as enthusiastically as women.
On occasion, however, some advertisers did make special appeals to women. Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., pursued both strategies. In most instances, he did not target consumers of either sex, but in an advertisement in the September 22, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette he “Presents his Compliments to his Female Customers of the Town and Country” and “acquaints them he has a most beautiful Assortment of almost every Kind of SILKS for Capuchins [or hooded cloaks], that are of the newest Fashion.” Sparhawk presented shopping as a pleasure for women, though he did not depict it as an excessive or luxurious vice like critics in the editorials. He asserted that he “doubts not he shall be able to please almost every Fancy, if the Ladies will be so obliging … just to call and take a View of them.” He mentioned his location “nearly opposite the Printing-Office,” suggesting that “the Ladies” could visit as they were walking through town and “passing his Store.” Sparhawk portrayed shopping as an experience, recognizing that each trip to his shop would not necessarily result in a sale. “Should he be so unhappy as to fail of pleasing any who may call upon him,” he stated, “he shall hold himself much indebted for the Visit.” Good customer service cultivated and strengthened relationships even when “the Ladies” did not make purchases.
To further entice female customers (and their male counterparts as well), Sparhawk declared that “At the same Store may be seen as great a Variety of English and India GOODS as any in Salem.” He set low prices for cash or “short Credit,” pledging “not to be undersold by any.” In addition, he announced that he had just received word of the “arrival of his Fall Goods at Boston.” Within the next week, he would have new inventory for all of his customers to examine. The first portion of his advertisement made clear that he wanted women to browse his wares, yet he shifted to more general appeals to engage all prospective customers, both men and women, in the second half of his advertisement. Sparhawk apparently believed that targeting female customers exclusively had its limits.