What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To particularize the Articles, in an Advertisements, would be too extensive for Publication in a News-Paper.”
Lengthy advertisements often appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers. Merchants and shopkeepers promoted the choices they made available to customers by listing many of the goods that they stocked. In some cases, those lists were so extensive that they operated as catalogs embedded in newspapers. For instance, George Bartram listed scores of items available at his “Woollen-Drapery and Hosiery WAREHOUSE” in an advertisement that ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle several times in the fall of 1772. It filled half a column.
Not every advertiser, however, adopted that strategy. In their own advertisement in the October 3, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Hugh Roberts and George Roberts declared that they carried “Ironmongery and Brass Wares, In the most extensive Branches” as well as “A LARGE ASSORTMENT OF Copper Ware, India Metal Ware, Jappanned Ware, and Cutlery” at their “WARE-HOUSE” in Philadelphia. Like Bartram, they oversaw a warehouse rather than a shop or store, such a name suggesting vast arrays of merchandise gathered in one place. Unlike Bartram, the Robertses did not go into more detail about their merchandise. Instead, they proclaimed that the “Ironmongery, Brass, and other Wares, at the said Warehouse, consist of so great a Variety of Sets, Patterns, and Workmanship, that, to particularize the Articles, in an Advertisement, would be too extensive for Publication in a News-Paper.” Even an abbreviated list, like the one in Bartram’s advertisement immediately below the Robertses’ advertisement, would have been inadequate.
The Robertses challenged readers to imagine what they might encounter on a visit to their “WARE-HOUSE” to browse their “LARGE ASSORTMENT” and “extensive inventory,” hoping that would be as effective as publishing a lengthy list. This clever strategy may have also been a means of saving money on advertising. After all, advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied. The Robertses’ advertisement accounted for approximately a third as much space as Bartram’s notice. Both strategies did more than merely announce the availability of goods. They made consumer choice a central component of shopping at both warehouses in Philadelphia.