May 26

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Journal (May 26, 1773).

“He finds them too numerous to insert in a news-paper, and will therefore furnish the curious with proper catalogues.”

In an advertisement that appeared in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on April 28, 1773, Nicholas Brooks promoted a “LARGE and curious collection of the most modern PRINTS and PICTURES” along with “stationary wares; jewellery, and dry goods.”  He pledged that “an advertisement of the particulars shall be inserted in a future paper.”  While he certainly preferred that prospective customers visit his shop and browse his inventory, Brooks also encouraged readers to look for that “advertisement of the particulars.”  An additional notice in the public prints gave him a second opportunity to entice consumers.

Three weeks later, Brooks placed a lengthy advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal.  A notation at the end, “3w,” indicated that he intended for it to run for three weeks.  Extending two-thirds of a column, the advertisement listed many of the items from the “curious Collection of various GOODS.”  Brooks stocked everything from “Scotch thread and sewing silk” to “silver plated and other tea urns” to “best London made pen-knives and scissors” to “cards of history and geography, with and without Morocco cases.”  He mentioned “general atlases, containing 36 new and correct maps,” as he had done in his previous advertisement, yet he still did not have space for “the particulars” of that “LARGE and curious collection of the most modern PRINTS and PICTURES.”

Instead, the shopkeeper appended a nota bene at the end of his advertisement, advising that since he “has a very large quantity of elegant pictures, maps, copper plate writing, and music &c. he finds them too numerous to insert in a news-paper.”   Instead, he “will therefore furnish the curious with proper catalogues.”  Perhaps Brooks sent those catalogs to “the curious” who requested them, but he likely hoped that some prospective customers would visit his shop to pick up catalogs and, as long as they were there, examine his selection.  Distributing catalogs had the potential to increase foot traffic in his shop.

What form did that catalog have?  Was it a broadside or handbill with a list of pictures, maps, and other items printed on a single sheet that gave prospective customers an opportunity to glimpse all of the items at once?  Or was it a pamphlet with multiple pages that prospective customers had to flip through?  In different ways, both formats testified to the range of choices that Brooks made available.  How were the contents organized?  Did they have headers to help direct prospective customers to items of interest?  Did the catalog include commentary or blurbs about any of the items to aid in marketing them?  These questions remain unanswered since no copy of the catalog has yet been identified.  That Brooks disseminated catalogs, however, testifies to the wider distribution of advertising in early American than what has been cataloged among the holdings of research libraries, historical societies, and private collections.

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