What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Can be better recounted to any who shall be pleased to make personal Application.”
When Nicholas Tillinghast and William Holroyd built a new shop in the summer of 1773, they placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to inform “their old Customers, and the Public,” about their new location. They provided extensive directions, but did not mention if the Sign of the Elephant continued to adorn their business.
The partners gave a brief overview of their “Assortment” or inventory, stating that it “consists of English Piece Goods, and Hard Ware of various Sorts, West-India Goods, Groceries and Wines of several Sorts.” Some merchants and shopkeepers demonstrated the choices they made available to consumers with lists of merchandise. Joseph Russell and William Russell, two of the most prominent merchants in Providence, did so in the advertisement immediately above Tillinghast and Holroyd’s notice. In addition to declaring that they stocked a “general Assortment of ENGLISH and HARD-WARE GOODS,” they named dozens of items and arranged them into two columns. Tillinghast and Holroyd took a different approach, exclaiming that “the Particulars” of their inventory “would be tedious to enumerate in an Advertisement.” They had deployed that strategy in the past, asserting that “The Articles are too many to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement.”
Instead, Tillinghast and Holroyd advised that their merchandise “can be better recounted to any who shall be pleased to make personal Application.” They invited “old Customers, and the Public” to visit their shop, examine the merchandise, compare items, ask questions, get recommendations, and chat about the “Assortment.” That gave Tillinghast and Holroyd opportunities to cultivate relationships with consumers and, in the process, encourage them to make purchases rather than merely browse. They might even convince shoppers to buy items that they had not even previously considered before making “personal Application” at Tillinghast and Holroyd’s new shop. In their advertisement, the partners emphasized interacting with “their good Customers” rather than treating sales as nothing more than transactions. They apparently believed that many consumers responded better to that personal touch compared to lengthy lists of goods.