September 1

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 1, 1773).

“He expects in a general Assortment of other Goods, by the first Ships from London, Liverpool, Bristol, and Glasgow.”

Abraham Usher wanted prospective customers to know that he had new inventory at his store on Front Street in Philadelphia.  In an advertisement that ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on September 1, 1773, the merchant informed readers that he “just imported, in the Charming Nancy, Captain Tyrie, and the Caesar, Captain Miller, from LONDON, a large and general Assortment of Woollens, suitable for the Fall Sale” as well as “an Assortment of Birmingham and Sheffield Wares.”  Merchants and shopkeepers often opened their advertisements with a narrative about which ships transported their merchandise across the Atlantic.  Stephen Collins began his own advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette with “JUST IMPORTED, in the Caesar, Captain Miller, from London.”  This technique allowed consumers to make their own assessments about how recently the sellers acquired their goods, knowing from their own observation, word of mouth, or the entries from the customs house published in the newspaper when vessels arrived in port.

Usher did not merely promote goods that he recently stocked at his store.  He also attempted to create a sense of anticipation around the imminent arrival of new inventory.  He confided that he “expects in a general Assortment of other Goods, by the first Ships from London, Liverpool, Bristol, and Glasgow.”  Customers did not need to wait to glimpse another advertisement in the public prints before visiting Usher’s store.  There was a good chance he would have even more new inventory on hand whenever shopkeepers and others contacted him about acquiring goods for the fall season.  Usher likely hoped that previewing those arrivals would give him an advantage over his competitors.  Most did not advertise merchandise that had not yet arrived, but that was not the case for all of them.  William Miller, who also placed notices about goods “suitable for the approaching season” in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal, similarly stated that he “daily expects a further supply in the first vessels from London, Liverpool and Bristol.”  Given that every newspaper published in Philadelphia at the time came out only once a week, Miller suggested that he could have new wares on the shelves before prospective customers even saw the next edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette or the Pennsylvania Journal.  As other merchants highlighted goods recently added to their inventory, Usher and Miller sought to eclipse their advertisements with promises of even larger selections that would soon be available to customers.

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