What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“As they are but new beginners, country merchants may depend on being served with any of the above articles at the lowest rates.”
When Daniel McHenry and Son advertised their “Wholesale and Retail store, on the east side of Calvert-street” in Baltimore in the October 16, 1773, edition of the Maryland Journal, they described themselves as “new beginners.” Though they had little experience as merchants and shopkeepers, their advertisement followed a format familiar to readers and consumers. Advertisements for goods and services were so ubiquitous by the 1770s that “new beginners” could craft their own newspaper notices by selecting from among many standard elements that regularly appeared in advertisements throughout the colonies.
McHenry and Son, for instance, emphasized consumer choice. They described their inventory as “a large and various assortment of merchandize.” To demonstrate, they listed more than two dozen items from among their “DRY GOODS,” mostly textiles but also “playing cards, rose and Indian blankets, [and] women’s made up cloaks.” They promised that they stocked “HARD-WARE,” but did not enumerate any of those items. McHenry and Son devoted a separate list to “GROCERIES.” Both lists concluded with “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that customers would discover so much more on the shelves when they visited the store. Additional elements of the advertisement replicated other newspaper notices. McHenry and Son sold goods “suitable to the season.” They also assured prospective customers that they carried new goods rather than hawking leftovers; they acquired their merchandise via “the last vessels from London, Liverpool, Ireland,” and other ports. McHenry and Son also promoted “the quality of their goods” and low prices or “the lowest rates” for their customers, especially “country merchants” looking to stock their own shops.
McHenry and Son sought to take advantage of common advertising strategies to entice customers. At the same time, they attempted to leverage their status as “new beginners,” asking prospective customers to take into account their willingness to set lower prices (for goods of the same quality) compared to merchants with more experience. To establish their reputations and secure their position in the marketplace, McHenry and Son offered the best bargains in hopes that doing so “will induce the public to give them a trial” and then continue purchasing from them in the future. They made their status as “new beginners” a selling point, even as they crafted an advertisement that otherwise testified to their understanding of what mattered most to colonial consumers.