What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“As compleat an Assortment in their Store as any in New-England.”
Nicholas Brown and Company promoted a vast array of imported merchandise in an advertisement in the December 28, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette. Unlike some merchants and shopkeepers, they did not list their inventory, though they did name a few items that they stocked specifically for “the Whale and Cod Fishery.” Still, they made an appeal to consumer choice. Instead of publishing an extensive catalog of goods, they attempted to convince prospective customers that if they did not carry something that no other store or shop in the region stocked it either.
To make that point, they informed readers which ships and captains transported their goods across the Atlantic, advising them that the company had “imported in the Boston-Packet an additional Assortment” of goods to add to “the Variety imported in the Tristram, Capt. Shand, and the Providence, Capt. Gilbert.” As a result, that “Assortment” and “Variety” amounted to “as compleat an Assortment in their Store as any in New-England.” That was a bold claim. The choices that Brown and Company offered to consumers rivaled not only those available from other merchants and shopkeepers in Providence but also those in Newport, Portsmouth, Salem, and even Boston.
Brown and Company expected that naming those ships and their captains would resonate with prospective customers. Many of them would have been aware of when the vessels arrived in port from the shipping news in the Providence Gazette, word of mouth, and other advertisements. Merchants and shopkeepers frequently indicated which ships transported their goods so consumers could confirm that they carried new merchandise as well as compare what they read and heard elsewhere about the cargo of each vessel. In this case, Brown and Company anticipated that the public already had some idea about the types of goods that arrived on the Boston Packet, Tristram, and Providence, so further elaboration may not have been necessary … or as effective as making a grand statement about offering “as compleat an Assortment in their Store as any in New-England.”