July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (July 7, 1768).

“A fresh and complete assortment of the following goods, in the greatest variety and newest patterns.”

“WILLIAMS’s STORE, In Broad-Street, New-York, near the Exchange, facing the house of his Excellency Gen. GAGE” was so well know, or so the proprietor hoped to assert, that he did not need to list his full name in an advertisement that appeared in the supplement that accompanied the July 7, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Confident that readers already knew something of “WILLIAMS’s STORE” by reputation, the proprietor focused his efforts on enticing potential customers to visit his establishment.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Williams devoted much of his advertisement to tantalizing consumers with a list of items from among his “fresh and complete assortment” or goods. He specialized in textiles, everything from “printed cottons and chintz for gowns and furnitures” to “Irish linens of all breadths and prices” to “Manchester velvets” to “Scotch oznaburghs.” Yet Williams did more than present a list of fabrics to capture the imagination. He also provided guidance for prospective customers before they even began navigating the list of textiles available at his store. He prompted them to associate terms like “greatest variety” and “newest patterns” with his merchandise. Even as readers imagined some aspects of his inventory, they could not do it justice since that “greatest variety” of “newest patterns” had arrived in New York “in the last ships.” This “fresh and complete assortment” required examination in person.

Williams further extended this invitation with a challenge to prospective customers to assess his prices. He declared that he charged “such prices as will, on inspection, convince all who understand goods, of his ability, and inclination not to be undersold.” He offered such bargains that his prices could not be beat by any of his competitors, but potential customers needed to visit his shop to confirm this themselves. He confidently proclaimed that their inspection of both his prices and his merchandise would satisfy customers.

Williams did not rely solely on an impressive list of imported textiles to coax consumers to visit his store. He presented the list to spark their imaginations, but he also sought to guide their musings with implicit instructions about how to read the list. He primed prospective customers to think about how they could acquire the “newest patterns” at the lowest prices. In the process, he invited readers to visit his store so they could experience even more pleasures – examine more patterns – than their imaginations could conjure.

April 7

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

Apr 7 - 4:7:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1767).

“A Large and neat assortment of GOODS.”

I chose this advertisement because it demonstrates something common in advertisements for consumer goods in eighteenth-century newspapers, a general store offering a wide array of products. Reeves, Wise and Poole stated that they possessed “A Large and neat assortment of GOODS” at their shop. Throughout my research I have encountered many advertisements placed by shopkeepers. They varied in length and detail, but almost always communicated that they offered a wide array of goods. An advertisement placed by Ancrum and Company is another example of such an advertisement below. These merchants either chose to keep their advertisements short or made them short out of necessity (perhaps because space was expensive). Some advertisements, on the other hand, went on for a quarter of a column. Regardless of the length, the content was the same: an effort to get consumers. Newspaper advertisements were an important way to keep a constant flow of customers and revenue in colonial stores.

Apr 7 - 4:7:1767 Ancrum South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 4
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1767).

However, newspapers also relied on advertisements for their profits and longevity. Virtually all newspapers in colonial America included advertisements as a way to make money. This practice was widespread. In fact, the first weekly newspaper, the Boston News-Letter (1704) had an advertisement for advertisements, stating that for the price of “Twelve Pence to Five Shilling and Not to exceed” interested parties could buy space to market goods and services or place other sorts of notices. Not only did advertisements provide printers with consistent sources of income for every advertisement, but a newspaper that contained a good variety of news and advertisements could attract new paying subscribers. Advertising was a key part of newspaper printing. As Jack Lynch states, “The newspaper business and the advertising business got under way together.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

The same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that carried advertisements by Reeves, Wise, and Poole and George Ancrum and Company also carried twelve advertisements concerning slaves. Six offered slaves for sale. Three cautioned against runaways. One described nine captured runaways “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE.” Another listed a variety of consumer goods and a horse confiscated from two runaway slaves, seeking the rightful owner to claim their possessions. The final advertisement described a horse “TAKEN up by a Negro fellow belonging to Mr. Arthur Peronneau.” As far as the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was concerned, this was a relatively small number of advertisements and total column space given over to slavery. That newspaper regularly issued a two-page advertising supplement in order to publish even greater numbers of notices concerning slaves, as well as other sort of advertisements, including those for “A Large and neat assortment of GOODS” that Megan examined today.

Megan makes an important point about the role advertisements played in underwriting the publication of newspapers and, by extension, the dissemination of information in eighteenth-century America. Advertisements place by merchants, like those featured today, as well as similar notices from shopkeepers, artisans, and others who provided consumer goods and services comprised a significant portion of newspaper advertising, yet “subscribers” (in the eighteenth-century sense of “contributors”) submitted a variety of other kinds of announcements. David Waldstreicher has long argued that those other kinds of advertisements included a significant number of advertisements for runaways, both slaves and indentured servants, as well as other notices that facilitated the slave trade and maintained slavery as an institution in early America.

Megan asserts two industries, advertising and newspaper publishing, were inextricably linked almost as soon as the colonists began publishing their first weekly newspaper. In doing so, she acknowledges an important aspect of eighteenth-century print culture. As the Adverts 250 Project has evolved and the companion Slavery Adverts 250 Project developed, one of my aims has been to demonstrate to students the simultaneous significance of advertisements for consumer goods and services and advertisements for slaves. In an era before classifications organized their layout on the page, these two types of advertisements mixed together indiscriminately as they sustained and expanded newspaper publication in the eighteenth century.

Apr 7 - 4:7:1767 Ancrum and Slave South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 4
George Ancrum and Company’s advertisement for consumer goods appeared immediately below an advertisement about a runaway slave in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1767).

April 5

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

Apr 5 - 4:4:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 5, 1767).

“A FRESH and NEW Assortment of English and India Goods.”

I chose this advertisement because it specifically mentioned English products. One thing that has surprised me over the course of my research into consumer culture is how much Americans tried to emulate British society in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. This is interesting because in the 1760s and 1770s colonists had continent-wide movements to reject both British importations and government.

To understand the original interest in British goods, even so close to the American Revolution, what the products represented has to be understood. In 1767 many colonists viewed England, especially London, as very genteel and sophisticated. This idea generated a sizable demand for imported goods. The motivation for owning these goods, however useful they might have been, was not purely functional. Many colonists had a mindset like this: the more English items owned, the more refined (and wealthy) a person was. This assumption went both ways. If a colonist owned an English item, it not only boosted that person’s understanding of their personal socioeconomic status, but also affected their peers’ judgment. In addition to the material possessions, even the use of such these products came under scrutiny of fellow colonists. As the public historians at Colonial Williamsburg explain, “Those who owned the ‘right stuff’ without knowing how to use it properly gave themselves away as imposters.” The social rituals and protocols associated with many goods were complicated, and no one wanted to seem like an uncouth pretender. Overall, if colonists possessed a fashionable product, especially if it was an object associated with genteel society, they could express their real (or perceived) higher status, for just a small fee to a seller like Thompson and Arnold.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Price. Choice. Fashion. These were some of the most common appeals to consumers that appeared in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. As Megan notes, Thompson and Arnold implicitly advanced an appeal to fashion when they announced that they sold imported English goods. In addition, they made more explicit and extensive appeals to price and choice in their advertisement published in the Providence Gazette on April 4, 1767. Many advertisers merely made passing or brief mentions of the prices they charged for vast assortments of imported goods, but Thompson and Arnold made variations on these standard appeals in order to attract potential customers’ attention.

For instance, the shopkeepers did not resort to stating that they stocked an “assortment of goods.” Instead, they informed readers that their inventory included “Goods suitable for Town and Country, Winter and Summer.” In fact, they had such a broad array of merchandise that “to enumerate the Articles would take up too much Room for a News-Paper.” (Despite that protest, Thompson and Arnold previously published list-style advertisements that named dozens of imported goods they sold, and in recent months the Providence Gazette had repeatedly printed full-page advertisements for a variety of local shopkeepers, including Thompson and Arnold.) The partners boldly declared that they carried “as great a Variety of Article as can be found in any one Store in New-England.” Most advertisers promoted an assortment of goods as a means of allowing consumers to make choices that corresponded to their own tastes, choices that allowed them to make statements, as Megan notes, about their character, status, and familiarity with the rituals of gentility. Thompson and Arnold offered a different explanation for why it was significant that they carried such a vast variety of goods: “their Assortment is so large they hope to save their Customers the Trouble of going through the Town to supply themselves with the Necessaries they may want.” In presenting customers with so many goods that they “would take up too much Room” to list them in their advertisement, Thompson and Arnold underscored that they sold convenience in addition to choice, an innovative variation on one of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements.

 

November 23

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

nov-23-11221766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 22, 1766).

“A fresh Assortment of European GOODS, (of the last Importation).”

I chose this advertisement because Benoni Pearce talked about having just received imported goods from Europe that he was ready to sell in the shop he “just opened.” All sorts of “European GOODS” were very popular and valuable among the colonists. Pearce understood that the colonists loved European goods and that they bought them because they wanted to copy the styles popular in London and other parts of England. As David Jaffee explains, “These goods –textiles, furniture, and even table forks – made possible the pursuit of an ideal of refinement.” This was a way for colonists to expand their own culture and share a common consumer identity with people back in England. Pearce did not really list what he was selling; he just said “European GOODS,” expecting he would be able to sell them. He also promised that customers would not be disappointed.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Patrick raises an interesting point about some of the assumptions made by eighteenth-century advertisers. Benoni Pearce did not list any specific merchandise that he stocked. Instead, he offered a general description – “a fresh Assortment of European GOODS, (of the last Importation)” – and trusted that this would entice potential customers.

That’s not to say that this advertisement amounted to nothing more than a mere announcement. Pearce did fold several marketing appeals into his brief commercial notice. He sold his wares “on as reasonable Terms as his Neighbours” to customers who wished to “lay out their Money to the best Advantage.” By noting that his goods were “of the last Importation” he assured potential customers that he was not peddling outdated merchandise that had been pawned off on him by English merchants seeking to clear their warehouses of undesirable goods. Instead, he stock consisted of the latest fashions popular in England and elsewhere in Europe.

Pearce’s advertisement appeared in the same column as the one place by Gideon Young that Patrick examined yesterday. Each was the standard “square” common in many eighteenth-century newspapers, but Young made slightly different decisions about how to fill the space he purchased. He included a short list that named some of his wares before indicated that they were part of a “general assortment of GOODS needless to mention.” Here, again, an advertiser trusted that an appeal to choice and variety, rather than an extensive list of merchandise, was sufficient to attract customers.

This strategy – no list or a short list contained in a standard advertising square – differed significantly from another advertisement that appeared in the same issue of the Providence Gazette, the first full-page advertisement printed in an American newspaper. Resorting to three columns, Joseph and William Russell listed hundreds of items that comprised their “large Assortment of English Goods and Braziery Ware.”

Benoni Pearce, Gideon Young, and Joseph and William Russell all sought to harness the power of advertising to encourage consumer demand and direct potential customers to their respective shops. In the process, however, they adopted different strategies in writing copy and making graphic design decisions. At a glance, many advertisements from the late colonial era look standard and interchangeable, but even the squares published by Pearce and Young contained noticeable differences when consumers consulted them carefully.