August 13

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 13, 1773).

“Country Traders … will, perhaps, never again have an Opportunity of purchasing so cheap.”

For nearly two years, Ebenezer Bridgham pursued a regional advertising campaign for his “Staffordshire & Liverpool Warehouse, In King-Street, BOSTON.”  In addition to placing notices in newspapers published in Boston, he also advertised in the Essex Gazette (published in Salem), the Providence Gazette, the New-Hampshire Gazette (published in Portsmouth), the Connecticut Courant (published in Hartford), and the New-London Gazette.  He initially ran the same notice in several newspapers, but later his efforts became more sporadic.  An advertisement often appeared in newspapers in one or two towns, but not in all locations that Bridgham attempted to cultivate a clientele among consumers and, especially, retailers.  Overall, he was one of the few advertisers who attempted to serve a regional market by placing notices in newspapers in several towns in the early 1770s.

As fall approached in 1773, he once again advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette, alerting prospective customers to the “very large and full ASSORTMENT of CROCKERY WARE” available at his warehouse.  He stocked “almost every Kind of CHINA, GLASS, DELPH, … and many other Kinds of FLINT WARE” in various colors.  To entice customers, he proclaimed that he set prices “little more than the Sterling Cost.”  In other words, when they made purchases at the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse they did not pay a significant markup for imported goods.  Consumers regularly encountered claims about low prices, so Bridgham demonstrated his motivation to offer bargains.  He announced that he was “Intending soon for GREAT-BRITAIN” and wished to settle accounts before his departure.  That also meant reducing his inventory as much as possible, prompting him to offer good deals to his customers.

Bridgham concluded with a note to “Country Traders” in New Hampshire, informing them that they “would find a very great Advantage in immediately supplying themselves from said Store.”  The merchant asserted that retailers “will, perhaps, never again have an Opportunity of purchasing so cheap.”  With such bargains, they could increase their own sales and generate more revenue as they passed along the savings to their own customers.  Bridgham combined appeals to price and consumer choice in his advertisement in hopes of convincing shopkeepers and others to acquire “CROCKERY WARE” and other items from him rather than other merchants.

July 11

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

Maryland Gazette (July 8, 1773).

“The library will be of real utility to the publick.”

In the summer of 1773, William Aikman, a bookseller and stationer, opened a circulating library in Annapolis.   Like other libraries founded in eighteenth-century America, Aikman’s new venture was a subscription library that required users to pay fees to borrow books.  The bookseller accumulated and lent “12 hundred volumes on the most useful sciences, history, poetry, agriculture, voyages, travels, miscellanies, plays, with all the most approved of novels, magazines and other books of entertainment,” but library patrons had to pay for borrowing privileges.

Aikman provided an overview of those fees, a sliding scale that gave greater bargains to patrons who subscribed for longer periods. The nominal difference in the fees for six months compared to a year seemed designed for Aikman to attract yearly subscribers that he could then promote to prospective subscribers.  Just as newspaper printers boasted about their extensive circulation in their efforts to entice new subscribers and, especially, advertisers, the bookseller likely realized that some colonizers would subscribe to his library for an entire year when they learned how many others had already done so.  The perceived popularity of this service had the potential to spawn even more demand.  Aikman’s pricing structure encouraged patrons to subscribe for longer periods, enhancing the appearance of the popularity of the new venture.

  • 5 shillings per month
  • 12 shillings per quarter
    • saving 3 shillings or 20% compared to the monthly rate
  • 20 shillings for six months
    • saving 4 shillings or 17% compared to the quarterly rate
    • saving 10 shillings or 33% compared to the monthly rate
  • 1 guinea (or 21 shillings) per year
    • saving 19 shillings or 48% compared to the semiannual rate
    • saving 27 shillings or 56% compared to the quarterly rate
    • saving 39 shillings or 65% compared to the monthly rate

The bookseller also offered a nightly rate, three pence, for patrons who desired access to the library but did not wish to pay for an entire month or longer.  Depending on the patron’s perspective, the nightly rate was either a bargain or exorbitant.  It granted entry to those who might not have been able to commit to the monthly, quarterly, semiannual, or annual rates, but at a much higher cost per night.

Whether patrons opted to check out books by the night or purchase subscriptions to borrow two books at a time for a year, Aikman considered his new circulating library an important service “of real utility to the publick.”  He requested “encouragement from the friends of literature” to make it a successful venture that met the needs of the community as well as generating revenues for the proprietor.

February 28

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 25, 1773).

“The last Chance.”

An advertisement in the February 25, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter advised readers of “The last Chance” to purchase a “very large and valuable Assortment Of English and India GOODS” at the store “lately improved by Mr. Ward Nicholas Boylston” on King Street.  Available either wholesale or retail, that inventory was “Suitable to all Seasons – and to all Tastes.”  Even better, the sellers offered the goods at bargain rates, “the neat Sterling Cost without any Charges.”  In other words, they did not mark up the prices.  A decorative border around “The last Chance” helped to direct readers to the marketing pitches in the advertisement.

The advertisers suspected that some prospective customers held off on making purchases because they expected that anything that did not sell would eventually go up for auction.  That meant opportunities to acquire this “valuable Assortment” of goods for even better prices, certainly an attractive proposition for both merchants and shopkeepers who intended to sell whatever they purchased from among this merchandise.  The advertisers included a note that cautioned against such assumptions and encouraged prospective customers to take advantage of the bargains already available to them.  “Those who have witheld buying hitherto,” they asserted, “on a dependence that the above Goods will be finally exposed to Public Sale,” or auction, “where they hoped for better Pennyworths,” or bargains, “are warned to improve the present and last Opportunity, as the Proprietors are determined, if the Sale of them is not finished this Week, to dispose of them otherwise than at Auction.”  In other words, prospective buyers who planned to scoop up even better deals if slow sales prompted the sellers to resort to an auction would be very disappointed … and they would miss out on the current low prices.

The proprietors of the “valuable Assortment” of goods acknowledged that buyers and sellers participated in a dance, each trying to lead by making moves they intended to guide or nudge their partner’s next steps.  When those proprietors realized that some buyers anticipated an auction as their next move, they attempted to twirl them in another direction with a stark warning about stumbling as a result of anticipating that the proprietors planned move in a different direction.  Such candor may have helped some buyers follow the proprietors’ lead and, as a result, maneuver toward a graceful outcome that included the current low prices rather than faltering and falling when the goods did not go to auction.

September 27

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 27, 1771).

“As the Owner is returning immediately to ENGLAND, he will sell them on very low Terms.”

An anonymous advertiser informed readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that he offered great bargains on an assortment of textiles and other imported goods because he planned to sail “Immediately to ENGLAND.”  On September 27, 1771, the advertiser encouraged prospective customers to act quickly because “he will stay but a Fortnight in Town.”  Since he was such a motivated seller, he was willing to part with his goods “on very low Terms,” so retailers and consumers alike would “find it to their Advantage in dealing with him.”  He did not give his name, instead merely stating that he offered the goods for sale “at Mr. Stavers’s Tavern in Portsmouth.”

To whet the appetites of potential buyers, the anonymous advertiser listed many of the items, including an “Assortment of strip’d and flower’d border’d Lawn Handkerchiefs,” a “variety of Gauze Handkerchiefs and flower’d Gauze Aprons,” and an “elegant Assortment of Fashionable Ribbons.”  Reiterating “assortment” and “variety” underscored that his customers benefited from an array of choices in addition to low prices.

At the end of the notice, the advertiser also listed “a few Setts of Doctor HEMET’s Famous Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentifice for the Teeth, with proper Brushes and Directions.”  Readers encountered a more extensive advertisement for that product further down the column, though that advertisement indicated that Hemet, a dentist in England, had appointed William Scott in Boston and W. Bayley in London as local agents for wholesale and retail sales.  The advertiser did not indicate where he acquired Hemet’s dental care products, but he offered consumers in Portsmouth greater convenience than sending away to Scott in Boston.  Scott’s advertisement providing more detail about the products bolstered his own marketing without incurring additional expense.

The anonymous advertiser attempted to capture the attention of readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette with a “limited time only” offer, suggesting that his imminent departure for England put them in a good position to negotiate for low prices.  If that was not enough to entice prospective customers, he also promoted extensive choices and even the convenience of acquiring a product otherwise available only in Boston.  Appeals to price and choice were standard elements of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, but this anonymous advertiser further enhanced those strategies in his efforts to engage customers.

September 20

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

South-Carolina Gazette (September 20, 1770).

“Such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.”

As summer turned to fall in 1770, Brian Cape advertised “a tolerable Assortment of Goods” for sale in the South-Carolina Gazette.  This unusual description, “a tolerable Assortment,” had at least two meanings.  Like their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the merchants of South Carolina enacted nonimportation agreements to protest duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  Cape assured prospective customers that he carried “such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.”  In that sense, his merchandise was “tolerable” according to the standards adopted by the community.  It was also “tolerable” in the sense that it was as extensive as could be expected under the circumstances.  Consumers grew accustomed to vast arrays of choices in the eighteenth century.  Nonimportation agreements constrained those choices, but Cape suggested that the ability and pick and choose had not been eliminated at his shop.

He also vowed that prospective customers would not encounter exorbitant prices for his “tolerable Assortment of Goods” as the result of scarcity caused by the nonimportation agreement.  Indeed, scarcity may have been a relative term since many merchants and shopkeepers seized the opportunity to sell inventory that had lingered on their shelves and in their storerooms.  Cape asserted that he sold his wares “at moderate Prices” that were fair to consumers.  He also included a nota bene that offered a special bargain: “Ten per Cent will be discounted for ready Money.”  In other words, he rewarded customers who paid in cash rather than credit with significant savings.  Credit was one of the primary features that made the consumer revolution possible in the eighteenth century, yet it could be tricky to manage.  Merchants and shopkeepers frequently placed advertisements calling on customers to settle accounts or face legal action.  Cape presented an opportunity to avoid future troubles by paying with “ready Money” from the start.

Compared to modern marketing campaigns, eighteenth-century advertisements have sometimes been dismissed for being so straightforward as to be merely announcements of goods for sale.  That approach underestimates the appeals that advertisers worked into their notices in their attempts to entice customers to visit their shops.  Cape addressed both price and politics in his advertisement in 1770, incorporating issues that resonated with consumers at the time.

September 17

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

Boston-Gazette (September 17, 1770).

“To be sold one third Part cheaper than they can be purchased at any Place in Boston.”

Abigail Davidson was one of several women in Boston who placed newspaper advertisements offering seeds for sale in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Their advertisements usually ran in multiple newspapers starting late in the winter and continuing through the spring.  Most of these female seed sellers, including Davidson, did not place advertisements for seeds or other goods at any other time during the year.  That made Davidson’s advertisement in the September 17, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette all the more notable.

Rather than marketing seeds exclusively, Davidson offered trees, bushes, and “all Sorts of dried Sweet Herbs” as well.  She proclaimed that she had “a large Collection of the best Sorts of young graffed and innoculated English Fruit Trees.”  That work had been done “by William Davidson, deceased.”  Abigail did not comment on her relationship to the deceased William, but expected that prospective customers were familiar with his reputation for horticulture.  She did not previously mention a husband, son, brother, or other male relation in her advertisements, but perhaps a recent death in the family prompted her to assume greater responsibilities that had her placing advertisements in the fall in addition to the spring.  Widows who operated family businesses following the death of their husbands frequently made reference to their departed spouses in their newspaper advertisements as a means of offering reassurance to prospective customers that the quality of their goods and services continued uninterrupted.

Davidson was determined to attract customers and set her prices accordingly.  In a nota bene that concluded her advertisement, she declared that she sold her trees, bushes, and seeds “one third Part cheaper than they can be purchased at any Place in Boston.”  In other words, she offered a deep discount to her customers.  If she feared the family business might lose customers following the death of William, this strategy stood to preserve those relationships as well as entice new customers interested in significant savings.  Davidson combined William’s reputation and bargain prices in her marketing efforts.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1770 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (June 4, 1770).

The following BOOKS.”

Lathrop and Smith made a significant investment in their advertisement that ran in the June 4, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Divided into four narrow columns, it filled the space usually devoted to two of the three columns on the final page of the newspaper.  Overall, it comprised one-sixth of the content (two out of twelve columns) delivered to readers.  Listing just over 250 individual titles, it was a book catalog distribute via alternate means.  Lathrop and Smith could have just as easily arranged for handbills or broadsides to inform prospective customers of the assortment of books they sold at their store in Hartford.

That they stocked these books in a relatively small town did not mean, however, that their customers should expect to pay higher prices.  Lathrop and Smith proclaimed that they sold their books “at as low a rate as they are usually sold inBoston or New-York,” the major urban ports in the region.  Furthermore, they encouraged readers to spot special bargains, asking them to take note that “Those articles marked thus [*] are to be Sold for very little more than the Prime Cost.”  In other words, the local booksellers charged only a small markup on several volumes, including Van Swieten’s Commentaries on Boerhaave’s Aphorisms, Winslow’s Anatomy, Moral Tales, and Vicar of Wakefield.

Lathrop and Smith also aided prospective customers in finding titles of interest by separating them according to genre and inserting headers, such as “DIVINITY,” “LAW,” “PHYSIC, SURGERY, &c.,” “SCHOOL BOOKS,” “HISTORY,” and ‘MISCELLANY.”  Within each category, the books were alphabetized by author or title, with the exception of four titles appended to the books on divinity (though they were also alphabetized).  When it came to writing copy, Lathrop and Smith attempted to make their catalog accessible and easy to navigate.

In general, their advertisement was just as sophisticated as those published by their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  The Connecticut Courant ran much less advertising than newspapers in those port cities, but that did not necessarily mean that advertisers did not adopt the same methods and strategies for appealing to consumers.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

“THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”

At first glance the advertisement did not look much different than others that offered books and pamphlets for sale: “Very lately published in the City of Philadelphia, and to be sold by the Printer hereof, two Discourses by a Layman of the Church of England.”  Hugh Gaine inserted that notice in the May 28, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He offered further description of the “Discourses,” stating that they contemplated “the two following Texts; Matt. xv. 15. 25, Then came she and worshipped him saying, Lord help me; Isaiah xlv. 15. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel the Saviour.”  Gaine likely drew directly from the title page in composing that portion of the advertisement.

That part of the advertisement could have stood alone.  It provided the same amount of information as others placed by printers and booksellers in colonial American newspapers.  It was in the second portion that the printer made a sales pitch that distinguished this particular advertisement from others for books and pamphlets that ran in the same issue and in other newspapers.  Gaine informed prospective readers that “THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”  Purchasing it, he suggested, was an act of charity and an expression of concern for the public good.  If that was not enough to influence readers to buy the pamphlet, then they could consider it an opportunity to practice philanthropy at a bargain.  Gaine asserted that even though the pamphlet sold for eight pence in Philadelphia, he charged only “the small Sum” of four pence for each copy.  He ran a half-price sale.

Though brief, Gaine’s advertisement contained two marketing strategies that the printer expected would resonate with prospective customers: a bargain price and an opportunity to aid the less fortunate.  That he sold the pamphlet also enhanced Gaine’s own reputation, demonstrating that he supported efforts to benefit the prisoners in Philadelphia. Eighteenth-century advertisements should not be dismissed as simple because they were short or lacked striking visual elements.  In a few short sentences, Gaine made a powerful case for purchasing the pamphlet.

December 17

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

Dec 17 - 12:14:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (December 14, 1769).

“The lowest Price of Lemmons.”


John Crosby’s advertisements were a familiar sight for readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in 1769. Every week he advised prospective customers that he sold “Fresh Lemmons” and other citrus fruit “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons.” Yet he did more than merely invite residents of Boston to purchase his wares. His marketing efforts included listing his prices. While other purveyors of consumer goods and services frequently made appeals to low prices, most rarely advertised specific prices for their wares. Crosby made a point of promising low prices and demonstrating to prospective customers that he did indeed offer bargains. For instance, on December 14, 1769, he advertised lemons for “Two Pistareens per dozen,” stating that was “the lowest I can get them to yet.” In addition, he sold “very fine LIMES at Six Shillings per dozen.”

When it came to his lemons, Crosby set the same price regardless of how many customers purchased, from “large and small Quantities down to the single Dozen.” Some eighteenth-century merchandisers allowed for discounts for buying in volume, but Crosby took the opposite approach. He advised prospective customers that they did not need to buy in bulk to get a good deal. He made his best prices available to all customers, provided that they bought at least a dozen. He reiterated that point in order to underscore it: “any one that buys to the Amount of one Dozen, shall have them as cheap in proportion as tho’ they bought a Box.”

Crosby also provided regular reports on the price of lemons at his shop, his own abbreviated price current restricted to a single commodity. He emphasized that service in his advertisements, noting that there “will be a Weekly Account as usual in this Day’s Paper, of the lowest Price of Lemmons.” In so doing, he made his advertisements a regular feature in the newspaper, a feature that consumers could depend on finding as they perused each new edition. In an era when many advertisers inserted the same notice for three or four weeks and then allowed it to expire without publishing a new advertisement, Crosby constructed an ongoing advertising campaign that required constant maintenance. His advertisements were more than an invitation or appeal to prospective customers; in updating the prices of lemons and other citrus fruit each week, Crosby’s advertisements provided a service to consumers in Boston.

December 8

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

Dec 8 - 12:8:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 8, 1767).

“Twenty per Cent cheaper than goods usually imported.”

In a notice that appeared in the advertising supplement that accompanied the December 8, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, William Gowdey relied on appeals to price to move the merchandise he had recently imported and stocked at his shop in Broad Street in Charleston. Before listing his wares he informed potential customers that they would enjoy special bargains when they visited his shop: he set prices “twenty per Cent cheaper” than his competitors usually charged. To demonstrate that was indeed the case, rather than a false promise designed to get customers through the door, Gowdey indicated the prices of several kinds of textiles. Readers could determine for themselves that the shopkeeper offered good deals on “mens worsted hose at 10s. 20s. and 30s. a pair” or “Osnabrughs at 4s. a yard.”

Even when they made appeals to price, most shopkeepers did not list prices in their newspaper advertisements during the colonial era. For instance, in the same issue William Glen and Son advertised many of the same textiles, but made only a general statement that they “will dispose of [their inventory] at a low advance.” Similarly, Thomas Radcliffe, Jr., promoted “very reasonable terms” but did not specify any prices. As a result, readers could not compare prices from one advertisement with those in another. Gowdey’s strategy depended on consumers already possessing some sense of the typical prices for popular goods and then recognizing good deals when they saw them. His assertion that his prices were “twenty per Cent cheaper” primed potential customers to imagine bargains, prompting them to become active participants in his marketing strategy when they saw the prices and confirmed for themselves that he did indeed sell at discounted rates. Such methods incited demand in the colonial era, just as they do today, when consumers who previously did not realize that they needed “mens worsted hose” or other goods in Gowdey’s advertisement decided that they could not pass up bargains once introduced to them.