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.

December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:3:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 3, 1767).

“Sundry other Goods … will be sold great Bargains.”

Throughout the eighteenth century, newspaper advertisers most commonly deployed a handful of marketing strategies: appeals to price, quality, gentility, and consumer choice. Many advertisers incorporated several of these appeals into their commercial notices, while others crafted advertisements that emphasized a particular appeal.

Benjamin Booth adopted the latter strategy in his advertisement for several goods he imported from London that appeared in the New-York Journal in the late fall of 1767. He made nods toward quality (“BEST English sail-Cloth”) and consumer choice (a list of merchandise followed with a promise of “sundry other Goods”), but he reiterated appeals to price four times in his advertisement. Like many other advertisements placed by colonial shopkeepers, Booth’s notice included a header and a conclusion with a list of goods between them. Many advertisers inserted an appeal to price in either the header or the conclusion, but Booth attempted to incite demand for his wares by underscoring price in all three segments of his advertisement. He relied on formulaic language used by shopkeepers throughout the colonies in the header, proclaiming that his merchandise “will be sold exceeding cheap.” In the list of his inventory, he singled out “Scotch Carpeting” as “very cheap,” indicating an especially good deal among his already low prices. In the course of a single sentence in the conclusion, Booth promoted his prices twice. He stated that his assortment of goods was “laid in upon very low Terms, and will be sold great Bargains.” Here Booth once again inserted formulaic language that appeared in other advertisements: “very low Terms.” However, he concluded with a relatively novel appeal: “great Bargains.” Although shopkeepers regularly marketed low prices in the 1760s, few invoked the word “bargain” to describe the benefits to consumers. In this regard, Booth took an innovative approach, even as the format and stock phrases for the rest of the advertisement replicated other commercial notices. He borrowed heavily from existing marketing methods, but also added his own modification to attract the attention of prospective customers.