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.

January 9

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

Jan 9 1770 - 1:9:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 9, 1770).

“BRIAN CAPE … continues the business as usual.”

The end of the decade saw an end to the partnership between shopkeepers Edward Griffith and Brian Cape. Early in 1770, the shopkeepers turned to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to announce that their “co-partnership” had “expired with the last year.” Not only were they going their separate ways, Griffith was retiring or “declining trade.” Their advertisement thanked patrons who had “favoured them with their custom” and called on anyone indebted to the partnership to settle accounts “as soon as convenient.” Since Cape continued in business, the partnership also took the opportunity to encourage existing customers “to transfer” their patronage to him.

Cape placed a separate but related advertisement that reiterated the notice signed by both partners. The compositor of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal conveniently placed them together and even formatted them to look like one continuous advertisement. Perhaps Cape had submitted copy for both advertisements to the printing office simultaneously. Despite the repetition, Cape’s request for “friends of his late co-partnership” to “favour him their custom” benefitted from appearing immediately after the notice signed by both Griffith and Cape that made the same plea. Griffith endorsed his former partner, making clear that even as they concluded their partnership that he recommended Cape to customers who could expect the same level of service from Cape alone.

Customers could also expect the same quality and variety of goods in Cape’s shop that the partners had formerly provided. Cape had purchased “their STOCK OF GOODS.” He offered an overview of this “neat Assortment,” listing a variety of merchandise from “FASHIONABLE broad cloths, with trimmings” to “sets of table and tea china” to “Ben Kenton’s best porter in bottles and barrels” to “a few of the most useful family and plantation medicines.” For those who previously shopped at Griffith and Cape’s “store on the Bay,” he demonstrated that they could continue to acquire the same goods from him “on as good terms as any in town.” At the same time, he published a rich catalog of goods for prospective customers who had not made purchases from Griffith and Cape. Even as he sought to maintain his existing customer base, Cape invited new customers to browse his wares and buy from him rather than any of his competitors in the bustling port of Charleston.