February 8

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 8, 1771).

“Parents and Masters may depend upon being as well used by sending their Children and Servants, as if present themselves.”

Edward Emerson took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to advertise “ENGLISH and West India GOODS,” tea, coffee, sugar, spices, and tobacco available at his shop “Opposite the Town House in YORK,” a coastal town in the portion of Massachusetts that became Maine half a century later.  In 1771, fewer than thirty newspapers served the colonies that eventually declared independence.  Accordingly, most newspapers operated on a regional scale.  As a result, the New-Hampshire Gazette, printed in Portsmouth, was the local newspaper for Emerson and other residents of York.

Emerson emphasized both price and customer service in his advertisement, proclaiming that he was “determined to sell” his wares “at the lowest Cash price.”  He also anticipated receiving new inventory “which will be Sold as low as possible.”  When it came to customer service, consumers did not need to visit Emerson’s shops themselves.  Instead, they could send representatives, especially children and servants, to do their shopping without concern that Emerson would dismiss them or treat them unfairly.  “Parents and Masters,” the shopkeeper declared, “may depend upon being as well used by sending their Children and Servants, as if present themselves.”  That was a variation on promises that other shopkeepers sometimes made to prospective customers who preferred to place orders via the post.  Shopkeepers often served consumers who lived at a distance, offering assurances in their advertisements that they would be treated as well as if they visited in person.  This presumably applied to receiving both quality merchandise and the best prices.

Few eighteenth-century newspapers advertisements appeared flashy by today’s standards.  Emerson’s advertisement was not even flashy by the standards of the time, but perhaps that was not necessary in order to be effective.  Emerson sought to establish trust with prospective customers.  He offered low prices.  He allowed his clients to choose among a variety of quantities for most of his wares.  He promised to treat both customers and their representatives well rather than taking advantage of them.  If Emerson regularly perused the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette and other newspapers that circulated in the area, he certainly read advertisements with more sophisticated marketing strategies that he could have adapted for his own business.  Yet he did not.  Perhaps Emerson considered the appeals he did advance sufficient for establishing relationships with consumers seeking trustworthy purveyors of goods.