June 29

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

Providence Gazette (June 29, 1771).

Too many to enumerate in the Compass of an Advertisement.”

Edward Thurber stocked a variety of commodities at his store in Providence.  In an advertisement in the June 29, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, he listed several grocery items, including “Loaf and brown Sugar,” “Choice Cyder Vinegar,” “Coffee and Chocolate,” “Figs and Raisins,” and “Flour, Rice.”  He did not attempt, however, to provide even an abbreviated list of the “Good Assortment of HARD WARE and PIECE GOODS” he recently imported from London.  Instead, he proclaimed that they were “too many to enumerate in the Compass of an Advertisement.”  Such a statement challenged readers accustomed to encountering extensive lists of merchandise to imagine the range of choices the merchant offered.  Thurber was no stranger to publishing advertisements that cataloged his wares in detail; like many other colonial merchants and shopkeepers, he deployed lengthy lists as a marketing strategy to attract attention and demonstrate the options he made available to consumers.  In this instance, he experimented with another means of communicating choice without taking up as much space (and incurring as much expense) in the newspaper.

In the same issue of the Providence Gazette, other advertisers promised choices to prospective customers.  Joseph and William Russell, for instance, promoted their “VERY large and neat Assortment of English Goods, Ironmongery, Brasiery, Cutlery, Haberdashery, [and] Stationary.”  They adopted their own less-is-more marketing strategy by listing categories of goods but not any particular items, except for a “great Assortment of Irish Linens, Lawns and Cambricks” in a nota bene.  Lovett and Greene advertised a “NEAT Assortment of English, East and West-India GOODS,” but did not insert further commentary about the range of choices.  Similarly, Nicholas, Joseph, and Moses Brown hawked a “fine Assortment of Hard Ware and other GOODS,” but did not list which items prospective customers could expect to find in their store.  Among the wholesalers and retailers who published notices in that edition of the Providence Gazette, Thurber alone commented on the absence of any sort of catalog of his merchandise, increasing the likelihood that readers would envision a lengthy advertisement and credit him with providing many choices even though they did not see those choices visibly represented on the page.  A clever turn of phrase distinguished Thurber’s advertisement from the several others that ran alongside it.

November 10

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

Nov 10 - 11:10:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 10, 1767).

“A very compleat assortment.”

In the fall of 1767 John Dawson and Company imported a “NEAT cargo of GOODS for the season.” They placed an advertisement in the November 10, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, informing potential customers in Charleston and its hinterland that they carried new merchandise.

Unlike some of their competitors, Dawson and Company did not list any specific items they stocked. In the same issue, John Scott enumerated dozens of items, as did John Edwards and Company. Scott sold everything from “bed blankets” to “black lace” to “gunpowder.” Edwards and Company provided even more elaborate descriptions of their wares, including “striped and floured fashionable silks and ribbons” and “copper-plate and common blue and white chimney tiles.” In a much shorter advertisement, the proprietors of “STOTT’s MANCHESTER WARE-HOUSE” named about a dozen items, such as ribbons, hats, and handkerchiefs. Each of these advertisers made it easy for readers to imagine the wonders they would encounter at their shops.

Dawson and Company, however, relied on a different tactic to incite consumer interest in their merchandise. Rather than presenting potential customers with explicit choices, they stated that the “NEAT cargo of GOODS” they had just imported would be “added to their other stock.” This combination yielded “a very compleat assortment” to satisfy their customers. Dawson and Company did not linger over the particulars; instead, they asserted that “the choice has been carefully attended to,” suggesting that they had devoted special effort in selecting their inventory. Prospective customers, they implied, would find the items they wanted and needed among Dawson and Company’s “very compleat assortment.”

Dawson and Company may not have had the means to make the same investment in advertising as John Scott or John Edwards and Company. In limited space, they advanced an alternate version of the popular appeal to consumer choice, promising that they did indeed stock a vast array of goods even though they did not publish an extensive list in the public prints.