What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“It would be expensive to the Advertiser, and troublesome to the Reader, to mention every Article.”
In the spring of 1772, John Appleton took to the pages of the Essex Gazette to advertise a “full Assortment of English and India GOODS” in stock at his store in Salem. Like many other advertisers who promoted their wares in newspapers throughout the colonies, Appleton sought to demonstrate to prospective customers that he offered them many choices by listing dozens of items. His inventory included many varieties of textiles as well as “ivory and horn Combs,” “a fine assortment of blonde and bone Laces,” “Knee-Garters,” “white and cloth colour’d silk Mitts,” and “linen, silk and cotton Handkerchiefs of all sorts.” He even concluded the catalog of his merchandise with “&c. &c.” In repeating the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera, he suggested that consumers encountered an even greater array of choices at his shop.
Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., apparently intended to publish a similar list in his advertisement in the April 21 edition of the Essex Gazette, but something prevented him from going into detail about the “great Variety and elegant Assortment of English and India GOODS” he “IMPORTED in the last Ships from LONDON.” A note at the end of his advertisement stated that “Particular mist be deferred till next Week.” Sparhawk may have acquired his good so recently that he did not have an opportunity to make a full accounting in time for his advertisement to appear in the Essex Gazette that week. Alternately, the printers ran out of space. A week later, his advertisement filled the first half of the first column on the first page, perhaps a consolation from the printers for not including it in its entirety on April 21.
In contrast to Appleton and Sparhawk, George Deblois chose not to incorporate a catalog of his “English & Hard-ware GOODS” into his advertisement. Even attempting to provide such a list, he asserted, would not do justice to the choices he made available to consumers. “As his Assortment consists of a great Variety of Articles,” Deblois declared, “it would be too tedious to enumerate them in an Advertisement.” John Cabot and Andrew Cabot were even more blunt and probably more honest about their decision to forego a list of merchandise in their advertisement. They carried a “compleat and elegant Assortment of English and India GOODS … consisting of almost every Article that is necessary for the Consumption of the Country.” However, they believed it “would be expensive to the Advertiser” as well as “troublesome to the Reader, to mention every Article.” Instead, they promised that shoppers would not be disappointed at their store. “Let is suffice to say,” the Cabots confided, “that there is a little of every Thing.”
Merchants and shopkeepers frequently made appeals to consumer choice in their newspaper advertisements, but they adopted different strategies for doing so. Many resorted to lengthy lists of goods, but others considered such methods “too tedious” and “troublesome” for readers. In even more rare instances, some even confessed that cataloging their wares in the public prints “would be expensive.” They found other means of suggesting that they offered plenty of choices for consumers.