June 3

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

Jun 3 - 6:3:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 3, 1769).

“He will engage to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence.”

When he advertised “ European and East-India GOODS” in the Providence Gazette in early June 1769, Thomas Greene resorted to two of the most popular marketing strategies of the eighteenth century: an appeal to consumer choice and an appeal to price.

He did not elaborate much on the choices he made available to prospective customers, but he did promise a “General and compleat Assortment” to anyone who visited his shop “near the Great Bridge.” Other advertisers sometimes provided extensive lists of their inventory, but many settled for “General and compleat Assortment” or some variation as a means of signaling choice to consumers. Elsewhere in the same issue Jonathan Russell promoted a “compleat Assortment,” Clark and Nightingale described a “new and compleat Assortment,” and Thurber and Cahoon hawked a “large and general Assortment” of imported goods. Greene’s choice of “General and compleat Assortment” did not much distinguish his advertisement from others, but it did demonstrate his awareness that customers expected some sort of assurances about choice or else they were unlikely to patronize his shop.

Greene put more effort into distinguishing his low prices from those of his competitors. Each deployed some form of standardized language to make the point to readers. For Russell, it was “the very cheapest Rate,” while Clark and Nightingale opted for “the lowest rate” and Thurber and Cahoon edged them out with “the very lowest Rates.” In contrast to these general statements, Greene made a firmer commitment to win over prospective customers. He pledged “to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence,” assuring readers that they would not find better deals anywhere else. In effect, Greene offered the eighteenth-century version of a price match guarantee. Prospective customers could do some comparison shopping around town, but in the end Greene vowed that he would match any deals when readers chose to make their purchases from him. In so doing, he stood to increase his share of the market while luring customers away from his competitors.

Greene’s appeal to choice may have been generic, but his appeal to price was not. It was an innovative and crafty way of setting his advertisement apart from others that ran simultaneously in the Providence Gazette.

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 30, 1769).

“A good Assortment of Hard Ware and English Piece Goods.”

Several purveyors of goods imported from England advertised in the May 30, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. In an advertisement that previously appeared earlier in the month, John Appleton promoted “a good Assortment of English Piece Goods, suitable for the Season,” but he also acknowledged that he had a smaller inventory than usual because he “strictly adher[ed] to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.” Other advertisers, however, did not address the nonimportation agreement currently in effect as a means of resisting the duties on certain imported goods levied in the Townshend Acts. Samuel Cottnam and George Deblois, for instance, did not offer any explanation about when they imported the goods listed in their advertisements or how abiding by the boycott affected their businesses.

Cottnam advertised “a Variety of English Goods” and listed half a dozen textiles, “all at the very lowest Prices.” Deblois went into greater detail about the “good Assortment of Hard Ware and English Piece Goods” that he sold for low prices “by Wholesale and Retail.” His list of merchandise extended nearly half a column, repeatedly invoking the words “assortment” and “variety” to suggest even more extensive choices for prospective customers. He carried a “Good Assortment” of fabrics, a “large Assortment” of ribbons, threads, and other accessories, a “great Variety” of buttons, a “large Assortment” of hardware, and a “large Assortment” of cutlery. Where Appleton went out of his way to suggest that his own “good Assortment” did not amount to a “full Assortment” of items that consumers might otherwise expect to find at his shop, Deblois did not adapt the customary litany of goods in his advertisement in response to the nonimportation agreement. Nor did Cottnam, though he was not nearly as verbose in listing his merchandise.

Deblois and Cottnam may not have considered it necessary to comment on how carefully they adhered to the nonimportation agreement in their advertisements because committees of merchants compiled reports and submitted them for publication in the public prints. As long as they played by the rules and were not singled out for breaking the agreement, both may have considered underscoring the selection available at their shops the best marketing strategy, especially if they had previously imported surplus goods and saw nonimportation as an opportunity to rid themselves of merchandise that had occupied space on their shelves for too long. Appleton’s advertisement mobilized political virtues, but advertisements placed by many other merchants and shopkeepers suggest that the nonimportation agreement presented an opportunity to eliminate surplus inventory.

February 4

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

Providence Gazette (February 4, 1769).

“They CAN, DO, and WILL, sell as cheap for Cash as any Merchant or Shop-keeper in New-England.”

In their advertisement in the February 4, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Ebenezer Thompson and Company deployed two of the most popular advertising appeals of the eighteenth century. They promoted price and consumer choice.

The partners informed prospective customers, especially their “COUNTRY FRIENDS” who might not spend enough time in Providence to go from store to store comparison shopping, that “their Goods are always laid in on the very best Terms.” That prompted Thompson and Company to make an extraordinary claim: “they CAN, DO, and WILL, sell as cheap for Cash as any Merchant or Shop-keeper in New-England.” If that was indeed the case, then there was no need to do any comparison shopping! Advertisers usually wrote the copy but left it to compositors to determine the format of their advertisements, but the assertion that Thompson and Company “CAN, DO, and WILL” sell their goods for prices as low as any to be found in New England suggests that they may have provided some instructions about the appearance of their notice.

In addition to price, Thompson and Company also promised an array of choices for their customers. They stocked a “COMPLEAT and UNIVERSAL Assortment of European and East-India GOODS.” Many advertisers would have considered such language sufficient, but Thompson and Company further elaborated. Their inventory consisted of “a GREAT VARIETY of Articles,” so many that they were “too numerous to be comprized within the Limits of an Advertisement.” That was a clever approach, especially considering that many advertisers did attempt to list as many items as possible in their newspaper advertisements. Some notices included dozens, scores, or even hundreds of items, extending as much as an entire column or, in some cases, filling an entire page. Readers certainly would have been familiar with such advertisements, making it all the more compelling that Thompson and Company proclaimed that even making such an attempt was futile.

Although Thompson and Company selected two of the most common advertising appeals of the era, they added an innovative touch to both. They did not merely reiterate the standard language of price and choice found in so many advertisements in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Instead, they started with strategies that advertisers already considered effective and reworked them to make them even more enticing for prospective customers.

February 2

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 2, 1769).

The following large assortment of GOODS.”

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently made appeals to consumer choice when promoting their merchandise in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. In addition to using words like “assortment” and “variety,” they demonstrated the multitude of choices available to customers by listing their inventory. In so doing, they published catalogs of their wares. Their extensive lists encouraged readers to imagine the array of choices they would encounter upon visiting the shops and stores featured in the public prints each week.

In an advertisement that filled half a column in the February 2, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Philip Wilson adopted that marketing strategy. He listed scores of textiles, accessories, and housewares in stock at his shop. His advertisement, however, paled in comparison to the one inserted by Daniel Benezet, John Benezet, and Thomas Bartow. Their list of the “large assortment of GOODS” on hand at their store at the corner of Arch and Second Streets filled an entire column. Given that the entire issue consisted of four pages with three columns each, their advertisement comprised a significant portion of the content of that issue. They commenced their catalog of goods with “BLUE, green, scarlet, claret, cinnamon, drab and copper coloured middling and low priced broadcloths,” making clear from the start that they did not merely carry some broadcloths. Instead, they offered several choices when it came to both color and price. Elsewhere in the advertisement they deployed the words “assortment” and “variety” to describe the choices associated with other merchandise, such as “a large assortment of common, London and Bristol shalloons” and “a great variety of low-priced striped and plain callimancoes.” Just in case their list of hundreds of items did not sufficiently entice prospective customers, they added “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for “etc. etc. etc.”) to the end. Finally, they previewed the arrival of additional merchandise as a means of informing readers that they would continue to offer choices to suit all tastes and budgets. In a nota bene, they proclaimed that they expected “a very large and compleat assortment of spring and summer GOODS” in vessels that would soon arrive from England.

Even if they did not read the advertisement in its entirety, prospective customers could hardly have missed the appeal to consumer choice made by the Benezets and Bartow. Shoppers did not have to accept whatever may have been on the shelves. Instead, they could examine all sorts of different merchandise and make purchases according to their own tastes and desires.

January 27

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

New-London Gazette (January 27, 1769).

“At the Shop in Beach-Street, (lately improved by Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall.)”

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies, Winthrop Saltonstall made an appeal to consumer choice when he composed an advertisement for a “General Assortment of Ship Chandlery and Iron Monger’s Ware.” He did not merely state that he had an extensive inventory, but instead supplied a list that enumerated dozens of items. Among his wares, customers could purchase “Nails of all Sizes,” “Carpenter’s and Cooper’s Compasses,” and “long and short handled Frying Pans and Iron Tea Kettles.” For some categories of merchandise, he further underscored the range of choice: “Variety of Time and other Glasses,” “Augers various Sizes,” and “Variety Chest, Door, Cupboards and Padlocks.” He concluded with both “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century rendition of “etc. etc. etc.) and “With a Variety of Goods,” combining two standard turns of phrase that customarily appeared separately in newspaper advertisements. Saltonstall encouraged prospective customers to image a vast array of goods available ay his shop; in so doing, he suggested that he could cater to their specific needs and tastes.

Yet consumer choice was not the only marketing strategy that Saltonstall deployed. He also made appeals to price and location, though more briefly. He asserted that he sold his wares “on the most reasonable Terms.” He also informed readers of the New-London Gazette that his “Shop in Beach-Street” had been “lately improved by Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall.” He did not elaborate on what kinds of upgrades he and a partner had undertaken, but merely mentioning that they had made changes to the venue served multiple purposes. It alerted prospective customers that Saltonstall attended to their comfort and convenience while shopping. It also enticed readers, especially former customers, to visit the store out of curiosity, to see the improvements even if they did not intend to make any purchases. Such excursions could yield unanticipated sales or prime future purchases. Although Saltonstall’s comments about his venue were brief, they demonstrated a rudimentary understanding of shopping as an experience rather than a chore and the significance customers placed on location.

November 6

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

Nov 6 - 11:3:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (November 3, 1768).
“All the above are fashionable, new, and good.”

Like her male counterparts, shopkeeper Catherine Rathell ran lengthy advertisements that listed all sorts of goods, especially textiles, adornments, apparel, and accessories, that she “Just imported from London” and sold at low prices. In the process of enumerating her inventory, Rathell also offered further descriptions of several items. For instance, she stocked “a large and fashionable assortment of ribands [ribbons], caps, egrets [decorative feathers], plumes, feathers, and fillets [headbands]” as well as “a neat assortment of garnet and paste, hoop, and other rings.” As these examples make clear, Rathell emphasized variety and consumer choice in her marketing efforts. Her customers did not have to be content with a narrow range of options shipped across the Atlantic. Instead, they could choose which items they liked best, even when it came to accessories like fans. Rathell sold “a very neat and genteel assortment of wedding, mourning, second mourning, and other fans.” In addition, visitors to her shop would encounter “many other articles too tedious to insert” in a newspaper advertisement.

Yet choice was not the only appeal this shopkeeper made to prospective customers. After concluding her list she underscored that “all the above goods are fashionable, new, and good.” Quality was important, but when it came to the sorts of wares that Rathell peddled fashion may have been even more important. Her customers did not have to choose from among castoffs that had lingered on shelves and not sold in London. Rathell’s merchandise was “new” as well as “fashionable.” Note that she described her assortment of fans as “genteel.” She offered the most extensive description for “breast flowers, equal in beauty to any ever imported, and so near resemble nature that the nicest eye can hardly distinguish the difference.” Here Rathell combined appeals to quality and fashion into a single description of artificial flowers intended to adorn garments according to the latest styles.

In making appeals to choice, fashion, and quality, Rathell advanced some of the most popular marketing strategies deployed by shopkeepers throughout the colonies in the middle of the eighteenth century. T.H. Breen has argued that colonists from New England to Georgia experienced a standardization of consumer culture in terms of the goods available to them. They also often experienced a standardization of advertising. Although some advertisers did introduce innovations into their marketing efforts, many relied on the most familiar means of promoting their goods to the public. Rathell’s advertisement was more than a mere announcement that she had goods for sale, but she reiterated the sorts of appeals known far and wide in colonial America.

October 11

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

Oct 11 - 10:11:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 11, 1768).

“Many other useful articles, too tedious to mention.”

John Edwards and Company advertised an array of goods in the supplement that accompanied the October 11, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. They emphasized abundance and consumer choice in the language deployed to describe the textiles available at their store on Tradd Street: “A LARGE QUANTITY of exceeding good WHITE PLAINS,” “a large assortment of Irish shirting and sheeting linen,” “a choice quantity of oznaburgs,” “a variety of checks, drawboys, and cotton velvets.” They applied the same appeals to other merchandise as well, including “an assortment of womens and childrens leather [shoes]” and “several very fashionable compleat sets of queens, or cream colour ware.” After listing dozens of items in their inventory, Edwards and Company concluded by underscoring the intertwined themes of abundance and choice, stressing that they carried “many other useful articles, too tedious to enumerate.” Rather than “tedious” perhaps the partners considered it too expensive to purchase additional space to list even more merchandise. They had made their pitch and their final appeal suggested prospective customers would discover an even more extensive selection when visiting their shop.

Other merchants and shopkeepers joined Edwards and Company in making general statements about the vast array of goods they sold. Godfrey and Gadsden, for instance, listed even more items than Edwards and Company yet also stated that carried “many other articles.” Mary King, a milliner, named about two dozen items associated with her trade but also promised “a variety of other articles.” Mansell, Corbett, and Roberts concluded their list-style advertisement with “&c. &c.” Dawson and Walter did the same. Not to be outdone, Alexander Gillon published a list twice as long and with an additional “&c.” at the end: “&c. &c. &c.” Through invoking the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera, these entrepreneurs challenged readers to imagine what else they sold. Choosing not “to enumerate” all of their goods allowed advertisers to incite curiosity among prospective customers. They named enough to get readers thinking about the possibilities without eliminating any options outright. Advertisers offered consumers extensive choices, but when it came to tallying all of those choices in the public prints they often opted for a version of “less is more.” They accounted for just enough to stimulate interest and then promised even more, inviting prospective customers to see for themselves when visiting their shops.

October 2

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

Oct 2 - 9:29:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 29, 1768)

“A large and general assortment of MERCHANDIZE.”

Shopkeepers and merchants frequently made appeals to consumer choice as they encouraged readers of colonial newspapers to become consumers of imported goods. Some considered it sufficient to inform prospective customers that they carried a vast array of merchandise. In the supplement that accompanied the September 29, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, one brief advertisement simply stated, “SAMUEL SANSOM, junior, HAS just imported in the Nancy, Captain Leech, and has for sale at his store, two doors above the City Vendue House, in Front-street, A fresh assortment of merchandize, on reasonable terms, for cash or short credit.” In another equally brief advertisement, Mifflin and Dean promoted “A LARGE Assortment of Fall GOODS, which they are now opening, at their Store.” Both advertisements comprised only five lines, making them some of the shortest that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

In contrast, Jonathan Zane placed one of the longest advertisements: ninety-nine lines detailing the “large and general assortment of MERCHANDIZE” at his shop “at the sign of the Crown, Cannister and Handsaw.” His advertisement extended three-quarters of a column. Zane devoted ninety lines to enumerating the goods he had “Just imported in the last vessels from London and Bristol,” everything from “iron pots, kettles, skillets, Dutch ovens, and scowered cart and waggon boxes” to “common spectacles” to “glovers and common sewing needles.” Even the descriptions of some types of merchandise promised even greater variety, including “a large assortment of Barlow’s and other penknives” and “a very large and neat assortment of brass furniture of various sizes and patterns.” Still, the list was not exhaustive. Zane concluded with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that prospective customers could expect to encounter even more treasures when they visited his shop.

Although Zane took the list-style advertisement to an extreme, publishing an extensive catalog of his inventory, he was not alone in presenting consumers with evidence of the choices he made available to them. Hugh Donnaldson, Robert Strettell Jones, Francis and Tilghman, James Gordon, and other merchants and shopkeepers published their own litanies of goods, though they limited the length of their advertisements to fifteen to thirty lines, plenty of space for listing dozens of items they stocked. Whether enumerating many different kinds of imported goods or simply underscoring “A large ASSORTMENT of GOODS” with no further elaboration, advertisers aimed to stimulate consumer demand by encouraging prospective customers to contemplate the many options available in the colonial marketplace.

September 25

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

Sep 25 - 9:22:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 22, 1768).

“Too many other articles too tedious to mention.”

In an extensive advertisement that comprised almost an entire column in the September 22, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, Samuel Broome and Company emphasized the choices they offered consumers by listing hundreds of items. Organized into two neat columns with only one or two items listed on each line, this list of goods enumerated a vast array of merchandise “imported in the Mercury, from London, and the last vessels from Bristol, Liverpool, and Scotland.”

Visually, the design of the advertisement readily communicated the choices available to prospective customers, but Broome and Company relied on more than just copy filling so much space in the newspaper to make their point. For many items they provided descriptions that further testified to the variety readers could expect to encounter upon visiting their store “near the Merchant’s Coffee-House.” For instance, they stocked “Gilt, silver’d and metal buttons of all sorts.” After listing dozens of textiles, Broome and Company stated that they also stocked “a large assortment of other handsome figur’d stuffs.” They did not merely carry ribbons but instead “Ribbons a complete assortment.” Similarly, they carried “Rose blankets of all sorts.” They also emphasized the range of colors and prints for many of their fabrics and garments, including “Flannels of all colours,” “Tammies, durants, and callimancoes of all colours,” “Silk, hair and scarf twist of all colours,” and “Cotton checks of all sorts[,] Check linen handkerchiefs[, and] Printed blue and red do.” They used an eighteenth-century abbreviation for “ditto” – “do” – as they expanded on the variety of handkerchiefs. They did the same when they listed an assortment of hinges: “H and HL hinges[,] Table do[,] Dovetail do[,] Butts do[, and] Rais’d joint do.”

As if this was not enough to entice potential customers, Broome and Company invoked a familiar refrain to conclude their list: “With too many other articles too tedious to mention.” Despite all of the textiles, housewares, and hardware named in the advertisement, the partners suggested to consumers that they provided only a small preview of the many wares available at their store. Many of their competitors who advertised in the same issue of the New-York Journal also made appeals to consumer choice, but the combination of copy and design deployed by Broome and Company most effectively delivered the message to consumers in the city and its hinterlands.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:25:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 25, 1768).

“A large Assortment of … GOODS.”

Frederick William Geyer advertised regularly in several of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. The shopkeeper deployed a variety of strategies to promote his wares, including appeals to price and consumer choice. Both appeared in a notice he placed in the July 25, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, he announced that he had just imported a “large Assortment of English, India and Scotch Peice [sic] GOODS.” Not only did he proclaim that he offered low prices, he also asserted that he was “determined to sell … as cheap as can be bought in Parts of America.”

Geyer devoted more effort – and space – to developing an appeal to consumer choice. In addition to introducing his merchandise as a “large Assortment,” he reiterated the word “assortment” several times to describe particular kinds of items he sold: “A large assortment of Irish linens,” “An assortment of superfine, middling and low pric’d Broad Cloths,” “An assortment of Ribbons,” “A large assortment of plain and painted Ebony Fans,” “a very pretty assortment of black and coloured paddlestick Fans,” “A pretty assortment of plain & flower’d Lawns,” “A large assortment of white Threads,” “a large and neat Assortment of Mettle Buttons immediately from the Makers,” and “a large Assortment of Glass Necklaces.” These descriptions appeared among an extensive list that included hundreds of items in his inventory, indicating to prospective customers that he carried wares to suit practically any taste or budget.

The space that Geyer’s advertisement occupied on the page also played a role in communicating that message to consumers. It more than filled an entire column on the front page of the July 25 issue, spilling over into a second column. A competitor, William Gale, advertised his own “General Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” in a notice that appeared on the same page, but it looked paltry printed next to Geyer’s advertisement. Indeed, Gale’s entire notice was similar in length to the portion of Geyer’s advertisement that required an additional column. They may have carried similar merchandise, but the space on the page consumed by Geyer’s notice suggested that customers would encounter so much more when they visited his shop on Union Street. Twice the length of any other advertisement in the same issue, Geyer’s notice dominated the page, part of a strategy of overwhelming his competitors by vividly presenting prospective customers with the many choices he made available to them.