July 9

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

Connecticut Courant (July 9, 1771).

“As cheap, and equal in goodness to any sold in New York.”

Purveyors of goods in Hartford and nearby towns frequently assured prospective customers that they had the same opportunities to participate in the marketplace as if they lived in bustling urban ports like Boston and New York.  Such was the case in two advertisements that ran in the July 9, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  In the first, Barzillai Hudson, a tobacconist, announced that he sold the “best pig tail and paper tobacco in small or large quantities as cheap, and equal in goodness to any sold in New York.”  Like other advertisers in smaller towns, Hudson asserted that he offered the same bargains and the same quality that consumers enjoyed in colonial cities.

In another advertisement, Peter Verstille of Weathersfield demonstrated the vast array of choices he made available to consumers.  Divided into two parts, that advertisement extended an entire column.  The first portion listed a “fine assortment of GOODS” imported from London and Bristol and received via Boston and New London.  Verstille enumerated various kinds of textiles, tableware, and housewares before concluding that portion of his notice with “&c. &c. &c.”  Invoking the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera three times underscored consumers could expect to discover many more choices when they visited his shop.  That portion of the advertisement initially ran on its own, but Verstille later updated it with another litany of imported goods that arrived via Boston.  In particular, he listed hardware items that did not appear in the original.  That addition meant that his customers enjoyed one-stop-shopping for their various needs and desires.  Verstille also promoted prices that matched those in Boston and New York.

The pages of the Connecticut Courant did not overflow with advertising for consumer goods and services like newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Ebenezer Watson did not need to publish advertising supplements.  That did not mean, however, that readers of the Connecticut Courant in the countryside did not participate in the vibrant consumer culture taking place in urban ports.  Entrepreneurs like Hudson and Verstille invited and made it possible for even colonists who resided in remote places to participate in the consumer revolution.

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.

June 28

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 28, 1771).

“&c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers frequently published lengthy lists of merchandise, demonstrating the range of choices they made available to consumers.  Even then, they claimed that they did not have enough space in their advertisements to advise prospective customers of all the goods on hand at their stores and shops.  In the June 28, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, for instance, David Cutler and Joseph Cutler proclaimed that they carried a “fresh Assortment of GOODS” and enumerated more than one hundred items.  The Cutlers identified all sorts of textiles as well as various dinnerware, housewares, hardware, and groceries, yet they also promised “many other Articles” that did not appear in their advertisement.

Robert Robertson adopted a similar approach, declaring that he sold “a general Assortment of English and West India GOODS.”  He provided a shorter list than the Cutlers, though it still amounted to dozens of items, and concluded with “&c. &c. &c.”  By repeating the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera, Robertson suggested that his advertisement mentioned only a fraction of his wares.  William Cooper, Jr., refused to be outdone by his competitors.  He composed an even more verbose description of his “neat and genteel Assortment of English and India GOODS” and then listed as many items as the Cutlers did in their notice.  He also ended his advertisement with “&c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c.”  The exaggerated use of “&c.” underscored the vast array of choices awaiting customers at his shop.

Advertisements containing lists of goods with promises of “many other Articles” may have also signaled to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that local merchants and shopkeepers provided them with as many choices in Portsmouth as consumers in Boston and other urban ports enjoyed.  The consumer revolution extended beyond the cities and into towns, villages, and the countryside.  Advertisements like those placed by the Cutlers, Robertson, and Cooper reassured colonists that they had full access to participate in the rituals of consumption.

May 31

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (May 31, 1771).

“A fine ASSORTMENT of ENGLISH GOODS … with a great Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers in towns small and large emphasized consumer choice in their newspaper advertisements.  Prospective customers, they suggested, did not have to settle for goods that did not satisfy their needs, tastes, or budgets.  Instead, they could choose among a broad array of merchandise, many items cataloged in advertisements of varying lengths.

Consider the advertisements for consumer goods in the May 31, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Even the shortest ones incorporated the word “assortment” or “variety.”  George Frost, for instance, informed readers that he stocked “a fresh Assortment of English and West India Goods.”  Similarly, James King hawked “A Variety of Hatters Trimings,” Moses Frazier carried “A Large and compleat Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS,” and John Sparhawk sold “a compleat Assortment of PAPER, London Parchment, and other Stationary.”  William Appleton worked “assortment” and “variety” into his brief advertisement, promoting “A great Variety of Books, Paper, Stationary, Jewellery, Plate, Silver Watches, together with a large Assortment of Shoe Buckles of every Kind.”

Other advertisers demonstrated the choices available at their shops and stores with extensive litanies of good that still did not manage to capture their entire inventory.  Hugh Henderson advertised “A fine ASSORTMENT of ENGLISH GOODS,” listed dozens of items from textiles to accessories to housewares, and promised “a great Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention.”  Thomas Achincloss took the same approach with his “Neat Assortment of Goods,” enumerating dozens of textiles and accessories before declaring he had on hand “many other Articles, too tedious for an Advertisement.”  Joseph started and ended his advertisement with invocations of consumer choice.  He stocked “A large Assortment of 3-4 & Yard-wide Irish Linens” and other textiles and “a large Assortment of Cream color’d China and Glass Ware.”

Stephen Hardy did not suggest the same range of choices when it came to the textiles available at his shop, but he did state that he sold “a good assortment of buttons, bindings, and other trimmings for Taylors.”  Advertisers, however, did not universally deploy the words “assortment” and “variety.”  Thomas Martin placed the longest advertisement in the issue.  Extending three-quarters of a column, it listed many sorts of textiles, housewares, and hardware.  That list included “hinges and files of various sorts” among the hardware, but did not attach that description to any other merchandise.  Instead, he allowed the lengthy list of goods to speak for itself in terms of the choices available to consumers.

None of these advertisements merely announced goods for sale.  Each promised prospective customers choices among the inventory in any shop or store.  Collectively, they also suggested the option of comparing the goods offered in one shop to those at another, further enhancing the ability of consumers to make decisions for themselves about what to purchase.

May 28

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

Essex Gazette (May 28, 1771).

“Any that will favour him with their Custom my depend upon being used as well as they can be at any Store upon the Continent.”

In an advertisement that extended nearly an entire column in the May 28, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette, Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., listed dozens of items available “at his Store next to the Rev. Doctor Whitaker’s Meeting-House.”  Other advertisers also provided lengthy lists of their merchandise, but none of them as long as the description of the “general Assortment of English and India GOODS” that Sparhawk carried.  To further underscore the multitude of choices, he concluded the list with “&c. &c. &c. &c. &c.”  Advertisers frequently inserted the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera once, twice, or even three times to suggest that the amount of space in their advertisements was not sufficient for cataloging all of their wares.  Sparhawk was even more intent on making that point.

He also enhanced his notice with a nota bene directed to wholesalers.  Like many other advertisers, he sold his goods “by Wholesale or Retail.”  Most who did so did not make special overtures to customers who wished to buy in volume.  Sparhawk, on the other hand, advised “all those that deal in the Wholesale Way, that they may be assured that his Goods come from one of the best Houses in LONDON.”  The merchant sought to assure shopkeepers, tailors and milliners who purchased textiles and accessories, and other retailers that he carried goods of the highest quality and most current fashions.  Sparhawk’s customers did not need to fear that their own customers and clients would reject this merchandise.  Furthermore, the merchant aimed to cultivate good relationships with retailers.  He expressed a desire “to sell chiefly by Wholesale,” pledging that “any that will favour him with their Custom my depend upon being used as well as they can be at any Store upon the Continent.”  Sparhawk had many competitors, not only in Salem, but also in nearby Boston.  For the right prices, retailers might have even looked to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and beyond.  The merchant proclaimed that doing so was not necessary, that he provided service that equaled any in the colonies.  In return for their custom, “their Favours shall ever be gratefully acknowledged.”

Sparhawk deployed several strategies to attract customers, especially those who wished to make wholesale purchases with the intention of retailing those items.  He underscored the extensive choices available among his merchandise, both through a lengthy catalog of goods and a hyperbolic expression of just how many items did not fit in his advertisement.  He also made a point of describing his own supplier as “one of the best Houses in LONDON,” bestowing even greater cachet on his merchandise.  In addition to promoting his goods, Sparhawk also promised superior customer service in his efforts to attract retailers as customers.

January 5

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

Providence Gazette (January 5, 1771).

“A variety of other articles too tedious to mention.”

Shopkeepers Ebenezer Thompson and James Arnold placed a lengthy advertisement for a “GOOD assortment of English and India Goods” in the January 5, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The partners deployed a familiar format, a prologue that gave general information about their enterprise followed by an extensive inventory of their merchandise. The prologue listed their names and location, identified which ship had recently delivered their wares, and promised “the very lowest Rates” or prices for their customers.

Some advertisers, like Nicholas Brown and Company, Joseph and William Russell, and Thurber and Cahoon limited their advertisements to the information in the prologue, but Thompson and Arnold reasoned that if they demonstrated the range of choices available to consumers that they would attract more customers.  As a result, their advertisement filled half a column, enumerating dozens of textiles as well as everything from “womens black worsted gloves and mitts” to “horn and ivory combs” to “temple and common spectacles” to “leather bellows.”  Thompson and Arnold focused primarily on garments and trimmings, but also indicated that they stocked housewares and hardware.

After cataloging so many items, the shopkeepers concluded with a note that they carried “a variety of other articles too tedious to mention.”  Like the lengthy list, that was also a marketing strategy frequently employed by advertisers who wished to suggest that they provided such a vast array of choices that it was not possible to name all of them.  This enhanced the invitation for consumers to visit their shops by providing both certainty about some of the merchandise and opportunities for further discovery.  Thompson and Arnold demonstrated that they carried an assortment of goods to satisfy customers, but also allowed for some surprises that could make the experience of shopping even more pleasurable for prospective customers who took the time to examine their wares.

Thompson and Arnold certainly paid more for their advertisement than their competitors did for their notices.  Five that consisted solely of the material from the prologue filled the same amount of space as Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement on its own.  Yet the more extensive advertisement may very well have been worth the investment.  Not only did it give consumers a better sense of the goods that Thompson and Arnold carried, its length made it more visible on the page and suggested the prosperity and competence of the shopkeepers.

November 24

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

Providence Gazette (November 24, 1770).

Many other articles not enumerated.”

Consumer choice was a key element of Nicholas Tillinghast and William Holroyd’s advertisement in the November 24, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The partners informed the public that they stocked “a Variety of Articles, both of wet and dry Goods,” at their new shop at the Sign of the Elephant.  To help prospective buyers imagine the choices available to them, Tillinghast and Holroyd provided a list of some of their many wares, naming everything from “WOOLLEN and linen cloths” to “best French brandy.”  They placed special emphasis on “an assortment of stationary ware,” cataloging “writing paper by the ream, account books of different sizes, ink cake, red and black ink powder, wafer, quills and pens ready made, ink stands, sand boxes, pounce boxes, [and] pencils.”  In addition to all of those accessories, Tillinghast and Holroyd carried “many other articles not enumerated.”  While the list helped prospective customers imagine some of the wares available at the Sign of the Elephant, promising even more items than would fit in the advertisement challenged them to consider what else they might encounter when visiting the shop.

Purveyors of goods often deployed these marketing strategies in newspaper advertisements in the second half of the eighteenth century.  Elsewhere in the same issue of the Providence Gazette, Clark and Nightingale promoted a “COMPLEAT Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” at their store at the Sign of the Fish and Frying Pan.  Other advertisers provided lists of merchandise, though all of them were short in comparison to what appeared in newspapers published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Still, merchants and shopkeepers in Providence attempted to entice prospective customers by presenting them many choices intended to incite demand.  Many advertisers throughout the colonies concluded their lists with one or more “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that consumers would discover many other goods when visiting their shops.  Tillinghast and Holroyd deployed a variation, “many other articles not enumerated,” that delivered the same message.  Along with price and quality, consumer choice was among the most common marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.  Merchants and shopkeepers invited consumers to be make a pastime of shopping by considering the many choices available and contemplating the power they possessed in making selections for themselves.

July 27

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

Jul 27 - 7:27:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 27, 1770).

“TEA … West-India and New-England RUM … handsome colour’d WILTONS.”

Thomas Martin advertised an assortment of goods available at his store in Portsmouth in the July 27, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He listed everything from coffee, tea, and sugar to hammers, nails, and files to handkerchiefs, stockings, and shoes.  His inventory was so extensive that his advertisement filled half a column and still concluded with “&c. &c.” to indicate that he did not have space to include everything consumers could find at his store.  (Colonists used “&c.” as an abbreviation for et cetera.)

Like many other advertisements of the era, Martin’s notice looked like a dense block of text.  To modern readers, this has little visual appeal, but Martin likely focused on other aspects of the advertisement in his efforts to market his wares.  In particular, he may have expected the length to attract the attention of prospective customers.  Few advertisements for consumer goods and services in the New-Hampshire Gazette occupied so much space.  Martin borrowed a strategy from advertisers in larger port cities where newspapers much more often ran such lengthy advertisements for consumer goods.  The long list of goods communicated the variety and consumer choice that Martin offered his customers.  They could acquire all sorts of grocery items, hardware, housewares, clothing, and accessories during a single visit to Martin’s store, combining choice and convenience.

Despite the density of the prose, Martin did deploy a couple of visual elements to aid readers in navigating his advertisement.  At various points he inserted lengthy dashes to break what otherwise would have been an undifferentiated paragraph into smaller pieces.  He also capitalized two words to draw attention to those products:  “West-India and New-England RUM” and “handsome colour’d WILTONS,” a popular kind of carpet.  (“TEA” was also capitalized, but that was standard for the first item listed in advertisements of this sort.)  While Martin did not make elaborate use of typography to lend visual appeal to his advertisement, he did not overlook using it entirely.  His advertisement incorporated more variation than the news articles that appeared elsewhere in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The effectiveness of Martin’s advertisement should be considered in relation to other items, both advertisements and news items, that it ran alongside.

July 11

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

Jul 11 - 7:11:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 11, 1770).

“Any person inclinable to purchase the Whole, may have them on very reasonable Terms.”

John Tunno sold a variety of goods at his “Linen and Manchester Ware-House” on Broad Street in Charleston.  In an advertisement in the July 11, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he advertised a “large and compleat Assortment of Linen-Drapery, Hosiery, Stuffs, and other Goods.”  Those items included “printed Linens and Cottons,” a Quantity of Check Handkerchiefs,” “beautiful Silk Stripes for Mens Waistcoats,” and “neat trimmed Womens Hats and Bonnets.”  He also stocked “sundry Articles that cannot, by reason of the Resolutions,” the nonimportation agreement adopted by merchants and others in South Carolina, “be now imported.”  Tunno emphasized consumer choice in his advertisement, repeatedly using words and phrases like “assortment,” “variety,” and “of all sorts” as well as listed numerous items for prospective customers’ consideration.  That he carried items that respectable merchants no longer imported further enhanced the array of choices.

In addition to promoting a wide selection of merchandise, Tunno offered bargains to those who bought in volume.  Bulk discounts framed his advertisement, appearing at both the beginning and conclusion.  In that regard, he addressed retailers rather than consumers.  Immediately before enumerating his wares, he stated that he adjusted prices “Lower to any Person buying a Quantity.”  He inserted a nota bene at the end, instructing prospective customers to take note that “Any person inclinable to purchase the Whole, may have them on very reasonable Terms.”  Tunno aimed to part with his entire inventory in a single transaction.  For shopkeepers, this was a turnkey opportunity for acquiring inventory.

Tunno deployed two of the most common marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.  He took a standard approach to consumer choice, proclaiming that he offered a variety of goods, demonstrating that was the case with a lengthy list, and promising even more.  He modified the usual approach taken to price; rather than stating that he charged low prices Tunno instead presented conditions for getting a bargain, giving buyers a greater sense of agency in shaping the terms of their transactions.  Tunno offered an opportunity for even better bargains, but only if customers chose to buy “a Quantity” or “the Whole.”  In both cases, inciting consumer imagination through invoking choices or prompting buyers to purchase in volume, Tunno resorted to strategies that encouraged readers to actively engage with his advertisement.

December 20

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

Dec 20 - 12:20:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 20, 1769).

“Will be sold … at their store in Sunbury.”

In December 1769, the partnership of Kelsall and Spalding placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to inform prospective customers that they stocked “A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST INDIA GOODS” recently imported via the Georgia Packet and other vessels. Kelsall and Spalding were not the only merchants and shopkeepers who ran such notices. Samuel Douglass advertised “AN ASSORTMENT OF GOODS.” Reid, Storr, and Reid similarly promoted “A NEAT ASSORTMENT OF GOODS.” Yet Kelsall and Spalding inserted the most extensive advertisement, one designed to showcase the extent of their inventory and demonstrate to consumers the many choices that awaited them “at their store in Sunbury.”

Sunbury! Unlike Douglass and Reid, Storr, and Reid, Kelsall and Spalding did not operate a shop in Savannah. Founded on the Medway River south of Savannah in 1758, Sunbury was an emerging center of commerce in the 1760s and 1770s. That seaport might have eventually rivaled Savannah, but it never recovered from the disruptions of the American Revolution. Today it is remembered as a “lost town” of the colonial era. In the late 1760s, however, it was a bustling community.

That was the narrative that Kelsall and Spalding aimed to bolster in their advertisement. Prospective customers did not need to visit or send to the shops in Savannah to acquire the myriad of consumer goods they desired. Instead, anything they obtain the same merchandise at Kelsall and Spalding’s store in Sunbury. Printed calico fabric? Kelsall and Spalding sold it! Barlow’s best single and doubled bladed penknives? Kelsall and Spalding had them! Tin pudding pans and round sugar boxes? No need to look any further than Kelsall and Spalding’s store in Sunbury! From textiles to housewares to hardware, Kelsall and Spalding did indeed carry “A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT.”

Kelsall and Spalding’s advertisement was notable for its length, extending more than two-thirds of column in the December 20, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The partners may have considered such a complete accounting of their wares imperative in convincing consumers that they offered the same array of merchandise as their counterparts and competitors in Savannah. Readers could hardly peruse Kelsall and Spalding’s advertisement without recognizing the variety of goods on offer.