March 5

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

Mar 5 - 3:5:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 5, 1768).

“All persons … will not repent coming so far down town.”

Location! Location!! Location!!! Today many businesses promote the convenience associated with their location, but an awareness of the potential effect of location on the success of a business goes back to the colonial era. James Brown and Benoni Pearce, for instance, promoted their shops “On the West Side of the Great-Bridge” in Providence by advising that “their Customers coming from the Westward, may save both Time and Shoe-Leather” by visiting their establishments rather than crossing to the other side of the river to browse the wares sold by merchants and shopkeepers there.

Other entrepreneurs, however, admitted that their location might present certain disadvantages if potential customers considered them too far out of the way. In his advertisement in the March 5, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, Nicholas Cooke announced that he sold “a Quantity of Dry Goods” at his shop “At the lower End of the Town.” Cooke realized that being situated at the outskirts of town was not an ideal location. Attracting customers required making alternate marketing appeals, such as emphasizing consumer choice. In addition to highlighting his “Quantity of Dry Goods,” Cooke also deployed the word “assortment” to describe certain categories of merchandise: “An assortment of Irish linen, checks and stripes” and “a large and neat assortment of glass, stone and earthen ware.” He had so many of those housewares that he proclaimed his inventory was “too large to enumerate.” In addition, he also stocked “many other articles” sure to delight shoppers.

To further justify making the trip to “the lower End of the Town,” Cooke also explained that he offered prices that his competitors could not beat. He stated that because he “imported the above goods directly from England” that he “can afford them as cheap as can be sold by any in this place.” He promised customers a bargain, assuring them that they “will not repent coming so far down town.” Brown and Pearce also attempted to convince certain prospective customers to venture beyond the nearest shops. Those who resided “on the other Side” of the Great Bridge would not “save both Time and Shoe-Leather” by visiting their shops, but they would be “well paid for crossing the Pavements, and be kindly received and well used.”

Eighteenth-century shopkeepers sometimes promoted their location when doing so worked to their advantage, but they did not neglect to acknowledge when they were located in a spot that consumers might not consider ideal. In such instances, they attempted to convince prospective customers that a variety of other benefits outweighed the inconvenience of traveling farther to their shops.

February 24

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

Feb 24 - 2:24:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 24, 1768).

“GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.”

Although brief, Jacob Polock’s advertisement on the front page of the February 24, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette incorporated several appeals intended to incite demand among prospective customers. Polock promoted only three items – tea, mustard, and kettles – but he associated a specific marketing strategy with each, rather than merely announcing that he offered those goods for sale.

First, Polock highlighted his “EXCELLENT GREEN TEA, at 15s. per lb.” Here Polock succinctly made two appeals, first emphasizing the quality of the tea and then providing a price. Most merchants and shopkeepers did not indicate prices for their merchandise in their newspaper advertisements; Polock, on the other hand, let readers know what they could expect to pay in advance of visiting his shop. Tea was such a popular commodity that most prospective customers likely already had a sense of what constituted a good deal, allowing them to assess whether Polock offered a bargain.

By publishing a price, Polock set the maximum amount he would charge for a pound of tea, but that did not preclude him from giving discounts at the time of sale, especially for customers who bought in volume or purchased other items. Any time Polock lowered the price when interacting directly with customers he cultivated a good impression for having extended a better deal than the prices published in the newspaper.

Polock also sold “GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.” Here he offered consumers the ability to make choices. In choosing among the “different qualities” of mustard customers could make selections based on both cost and personal preferences, not unlike modern shoppers picking the type of mustard they most enjoy from a condiments shelf stocked with all kinds of variations.

Finally, Polock carried “IRON TEA KETTLES of Rhode Island manufacture.” In response to deteriorating relations with Britain that resulted from a trade deficit and the imposition of new taxes via the Townshend Act, many colonists resolved to purchase fewer imported goods while simultaneously encouraging domestic manufactures. Merchants and shopkeepers frequently advertised teapots and other accessories imported from England, but Polock instead participated in a rudimentary “Buy American” campaign when he noted that his tea kettles had been produced in the colonies. He challenged consumers to consider the political ramifications associated with the goods they chose to purchase.

Polock’s advertisement might appear rather simple at a glance, but careful consideration reveals that he inserted several appeals intended to resonate with readers and encourage colonists to consume his merchandise.

January 19

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

Jan 19 - 1:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

“A WELL assorted stock of Goods, consisting of most articles imported into this province.”

In their advertisement in the January 19, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Nowell and Lord incorporated many of the most common marketing strategies deployed by merchants and shopkeepers in eighteenth-century America. The format of their advertisement, like the appeals, would have been familiar to readers. Like many of their competitors in Charleston and throughout the colonies, Nowell and Lord composed a list-style advertisement that revealed the range of goods they stocked, from “Irish and Kentish sheeting” to “leather caps” to “blue and white earthen ware.”

In and of itself, this format demonstrated the veracity of one of their appeals to potential customers: consumer choice. The partners reiterated that their patrons could choose the items that matched their needs, desires, tastes, and budgets throughout their advertisement. First, they described their inventory as “A WELL assorted stock of Goods,” proclaiming that it included “most articles imported into this province.” In other words, customers were unlikely to find merchandise in other shops that Nowell and Lord did not also carry. To underscore the variety they offered, the partners promoted their “choice assortment of cutlery” midway through the advertisement. They also made a point of noting that the list they printed in the newspaper was not exhaustive; instead, they also carried “many other articles too tedious to enumerate.” Customers would delight in the number of choices available to them when they visited Nowell and Lord’s shop.

In addition to consumer choice, the shopkeepers also made appeals to price and fashion. For instance, they stressed that they sold their merchandise “remarkably low.” To make their wares even more affordable, they offered “credit to the first of December 1768.” When it came to textiles for making garments, they informed readers that they imported “the newest patterns,” allowing customers to impress their friends and acquaintances by keeping up with current fashions in other parts of the empire.

Nowell and Lord deployed consumer choice as the central marketing strategy in their advertisement, but they supplemented that appeal with assurances about price and fashion. To sell their merchandise, they replicated methods used by countless other advertisers throughout the colonies. That so many merchants and shopkeepers consistently relied on the same strategies testifies to the power they believed those strategies possessed to entice and influence colonial consumers.

November 19

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

Nov 19 - 11:19:1767 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 19, 1767).

“New fancied Goods too tedious to mention.”

Upon importing a “Large Assortment of MILLENARY,” M. Philips turned to the pages of the New-York Journal to advertise her wares. Unlike many other shopkeepers, she did not attempt to incite demand by indicating particular items in her inventory. In the two advertisements immediately above, for instance, Garrat Noel and James Nixon both listed dozens of items they peddled. Compared to Philips, both made a more significant investment in marketing. The newspaper’s colophon indicated that “Advertisements of a moderate Length are inserted for Five shilling, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.” Printer John Holt did not specify what qualified as moderate length, but he almost certainly charged Noel and Nixon more for their notices. Nixon’s advertisement occupied twice as much space as Philips’s relatively brief advertisement. Noel’s was five times as long. Featuring two columns of merchandise, it also involved much more complicated typography (though the advertising rates in the colophon do not indicate any additional fees for such services).

Even though Philips did not attempt to entice potential customers with an extensive list of the items on her shelves, she aimed to convince them that they would encounter an array of choices in her shop. First she stated that she had imported a “Large Assortment.” Then she described her inventory as a “great Variety.” It was such a “great Variety” that the particulars were “too tedious to mention” in an advertisement. In making that claim, Philips resorted to a strategy sometimes deployed by other merchants and shopkeepers, though some placed the phrase at the end of a list as a means of assuring readers that they had not exhaustively enumerated their wares. Prospective customers could still encounter some surprises in their shops.

Philips may have also benefited from the proximity of her advertisement to Noel’s. At the top of the column, Noel announced that he had imported goods from London via Captain Lawrence and the New-York. Philips also reported that she had “just imported” her millenary supplies and fancy goods “in the Ship New-York, Captain Lawrence, from London.” As a result, some readers may have associated the types of goods listed by Noel with the “newest and genteelest” merchandise in Philips’s shop. Noel’s advertisement primed readers to think of particular items. Philips then allowed them to conjure images of those and other “fancied Goods” at her store on Smith Street.

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.

October 23

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

Oct 23 - 10:23:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 23, 1767).

Superfine, scarlet, blue, green, light colour’d and pompadour Broad Cloths …”

In the fall of 1767, Moses Wingate imported and sold a vast assortment of goods “At his Store on Spring Hill” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In a newspaper advertisement intended to entice potential customers, he adopted one of the most common marketing strategies of the eighteenth century: listing his merchandise. Very few entrepreneurs, mostly booksellers, distributed catalogs in eighteenth-century America; however, many treated newspaper advertisements as surrogates for publishing separate catalogs. Wingate’s advertisement filled half a column, with most of the space devoted to enumerating his inventory. Other merchants and shopkeepers sometimes published advertisements that occupied an entire column and, on occasion, spilled over into the next. List style advertisements for consumer goods filled the pages of American newspapers in the eighteenth century. These lists implicitly communicated an appeal to consumer choice. Wingate and others informed readers that they did not have to accept whatever happened to be on their shelves. Instead, merchants and shopkeepers stocked such varieties of goods that customers could exercise their own taste and judgment – assert their own independence – by choosing the goods that most appealed to them.

To that end, Wingate named more than seventy-five distinct items readers could expect to find among his inventory. In some cases, these were categories of goods, such as buttons or penknives, suggesting even variety. In one instance, he specified further choices: “A variety of Ribbons.” Like many of his competitors and counterparts, he also deployed “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera), inserting it once in the middle of the advertisement to indicate he sold an even broader array of imported textiles than listed there. He also concluded his advertisement with “&c. &c. &c. &c.” to underscore to potential customers that they would find much, much more when they visited his store. Wingate provided an extensive list of imported goods to encourage potential customers to imagine his inventory, to imagine touching, sorting through, comparing, and selecting from among his wares. He indicated readers could find even more imported goods at his store as a means of further inflaming their curiosity. Wingate could have placed a much shorter advertisement that simply announced that he sold a variety of goods imported from London, but he made an investment in a lengthier list style advertisement because he believed that perusing its contents would incite consumer demand.

September 28

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

Sep 28 - 9:28:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (September 28, 1767).

“All kind of Hanging Paper, of the newest Patterns.”

Prior to the Revolution, many Americans decorated their homes with wallpaper (known in the eighteenth century as “Hanging Paper” or paper hangings) imported from Great Britain. That trade temporarily ceased during the war, but Americans resumed acquiring wallpaper (and many other consumer goods) from England almost as soon as the Treaty of Paris brought an end to hostilities in 1783. At that time, the new nation set its own trade policies and, no longer inhibited by restrictions put in place by Parliament, increased the flow of goods from other European nation-states. Some advertisers promoted French paper hangings as alternatives to any from Britain in the 1780s and 1790s.

Yet importers did not provide Americans sole access to wallpaper, either before or after the Revolution. Domestic manufacturers incorporated “Buy American” appeals into their marketing efforts in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Some even lobbied for tariffs on imported paper hangings in order to bend competition in the marketplace to their own advantage.[1]

Advertisements from the late colonial period reveal that production of wallpaper commenced in America prior to the Revolution. John Scully, for instance, made, sold, and installed “Hanging Paper” and “Borderings suitable to the Paper” in New York in the 1760s. Realizing that many prospective clients might consider imported wallpaper superior for a variety of reasons, he advanced multiple appeals to convince readers of the New-York Gazette to give him a chance. He stressed that he “MANUFACTURES all kind” of wallpaper, implying he offered the same range of choice as his competitors who imported from England. He underscored that his wares followed “the newest Patterns,” reassuring potential customers that they did not have to purchase wallpaper produced on the other side of the Atlantic in order to keep up with fashions set in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Lest potential clients assume that American manufacturers could not produce wallpaper of the same quality as the English imports, Scully proudly stated that he had “served a regular Apprenticeship” in that business. Customers could depend on his skill.

John Scully realized that his livelihood depended on successfully competing with shopkeepers and paperhangers who sold and installed wallpaper imported from England. To do so, he made appeals to choice, fashion, and his own training to convince consumers to purchase from him.


[1] For more on the marketing of paper hangings after the Revolution, see Carl Robert Keyes, “A Revolution in Advertising: ‘Buy American’ Campaigns in the Late Eighteenth Century,” in Creating Advertising Culture: Beginnings to the 1930s, vol. 1, We Are What We Sell: How Advertising Shapes American Life … And Always Has, ed. Danielle Sarver Coombs and Bob Batchelor (Praeger, 2014), 1-25.