September 4

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 4, 1772).

“A Considerable variety of GOODS.”

Thomas Martin made an investment in informing the public of the “considerable variety of GOODS” he imported “in the last Ships from England” and added to his “former Assortment” of merchandise at his shop in Portsmouth in the summer of 1772.  To demonstrate the choices he offered consumers, he listed scores of items in an advertisement in the September 4 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He stocked everything from “silk, kid, and lamb gloves & mitts” and “mantua silks” to “ivory handle and common knives & forks” and “brass furniture for desks and chests of drawers” to “brass and iron chimney hooks” and “mouse & rat traps.”  Two strings of “&c. &c. &c.” suggested an even greater array of goods than Martin could catalog in his newspaper advertisement.

That advertisement accounted for a considerable portion of the content of that issue of the New-Hampshire Gazettedelivered to subscribers and other readers.  Like most American newspapers published prior to the Revolution, a standard issue of the weekly New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  The New-Hampshire Gazette featured three columns per page, for a total of twelve columns of news, editorial, advertisements, and other content in each issue.  Martin’s advertisement extended an entire column, occupying one-twelfth of the space in the September 4 edition.  The printers did use smaller type for news from Rome, London, Williamsburg, Philadelphia, Newport, Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth than for advertisements, delivering as much news as possible to subscribers while still generating revenues from advertisers.

The size of the font, however, did not matter to Martin when it came to the cost of advertising in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Colonial printers did not charge by the word but instead by the amount of space required to publish advertisements.  That meant a substantial investment for Martin when he ran a notice that filled an entire column, not the first time he ran an extensive advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Even with the larger font compared to news items, the amount of space likely helped to communicate the shopkeeper’s message about consumer choice to prospective customers.

June 22

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

Boston Evening-Post (June 22, 1772).

“A great Variety of European & India Goods.”

Many advertisers sought to convince prospective customers that they offered an array of choices to meet their tastes and budgets.  In the June 22, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post, Timothy Newell promoted his “general Assortment of Hard Ware Goods.”  John Nazro hawked a “general Assortment of English, India, Irish and Scotch GOODS” and a “great Variety of Cutlery & Braziery Wares; with all Sorts of West-India Goods, Spices and other Groceries.”  Smith and Atkinson announced that they carried a large and very general Assortment of Piece GOODS.”  William Jackson even named his shop “Jackson’s Variety Store.”

Among the merchants and shopkeepers who made appeals to consumer choice in that edition of the Boston Evening-Post, William Scott published the lengthiest advertisement in an effort to demonstrate many of the different kinds of merchandise available at his “IRISH LINNEN Store.”  He listed dozens of items, from “Strip’d and flower’d bordered Aprons and Handkerchiefs” to “a variety of Ebony and Ivory paddle-stick & Leather Mount Fans” to “blue and white, red and white, green & white Furniture Checks with Nonesopretties to match” to “a variety of plain and striped and sprigg’d Muslins, such as Jaconets, Mull-Mulls, Mainsooks, Golden Cossacs, strip’d Doreas, and Book Muslins.”  The names of some textiles may seem unfamiliar to modern readers, but colonizers immersed in the consumer revolution readily identified Scott’s merchandise.  For some of these items, Scott offered an even larger selection, using descriptions like a “variety,” a “large assortment,” a “great variety,” and an “elegant assortment” to indicate that he often listed categories of goods rather than individual items.

In their advertisement, Smith and Atkinson declared it “would be equally tedious and unnecessary to enumerate” their inventory.  Scott disagreed … and he was willing to pay for the additional space necessary to transform his newspaper advertisement into a miniature catalog that accompanied the news in that issue of the Boston Evening-Post.  That did not stop him from adapting the strategy deployed by Smith and Atkinson.  Scott proclaimed that in addition to those items that he listed in his advertisement he also had “too great a Variety of small Goods to be inserted in this Advertisement.”  Where Smith and Atkinson signaled exasperation with lists of goods, Scott expressed disappointment that he could not provide an even more elaborate accounting of his merchandise for his customers.

Scott apparently considered this strategy worth the investment.  He ran the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy, thus placing it in three of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time.  He presumably expected an appropriate return on his investment or else he would have followed the lead of competitors who composed much shorter advertisement.  Scott encouraged consumers to imagine the many and varied choices that awaited them at his store, but he did not leave it solely to their imaginations.  He prompted them with a catalog of his wares in hopes that they would visit his shop to see for themselves.

May 30

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

Providence Gazette (May 30, 1772).

“Determined not to be undersold.”

To compete with other shopkeepers and merchants in Providence, Jones and Allen emphasized both low prices and extensive choices in their advertisement in the May 30, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The headline for their notice, “The GREATEST PENNYWORTHS Of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS,” immediately alerted prospective customers to the bargains they would encounter at the Sign of the Golden Ball.  They elaborated on their low prices in the conclusion to their advertisement.  “Said JONES and ALLEN,” the partners confided, “think it needless to say any thing more urgent to the public, than that they deal for ready money, and are determined not to be undersold by any retailer in Providence.”  Although they did not make any explicit promises, Jones and Allen hinted that they would match the prices if customers found better deals in other shops.  They also made a special appeal concerning the prices for tea, sugar, and spices, pledging to part with them “on the lowest terms.”

To demonstrate that they made choices available to consumers, Jones and Allen listed dozens of items from among their inventory of textiles, garments, accessories, and housewares.  In many instances, they deployed language that suggested even more choices, such as “shaloons, tammies and calimancoes, of all colours,” “a large assortment of light and dark patches,” “an assortment of hemp, thread, cotton, worsted, and silk and worsted hose,” “an elegant assortment of ribbons,” and “An assortment of broaches, hair sprigs, ear rings, &c.”  The et cetera (abbreviated “&c.”) implied even more choices.  Jones and Allen also inserted “&c. &c.” and “&c. &c. &c.” to underscore that they stocked an even greater array of merchandise.  In addition, they did not list any of the items from among their “good assortment of hard-ware.”  Instead, they claimed those items were “too tedious to enumerate in an advertisement,” though readers may have suspected that Jones and Allen did not want to incur the additional expense.  After all, the advertisement already filled two-thirds of a column.

Other advertisers claimed to offer “the lowest Prices” in Providence, but did not exert the same effort in making that claim.  Similarly, others declared that they carried a “compleat Assortment of English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS,” but did not list any of their wares.  Jones and Allen adapted popular marketing strategies, making their advertisement more distinctive than many others that ran in the same issue of the Providence Gazette.

April 7

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1772).

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

In the spring of 1772, an advertiser who identified himself simply as “STUKES” (almost certainly William Stukes) advised readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that he imported and sold a “COMPLEAT assortment of millinary, haberdashery, [and] stationary” and “As compleat and large an assortment of RIBBONS as ever was imported into this province at one time.”  As further evidence of the bounty available at his shop, he listed dozens of textiles, garments, and accessories.  Stukes stocked everything from “new fashioned flowered Leghorn hats” to “Ladies Morocco pocket books … with silver French locks” to “fine white linen gloves” to “fashionable fans.”  Like many other eighteenth-century advertisers, he expected such a vast array of choices to entice consumers.

Yet he did not want to overwhelm prospective customers by committing too much to print (or he did not want to pay for additional space that a longer list would occupy in the newspaper).  He concluded his litany of goods with a note that he carried “a variety of other articles too tedious to enumerate.”  Where did Stukes draw the line?  Giving only his last name amounted to an economy of prose, but the lengthy list of goods certainly did not.  Only two other shopkeepers placed advertisements listing a similar number of items in the April 7, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Stukes apparently did not consider the “blue satin hats” and the “wax ear-rings” and the “Barcelona cravats” and the “womens black calamanco pumps” in his notice to be “too tedious to enumerate” as he competed to attract customers by demonstrating the choices available at his shop.  Proclaiming that listing anything more would become “tedious” was a sly way of encouraging prospective customers to imagine for themselves what else they might discover in Stukes’s shop.  He gained the advantage of cataloging his wares in the public prints while simultaneously suggesting that he exercised restraint in how much he shared about his merchandise.

January 3

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

Connecticut Journal (January 3, 1772).

“He will sell … at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”

In 1772, James Lockwood began the new year by placing an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy “to inform the Public, That he is now opening, at a new Store …, a great Assortment of English & India GOODS, BOOKS, and all kinds of STATIONARY.”  The merchant marketed these items “Wholesale or Retail,” seeking both retailers and consumers as customers.  To compete with other merchants and shopkeepers in town, he proclaimed that he set prices “as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”  In other words, he would not be undersold … and might even offer some bargains better than buyers would find anywhere else in New Haven.

In this brief advertisement, Lockwood deployed two of the most common advertising strategies of the era:  an appeal to price and an appeal to consumer choice.  Elsewhere in the same issue, other merchants and shopkeepers did the same.  Roger Sherman, for instance, promoted a “general assortment” of goods, noting that he sold them “cheap.”  Henry Daggett similarly carried a “large Assortment of English and India GOODS” as well as a “Quantity of Queen’s WARE, gilt and plain.”  He also declared that his prices were “cheap,” a word commonly used to mean “low” rather than “lacking in quality.”  None of these advertisers published extensive lists of their merchandise, a common strategy for demonstrating choices to readers, but they used words and phrases like “great assortment,” “general assortment,” “quantity,” and “all kinds” to suggest the choices that awaited consumers.  They also did not elaborate much on price, though Lockwood did attempt to distinguish his store from the others when he asserted that he sold his merchandise “at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”

To modern eyes accustomed to much more sophisticated marketing strategies, newspaper notices like the ones placed by Lockwood, Sherman, and Daggett may appear to have been nothing but announcements that they had goods for sale.  Though their advertisements were indeed rudimentary, these merchants and shopkeepers did make some effort to incite demand and entice consumers to shop at their stores.  Each of them underscored choices and promised low prices.  Lockwood even experimented with the appeal to price in his advertisement, assuring prospective customers that if they did some comparison shopping around town that they would not be disappointed with his prices.

December 29

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

Maryland Gazette (December 26, 1771).

“A Variety of other Goods.”

In the final edition of the Maryland Gazette published in 1771, Alexander Ogg informed readers that he carried a “VERY large and general Assortment of European, East and West India Goods, suitable for the Season.”  To demonstrate to consumers that he did indeed offer an array of choices, he listed scores of items in an advertisement that extended more than half a column.  He stocked all kinds of fabrics, including “Sagathies, Durants, Tammies, Camblets and Cambletees, Calimancoes, flowered Queen Stuffs, Velvets and Velverets, Taffaties and Persians.”  He also had “Mens, Womens and Childrens Worsted Hose” as well as “Silk Mittens” and “Mens and Womens Beaver Gloves.”  Beyond textiles and clothing, he listed housewares, saddlery, patent medicines, and a variety of other items.  Customers could acquire “a large Assortment of white Stone Ware, consisting of Dishes, Mugs, Teacups and Saucers, [and] Sauce Boats” or “Silver Buckles both Shoe and Knee” or “Horse and Chair Whips” at his shop.

Ogg’s inventory seemed to rival that of any merchant or shopkeeper in the major ports.  His catalog of goods included the same items that appeared in advertisements in newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, yet he did not serve prospective customers in an urban center.  Instead, he imported these items from London to sell at his shop “at Hunting-Town in Calvert County,” about thirty miles south of Annapolis.  He advertised in the Maryland Gazette, the only newspaper published in the colony at the time.  As such, the Maryland Gazette served as a regional newspaper rather than a local one, so Ogg expected that prospective customers in his area would encounter his advertisement.  The length of the list, as well as references to a “VERY large and general Assortment” and assurances of “a Variety of other Goods,” may have been intended to underscore that he did indeed offer as many choices as merchants and shopkeepers in Annapolis … or Charleston or Philadelphia.  His advertisement also demonstrates that the consumer revolution did not occur solely in urban ports.  Enterprising merchants and shopkeepers advertised and distributed imported goods to rural communities as well.

December 15

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

Supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (December 12, 1771).

“To enumerate all the Articles would be … too expensive to the Advertiser.”

William Jackson sold an array of imported goods at his “Variety-Store … At the Brazen-Head” in Boston in the early 1770s.  He regularly placed advertisements in local newspapers, including a notice in the supplement that accompanied the December 12, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Unlike some of his competitors who published extensive lists of their inventory to demonstrate choices available to prospective customers, Jackson opted to name only a few items.  He still made appeals to consumer choice, while also providing an explanation for his decision.

Jackson declared that he carried an “Assortment of Hard-Ware and English Piece Goods.”  He listed less than a dozen items, concluding with assurances that he also had in stock “all other kinds of Goods suitable to any Season.”  Most other advertisers who deployed similar language stated that they carried goods suitable to “the” season rather than “any” season.  Even the name that the merchant gave his business, “Jackson’s Variety Store,” testified to consumer choice.

In addition, he added a nota bene to assure “Country Shopkeepers” that they “will see the best Assortment of Goods of any Store in the Town.”  Jackson trumpeted that his inventory rivaled any in the bustling port of Boston.  He also explained that “to enumerate all the Articles would be too tedious to the Reader.”  Seeing his merchandise by “calling at the Store” would be much more satisfying.  Jackson made one more comment about why he did not insert a lengthy list of goods, asserting that doing so would have been “too expensive to the Advertiser.”  Rarely did advertisers acknowledge in print the reason they made a choice between cataloging their goods or not.  Jackson may have done so to suggest that he made savvy decisions about how to spend his advertising budget.  He also benefited from a significant number of competitors listing all kinds of goods, provided that prospective customers would accept his invitation to see for themselves that he carried “the best Assortment … of any Store in the Town.”

December 6

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 6, 1771).

“The above Goods will be sold as low as at any other Store in Town.”

When shopkeeper Hugh Henderson moved to a new location in Portsmouth, he placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to notify “HIS CUSTOMERS AND OTHERS.”  He also took the opportunity to promote the “assortment of English Goods” available at his shop, listing several dozen items.  Henderson carried a variety of textiles as well as “Mens and Womens Stockings,” “Trimings for Ladies Cloaks,” lace, ribbons, and “Writing Paper.”  Having enticed prospective customers with that catalog of goods, he also offered a “Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention.”  Like many other shopkeepers in New Hampshire and throughout the colonies, Henderson emphasized consumer choice.

He also made note of his prices, deploying another means of luring prospective customers into his shop.  In the introduction to the list of goods, Henderson pledged to sell them “very cheap.”  He concluded his advertisement with a nota bene that advised readers that “The above Goods will be sold as low as at any other Store in Town.”  He called attention to his competitive prices both before and after listing his wares, helping readers to imagine acquiring them at prices they could afford.  Henderson even hinted at price matching, inviting customers to haggle for the best deals if they did some comparison shopping around town.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Gilliam Butler described his prices for “an Assortment of English GOODS” as “Cheap,” while William Elliot declared that he sold “English and West India GOODS, at a reasonable rate.”  Henderson’s nota bene suggested that he stayed informed about prices in the local market in order to set his own as “cheap” and “reasonable” as those charged by Butler, Elliot, and other shopkeepers.

Henderson depended on two of the most common appeals made to consumers in eighteenth-century newspapers:  choice and price.  He did not, however, make generic appeals.  Instead, he enhanced each with additional commentary, asserting that he carried other items “too tedious to mention” and that he sold his entire inventory “as low as at any other Store in Town.”  For some readers, such promises may have distinguished Henderson’s advertisement from others in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

November 16

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

Providence Gazette (November 16, 1771).

“The Articles are too many to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement.”

Nicholas Tillinghast and William Holroyd stocked their store on King Street in Providence with “a Variety of well assorted GOODS … just imported in the last Ships from London.”  Their inventory included “a fine Assortment of Queen’s Ware,” but the partners declined to list other items, stating that the “Articles are too many to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement.”  They made an appeal to consumer choice by suggesting that the choices were too extensive to do justice to them in a newspaper notice.  Prospective customers would have to visit their store to see for themselves what might strike their fancy.

Tillinghast and Holroyd were not the only advertisers who adopted that strategy in the November 16, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Nicholas Brown and Company informed readers that “[t]o enumerate the particular Articles” among their “compleat Assortment of English, India and Hard Ware GOODS” would “require much more room than can well be afforded in a News-Paper.”  They sweetened the deal by asserting that their inventory included “a great Number [of goods] not usually imported into this Town,” another means of leveraging curiosity to draw prospective customers into their store.  Stewart and Taylor selected a couple of dozen items from their “Variety of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” to list in their advertisement, but insisted that they carried “a variety of other articles, too tedious to mention.”  Jabez Brown cataloged an even greater number of items from his “neat Assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS,” bit concluded with “&c. &c. &c.”  He repeated the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera three times to underscore the range of choices available.

Such advertisements gave the Providence Gazette a different appearance than many of the newspapers published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia that same week.  Publications in those cities included many advertisements that incorporated extensive lists of merchandise, many of them extending half a column or more.  Similar advertisements sometimes ran in the Providence Gazette, but, at least for the moment, the merchants and shopkeepers in town opted for an economy of prose.  In general, advertising practices were not regionally distinctive in eighteenth-century America, but the number of merchants and shopkeepers who declared they sold “too many [items] to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement” represents a trend toward a particularly strategy in Providence in the fall of 1771.  It suggests that advertisers did take note of the methods deployed by their competitors and adjusted their own notices accordingly.

October 19

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

Providence Gazette (October 19, 1771).

“To enumerate the Articles, would exceed the Limits of an Advertisement in a News-Paper.”

Nicholas Brown and Company took a very different approach to advertising their wares than Edward Thurber did in his advertisement in the October 19, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Both advertisers emphasized the choices they made available to consumers.  Brown and Company promoted a “general and compleat Assortment of GOODS,” while Thurber used similar language in marketing a “Very compleat Assortment of Goods.”  To help prospective customers imagine the choices, he included a list of everything from “Mantua silks” to “Dutch looking glasses” to “Frying and warming pans.”  For several categories of goods, he further underscored consumer choice, including a “compleat assortment of broadcloths,” a “fine assortment of womens cloth shoes,” and “All sorts of nails and brads.”  His catalog of goods lacked only an “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) at the end to suggest even more choices.

Brown and Company, on the other hand, did not attempt to impress consumers with lengthy lists or to overwhelm readers with the amount of space their advertisement occupied on the page.  Instead, the partners declared, “To enumerate the Articles, would exceed the Limits of an Advertisement in a News-Paper; but among them are a Number not usually imported into this Town.”  That proclamation may have suggested to some readers that Thurber’s list of goods was too brief and too limited in comparison.  Extending half a column, it was finite and not at all “compleat.”  Brown and Company’s notice filled only half as much space, but only because the partners deemed it impossible to “enumerate” the contents of their store and, as a result, did not attempt to provide even a truncated list.  Brown and Company relied on curiosity to propel consumers to their store, curiosity about what the “general and compleat Assortment” included and curiosity about what kinds of goods might have been among those “not usually imported into this Town.”  Surprises awaited anyone who ventured to Brown and Company’s store.

Although these notices do not reveal which strategy was more effective, they demonstrate that advertisers experimented with how to represent consumer choice to prospective customers.  Neither Thurber nor Brown and Company merely proclaimed that they recently imported goods and expected that would have been sufficient to draw customers to their stores.  Instead, they devised different means of elaborating on choice to make their inventory more attractive to readers of the Providence Gazette.