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.

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.