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