May 9

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 6, 1773).

“His Store is the cheapest after all is said and done, &c. &c. &c. &c.”

Thomas Walley stocked a variety of items at his “GROCERY STORE” on Dock Square in Boston in the spring of 1773.  In an advertisement in the May 6 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, he listed many of those items, from “New Rice” to “BOHEA TEA” to “Flour Mustard” to “Brown Sugars of all Qualities.”

Walley concluded his advertisement with a lively nota bene that commented on the marketing strategies deployed in the city’s newspapers by various purveyors of goods.  He stated that he “could engage, as others do in their late Advertisements, to sell cheaper than cheap, and lower than any Body else, or that his Store is the cheapest after all is said and done, &c. &c. &c. &c.”  The string of “&c.” (which modern readers would recognize as “etc. etc. etc. etc.”) communicated his exasperation with advertisers who went on and on about the bargains that they made available to their customers.  More bluntly, he declared that if he did the same that it would have “as little meaning,” something that he suspected both advertisers and savvy consumers realized.  Instead of making bold claims about his prices to dazzle prospective customers, Walley considered simplicity and honesty the better means of cultivating relationships of trust.  He “rather chuses to inform his good Customers and others that he will sell at such Prices, as that both the Seller and the Buyer may make a Profit.”  In other words, both parties got a good deal.

Walley’s approach echoed the one taken by Samuel Flagg when he advertised imported goods available at his store in Salem several months earlier.  Flagg proclaimed that he did not “mean to make such a Parade, not furnish the Publick with so many pompous Promises (as have lately been exhibited) of Goods being so amazingly cheap, but would rather convince them of the Cheapness of his Goods and of his Integrity in dealing, whenever they may please to call and favour him with their Custom.”  When it came to engaging prospective customers with his advertisements, he did not wish to “tell them a Story” like in “so many flashy Advertisements as weekly present themselves.”  Flagg asserted that such stories had no “true Meaning” … and readers knew that as well as he did.

Both Walley and Flagg saw critiquing advertising as the most effect means of marketing their wares.  They flattered readers by suggesting that they all knew that other advertisers inflated their claim yet Walley and Flagg would not insult the intelligence of their prospective customers.  Instead, they opted for honesty and integrity in presenting prices that worked to the advantage of both the shopkeepers and consumers.

December 29

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

Essex Gazette (December 29, 1772).

The Publick would only laugh … at so many flashy Advertisements as weekly present themselves to their View.”

The introduction to Nathaniel Sparhawk’s advertisement listing an array of goods available at his shop in Salem was typical of those that appeared in the Essex Gazette and other newspapers in the early 1770s: “Just imported in the last Ships, Captains Scott and Lyde from London, and Smith from Bristol, A great Variety of English and India GOODS, suitable for the Season, All or any of which will be sold extremely cheap for Cash or short Credit.”  Sparhawk had good reason for including each detail, all of them standard elements of marketing consumer goods in the eighteenth century.  In a nota bene, he made additional appeals concerning price: “As said Sparhawk proposes to quit his present Business (as soon as he can without Loss) to pursue some other Brach; all his good Customers, and others, may depend on being served with good Pennyworths, determining to sell at a very low Advance, or for very small Profits.”

Samuel Flagg did not think much of any of those methods, or so he claimed.  In contrast to the kinds of introductions offered by Sparhawk and others, Flagg simply stated that he “has the following Articles, which he would be glad to sell.”  After an extensive catalog of his merchandise, the shopkeeper inserted a lengthy diatribe about advertising practices then in fashion.  “The said FLAGG,” he proclaimed, “don’t mean to make such a Parade, nor furnish the Publick with so many pompous Promises (as have lately been exhibited) of Goods being so amazingly cheap, but would rather convince them of the Cheapness of his Goods and of his Integrity in dealing, whenever they may please to call and favour him with their Custom.”  Flagg managed to make his own appeal to low prices while also mocking the pronouncements so often published by his competitors.  He confided to readers that they all knew proclamations about offering the lowest prices or not being undersold were hyperbole.  Rather than perpetuate that kind of marketing, he promised prospective customers that he would be an honest broker.

To that end, Flagg acknowledged that “he could very easily tell them a Story, about where his Goods were made, who shipped them, what Ship brought them, who trucked them, how much they cost, how much cheaper they were than ever imported before, and how much he held himself obliged to the good People for looking at them, without buying.”  While composing his advertisement, Flagg could have gone through Sparhawk’s notice to identify and address each detail to denigrate.  He considered all those details and insinuations about why one shopkeeper’s prices and inventory were supposedly the best rather foolish … and he believed that readers shared his view.  Flagg concluded his tirade with an assertion that “the Publick would only laugh at” such stories,” as they must do, at so many flashy Advertisements as weekly present themselves to their View, with no more true Meaning than the above recited Story would contain.”

His disdain for such stories did not prevent Flagg from resorting to one very popular marketing strategy.  He listed scores of goods, demonstrating to consumers how many choices he made available to them at his shop.  Several of his competitors also listed dozens of items, but none named as many as Flagg did in his notice.  In addition, that notice occupied more space on the page than any other advertisement in the December 29, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette, even without the jeremiad about marketing that concluded it.  Flagg certainly had some views about what he considered negative developments in advertising, but he was not immune to adopting one of the most prevalent strategies for attempting to entice readers to become consumers.

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.

August 30

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

Aug 27 - 8:27:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement.jpg
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 27, 1767).

“JOHN HOLLIDAY, TAYLOR … UNDERTAKES to make Clothes in the neatest and newest Fashion.”

John Holliday and his wife ran an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette throughout most of 1767. The Adverts 250 Project previously featured that advertisement, examining how the couple surreptitiously inserted information about “Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound” for removing unwanted facial hair at the end of an advertisement that, at a glance, focused primarily on John’s services as a tailor.

The Hollidays’ advertisement demonstrates one strategy female entrepreneurs used to promote their participation in the marketplace without independently publishing newspaper notices, yet the initial portion dedicated to John’s enterprise includes fairly rare commentary on attitudes about the effectiveness of advertising in eighteenth-century America. “Mr. Holliday humbly begs Leave to refer to those Gentlemen who have favoured him with their Commands, since the Commencement of this Advertisement, as their Approbation has been equal to his highest Expectation.” In other words, Holliday acknowledged that business had increased since first placing the advertisement and he attributed that development to his marketing efforts rather than other circumstances. Perhaps Holliday’s advertisement had been successfully because he did not merely announce that he had set up shop. Instead, he listed his qualifications, noting that he had previously been employed as “Foreman and Cutter-out to some of the most eminent Master-Taylors in London.” Such a pedigree likely caught the attention of status-conscious residents of the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the colonies!

Furthermore, Holliday attempted to use his new clients to incite additional demand for his services. Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia from London, he promised that “any Gentlemen that shall be pleased to favour him with their Commands … will not be disappointed” with the garments he made “in the neatest and newest Fashion.” According to this advertisement, several “Gentlemen” indeed “favoured him with their Commands” and thought so highly of the work he completed for them that other potential clients should consider that sufficient testimonial to also engage his services.