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.