July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:16:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 16, 1766).

“He will be ready to execute any commands in the branch of factorage business.”

William Moore facilitated the buying and selling of goods in colonial America. As a participant in the “factorage business” he played an integral part in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century by coordinating transportation, delivery, and dissemination of goods via the wharf and storehouses he operated in Savannah. That terminology – consumer revolution – often places primary emphasis on the people who bought and used goods, incorporating them into their everyday lives, but it sometimes overlooks or does not place sufficient emphasis on others who participated in a transatlantic (and even global) historical process. The study of consumer culture does not always sufficiently recognize that the exchanges that put a variety of goods (textiles, hardware, housewares, books, foodstuffs, to name a few major categories frequently advertised) into the possession of colonists was balanced on the other side by retailers, producers, and suppliers. Even the recognition that consumers interacted with merchants or shopkeepers does not necessarily acknowledge other intermediaries who played a part in moving goods from their place of initial production to their place of ultimate consumption.

William Moore may not have sold directly to end-user consumers. Based on this advertisement, it appears that he operated as a wholesaler, dealing in bulk when he sold imported goods like rum, sugar, coffee, and fish. In addition, an important part of his enterprise consisted of providing a place for merchants to land their goods and store them until they could be distributed to shopkeepers and others who would sell them to consumers. Moore assisted in connecting merchants (or their representatives) and retailers, “charging low commissions for any thing committed to his charge.” In the process, he also facilitated the movement of locally produced goods out of the colony, storing “country produce” until it could be loaded on a ship for export. Understanding that time was money, he also promised that any merchants or captains of vessels who chose his wharf would “have good attendance and quick dispatch.” In other words, goods would unloaded and loaded quickly so ships could move on to their next port and continue trading.

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:23:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 23, 1766).

“He continues to do business in the commission way.”

Thomas Hepburn was a broker who sold goods on consignment or, as he put it, he did “business in the commission way.” Rather than purchase and maintain his own stock, he sold merchandise that others supplied to him under an agreement that he would keep a portion of the proceeds from every sale. This minimized the risk of becoming overextended within the networks of credit that accompanied the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century; Hepburn did not lose any investment required to procure his merchandise.

What might Hepburn have sold? While it’s possible that he carried new merchandise, it seems more likely that he carried secondhand or used goods that colonists decided that they no longer wanted or needed for whatever reasons. Selling such items on commission facilitated a secondhand economy that permitted a greater number of colonists to participate in the consumer revolution that was taking place on both sides of the Atlantic. The “baubles of Britain” that found their ways into the possession of so many colonists did not always take a direct path from British merchant to colonial shopkeeper to colonial consumer. Sometimes they passed from person to person or household to household, making detours through shops that did “business in the commission way.”