What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Garnet topaz amethyst and emeral’d ring stones.”
Abel Buell, a goldsmith in New Haven, placed advertisements in the Connecticut Journal to promote his business in the early 1770s. He made brief appeals to quality and price, pledging that his wares were “all of the best sort” and that he sold them “very reasonably,” but he devoted much more space to listing his merchandise. Advertisers throughout the colonies often did so, demonstrating the range of choices available to consumers.
Yet that was not the only purpose of publishing such lists. Advertisers also sought to help prospective customers imagine the possibilities, hoping that would entice them to make more purchases. Buell, for instance, could have simply stated that he had on hand a variety of jewelry certain to satisfy the tastes who visited his shop. Instead, he listed “ROUND, square and oval cypher’d button cristals with cyphers, cypher’d and brilliant ear-ring tops and drops, round oval and square brilliant button stones, paste ear-ring tops and drops, cypher’d and brilliant paste for buttons, garnet topaz amethyst and emeral’d ring stones, mock garnets for rings and buttons, [and] garnet cristal and paste ring sparks,” along with other items.
That list served as Buell’s catalog. Each entry introduced prospective customers to yet another item they might acquire. As readers perused the list, they likely imagined themselves wearing many of the items. Buell intended for the list to cultivate desire for various buttons, earrings, stones, and other jewelry as consumers made quick decisions whether they might wear each item. In many cases, they may not have given much thought to certain items until presented with the possibilities that Buell described. Offering choices, such as “garnet topaz amethyst and emeral’d ring stones,” encouraged prospective customers to imagine which they desired the most, which might look best on them, or which complemented other items they already owned. That likely brought consumers one step closer to making purchases. Buell probably intended for his list to make the possibilities more vivid and more tangible to prospective customers who could be convinced to make purchases with a little bit of encouragement.