February 17

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

feb-17-2171767-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 17, 1767).

“Men, women, boys and girls worsted, cotton, thread, and silk stockings.”

Thomas Radcliffe’s lengthy advertisement filled more than two-thirds of a column in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but it could have been published in any of the nearly two dozen newspapers printed in colonial America in 1767. Radcliffe promoted his “large and neat Assortment of Goods” that he “sold on the most reasonable Terms.” He listed scores of specific imported items included in his inventory, yet concluded with “&c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc. etc.”) to suggest an even more vast array of goods customers would encounter in his shop. In so doing, he emphasized that customers could make their own choices based on personal tastes and budgets. The appeals he made to consumers matched appeals other advertisers made in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and throughout the colonies.

Yet it was not only Radcliffe’s marketing strategies that would have looked familiar to visitors from other colonies who read his notice in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Shopkeepers throughout the colonies would have hawked the merchandise he stocked, a result of so much of it being imported from London and other English ports. T.H. Breen has labeled this the standardization of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Unique markets or regional tastes did not develop.

As a result, the letter by the pseudonymous Anthony Afterwrit published in the Providence Gazette just a few days before Radcliffe’s advertisement made its way into print hundreds of miles to the south could have appeared in any of South Carolina’s newspapers. The Afterwrit character might have expressed dismay at the bounty of goods offered to colonial shoppers, especially the “women’s fashionable hats, shades, handkerchiefs and scarfs” and “new fashionable stuffs for ladies gowns” intended the catch the attention of women, like his wife, interested in using conspicuous consumption to attest to their social status. Radcliffe’s advertisement even concluded with a “compleat set of tea china,” one of his wife’s acquisitions that Afterwrit explicitly lamented. Afterwrit conveniently ignored, however, merchandise marketed directly to men, such as “men’s silk, worsted and cotton caps” and “gentlemen’s watch chains.”

That demonstrates yet another aspect of colonial commerce common throughout the colonies: editorials that complained about feminized luxury achieved via consumption that appeared in the same newspapers that ran advertisements that marketed all sorts of goods to both female and male consumers.

February 3

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Feb 3 - 2:3:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 3, 1766)

“A Silver Sugar Chest and Quart Can, Gold and Silver Lace …”

A variety of the items to be sold in this new public auction room seem like the type of items that wealthier families during the eighteenth century would purchase. Goods such as horse whips and saddles would appeal more to wealthier classes because they were more likely to own many horses, as they were a symbol of wealth in the eighteenth century (and in some cases they remain a symbol of wealth to this day). Also, fancier fabrics like gold and silver lace would appeal to upper classes because they tended to dress in a more stylized manner than more common people.

Likewise, a variety of items appeal to the general public. Items such as buttons, blankets, hinges, and household furniture were things that that everybody needed to have. The advertisement demonstrates the flexibility of the vendor and his desire to reach a wide audience of customers. This colonial vendor had a vast number of clients and the knowledge of their necessities and desires.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

What an assortment of goods up for sale at “PUBLIC VENDUE” on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings! I agree with Maia’s assessment that this advertisement includes merchandise intended to appeal to many different kinds of potential customers. A consumer revolution was taking place in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world, a transformation in consumption habits experienced not only by the elite but, as the century progressed, increasingly by the middling sort and, to the alarm of some critics, the lower sorts as well, though some colonists were able to participate to greater extents than others.

Some of the goods on offer here would have permitted the better sort to demonstrate their affluence by engaging in conspicuous consumption that others would easily recognize as markers of their social and economic stature. Yet, as Maia suggests, many of the other items likely ended up in the possession of colonists from more humble backgrounds. Some may have even purchased unexpected items in hopes doing so might contribute to their social mobility.

This advertisement also hints at a much larger assortment of merchandise for consumers and retailers to purchase. Note that “&c.” (the eighteenth-century method of writing “etc.”) was included twice, suggesting too much inventory to include in the small space available.