October 3

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 3, 1772).

“To particularize the Articles, in an Advertisements, would be too extensive for Publication in a News-Paper.”

Lengthy advertisements often appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers.  Merchants and shopkeepers promoted the choices they made available to customers by listing many of the goods that they stocked.  In some cases, those lists were so extensive that they operated as catalogs embedded in newspapers.  For instance, George Bartram listed scores of items available at his “Woollen-Drapery and Hosiery WAREHOUSE” in an advertisement that ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle several times in the fall of 1772.  It filled half a column.

Not every advertiser, however, adopted that strategy.  In their own advertisement in the October 3, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Hugh Roberts and George Roberts declared that they carried “Ironmongery and Brass Wares, In the most extensive Branches” as well as “A LARGE ASSORTMENT OF Copper Ware, India Metal Ware, Jappanned Ware, and Cutlery” at their “WARE-HOUSE” in Philadelphia.  Like Bartram, they oversaw a warehouse rather than a shop or store, such a name suggesting vast arrays of merchandise gathered in one place.  Unlike Bartram, the Robertses did not go into more detail about their merchandise.  Instead, they proclaimed that the “Ironmongery, Brass, and other Wares, at the said Warehouse, consist of so great a Variety of Sets, Patterns, and Workmanship, that, to particularize the Articles, in an Advertisement, would be too extensive for Publication in a News-Paper.”  Even an abbreviated list, like the one in Bartram’s advertisement immediately below the Robertses’ advertisement, would have been inadequate.

The Robertses challenged readers to imagine what they might encounter on a visit to their “WARE-HOUSE” to browse their “LARGE ASSORTMENT” and “extensive inventory,” hoping that would be as effective as publishing a lengthy list.  This clever strategy may have also been a means of saving money on advertising.  After all, advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied.  The Robertses’ advertisement accounted for approximately a third as much space as Bartram’s notice.  Both strategies did more than merely announce the availability of goods.  They made consumer choice a central component of shopping at both warehouses in Philadelphia.

August 1

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

Providence Gazette (August 1, 1772).

“At the very lowest Rates that any Merchants sell for in America.”

John Brown, a prominent merchant who made a portion of his fortune through participation in the transatlantic slave trade, wanted it both ways in an advertisement for “English and India GOODS” he placed in the August 1, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  He declared that it “would be needless to particularize every Article in a News-Paper,” but them provided an extensive list of items that customers would find “among the great Variety” of items he imported from London.  Extending two-thirds of a column, the catalog of goods included “a neat assortment of looking glasses,” “a compleat assortment of hard ware, consisting of almost every article ever imported,” “beads and necklaces,” “boys furred caps,” and “ivory and horn combs.”  Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Brown listed dozens of textiles. Despite considering it “needless to particularize every Article,” Brown published the longest advertisement, by far, in that issue of the Providence Gazette.

In addition to demonstrating the range of choices available at his store, Brown sought to distinguish his advertisement by promising low prices to merchants and shopkeepers who made wholesale purchases.  He promised the “very lowest Rates that any Merchants sell for in America,” making a bold claim that extended far beyond his competitors in Providence.  Brown claimed that his prices matched or beat those set by merchants in Newport, the other major port in the colony, as well as merchants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.  Retailers in Providence and other towns in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts did not need to acquire their merchandise from merchants in Boston or New York in hopes of getting the best deals.  Instead, they could streamline the supply chain by working directly with Brown.  Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes claimed they offered the lowest prices in town or in the colony or region.  Just as he “went big” with his list of imported goods, Brown attempted to awe and entice prospective customers with hyperbolic declarations about offering the best prices anywhere in the colonies.

December 15

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

Supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (December 12, 1771).

“To enumerate all the Articles would be … too expensive to the Advertiser.”

William Jackson sold an array of imported goods at his “Variety-Store … At the Brazen-Head” in Boston in the early 1770s.  He regularly placed advertisements in local newspapers, including a notice in the supplement that accompanied the December 12, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Unlike some of his competitors who published extensive lists of their inventory to demonstrate choices available to prospective customers, Jackson opted to name only a few items.  He still made appeals to consumer choice, while also providing an explanation for his decision.

Jackson declared that he carried an “Assortment of Hard-Ware and English Piece Goods.”  He listed less than a dozen items, concluding with assurances that he also had in stock “all other kinds of Goods suitable to any Season.”  Most other advertisers who deployed similar language stated that they carried goods suitable to “the” season rather than “any” season.  Even the name that the merchant gave his business, “Jackson’s Variety Store,” testified to consumer choice.

In addition, he added a nota bene to assure “Country Shopkeepers” that they “will see the best Assortment of Goods of any Store in the Town.”  Jackson trumpeted that his inventory rivaled any in the bustling port of Boston.  He also explained that “to enumerate all the Articles would be too tedious to the Reader.”  Seeing his merchandise by “calling at the Store” would be much more satisfying.  Jackson made one more comment about why he did not insert a lengthy list of goods, asserting that doing so would have been “too expensive to the Advertiser.”  Rarely did advertisers acknowledge in print the reason they made a choice between cataloging their goods or not.  Jackson may have done so to suggest that he made savvy decisions about how to spend his advertising budget.  He also benefited from a significant number of competitors listing all kinds of goods, provided that prospective customers would accept his invitation to see for themselves that he carried “the best Assortment … of any Store in the Town.”

June 26

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (June 24, 1771).

“To particularize every Article would near fill up the whole Paper.”

To demonstrate the extent of choices available to consumers, advertisers often included lengthy lists of merchandise in their newspaper notices.  Joshua Gardner did so in an advertisement in the June 24, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In a paragraph of dense text, he named dozens of items, including “Queens black silk mitts, Queens white silk mitts, black, white and cloth coloured silk mitts and gloves close wove, [and] worsted gloves and mitts.”  He stocked a similar variety of stockings, ribbons, textiles, and other “English Goods.”  Henry Leddle deployed the same strategy, cataloging an even more extensive inventory in an advertisement divided into two columns.

Gilbert Deblois, on the other hand, took a different approach.  He identified a few items from among his “ELEGANT Assortment of English, India and other Piece Goods suitable for all Seasons.”  He also carried housewares, cutlery, and hardware, but did not elaborate on which items.  Instead, he declared that “To particularize every Article would near fill up the whole Paper, and be very Tedious to the Public, therefore it may suffice that he has almost every Article that can be asked for.”  Prospective customers likely did not consider it hyperbole to suggest that a complete accounting of Deblois’s wares would indeed fill all four pages of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  After all, they regularly encountered advertisements that extended more than a column and still grouped similar items together as “an assortment” or “a variety” without enumerating each separately.  Asking readers to imagine an entire issue of the newspaper devoted to nothing but a list of Deblois’s merchandise prompted them to consider just how many items he carried at his shop.  By comparison, the lists in the advertisements placed by Gardner, Leddle, and others seemed short.  Deblois aimed for some of the benefits of such a lengthy advertisement without the expense.  At the same time, he hedged his bets, stating that he had “almost every Article.”  Once prospective customers visited his shop, he could suggest alternatives to anything he did not have in stock.

Many eighteenth-century merchants and shopkeepers competed with each other when it came to the length of their newspaper notices.  Longer notices listed more goods, demonstrating choices available to consumers.  On occasion, some advertisers offered commentary on that method, seeking to distinguish themselves by simultaneously critiquing that marketing strategy while also maintaining that they provided the same array of choices for customers.  Deblois spared readers a “very tedious” list, but still promised as many choices as his competitors.

July 11

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

Jul 11 - 7:11:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 11, 1768).

“To be Particular in the different Species of said Assortment, would be Tedious.”

When Nathaniel Bird opened a new store on Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island, in the summer of 1768, he stocked it with “a very large and general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS, suitable for the Season.” Unlike many of his competitors in Newport and counterparts in other colonial cities and towns, Bird did not insert a list of merchandise in his advertisement as a demonstration of the vast choices available to prospective customers. Instead, he adopted a different strategy, one that was less common though not unknown. He advised readers that “To be Particular in the different Species of said Assortment, would be Tedious, and of Course Impertinent with the Publick.” He critiqued one of the standard practices of eighteenth-century advertising for consumer goods, the litany of items offered for sale. Depriving readers and potential customers of an extensive list, he argued, was actually a virtue. His advertisement did not intrude in the public prints any more than necessary to advise the residents of Newport and the surrounding area that he stocked an assortment of imported goods. This method also had the advantage of prompting readers to imagine how long the list might have been if Bird had instead chosen to publish it, an exercise that perhaps conjured consumer choice better than explicitly naming specific articles.

In the absence of a litany of goods, Bird developed other strategies for marketing his wares. He informed prospective customers that he “imports all his Goods direct from the Manufactories.” Some readers may have been skeptical about his ability to acquire everything in his “very large and general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” directly from the producers, but others likely focused on the purpose of this pronouncement. Bird claimed that he eliminated English merchants and other middlemen who drove up prices. This was one factor that allowed him to sell his merchandise “very low, or as cheap as at Boston, or any of the other Governments.” Comparing prices in Newport to those in Boston was a particular concern of the smaller port’s merchants and shopkeepers at the time. Two columns over from Bird’s advertisement, Stephen Deblois, Jr., asserted that he sold similar goods “on as low Terms as they can be had at any Shop or Store in Boston.” Deblois also refrained from publishing a list that enumerated his inventory, but he did not offer any commentary of the sort Bird espoused concerning that decision.

Bird’s critique of list-style advertisements may have garnered additional attention for his own notice. Did consumers consider it an effective appeal? That cannot be determined from the advertisement alone, but Bird’s boldness in making the statement suggests an interest in playing with the accepted forms as a means of engaging prospective customers who might otherwise pass over advertisements that did not seem to offer any content out of the ordinary. Bird’s terse comments made his advertisement memorable, if nothing else.

May 14

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

May 14 - 5:14:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (May 14, 1767).

“They are much the same in all the Stores.”

Many eighteenth-century shopkeepers promoted their merchandise by publishing extensive lists of their inventory. They presented potential customers with a multitude of choices amongst the “general Assortment of English and India GOODS” they imported. Three shopkeepers – Joshua Blanchard, Joshua Gardner and Company, and Clement Jackson – each inserted list-style advertisements that extended half a column or more in the May 14, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. Each named dozens of items that readers could purchase in their shops.

Nathaniel Appleton saw little sense in paying for such extensive advertisements, especially not when his competitors already did so. Yet he did not want to lose any prospective customers who might assume that his failure to list so many goods indicated that he had an inferior selection. To that end, he supplemented his assertion that he carried a “general Assortment” of goods with a nota bene that offered further explanation: “The Articles of English Goods are not enumerated, as they are much the same in all the Stores that import direct from LONDON.”

Appleton poked at his competitors, suggesting that one of the most popular marketing methods employed by other shopkeepers might be pointless. He carried the same goods as his competitors but had the good sense not to attempt to manipulate potential consumers with efforts to overwhelm them with extensive advertisements. He acknowledged standardization in consumer culture, noting that retailers generally depended on the same suppliers.

Appleton was not the only retailer to critique lengthy list-style advertisements. Just ten days earlier Gilbert Deblois’ advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post proclaimed that his inventory “consist[ed] of every Article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy Advertisements,” though that did not prevent him for providing an abbreviated list of his own. A couple of months earlier Benjamin Thurber and Edward Thurber inserted a notice in the Providence Gazette in which they announced that they stocked “too many [goods] … to enumerate each Particular in an Advertisement.” In addition, refusing to take on the costs of doing so allowed them to keep their prices low. At the beginning of the year, Joshua Blanchard deployed a similar argument as he lambasted the list-style advertisements published by his competitors: “The VERY LOW Price at which he sells will not afford a lengthy Advertisement, enumerating every Particular, even to Pins and Needles.” Blachard apparently had a change of heart. His lengthy advertisement “enumerating” dozens of items “Imported from LONDON” appeared immediately to the right of Appleton’s notice in the May 14 issue. Blanchard paid for his advertisement, but Appleton benefited from its proximity to his own.

Eighteenth-century advertisers like Appleton played with the conventions developing around consumer marketing, sometimes critiquing them if they thought doing so might result in some advantage or attract customers bored with the usual sorts of appeals.

January 1

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

jan-1-111767-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 1, 1767.)

“The VERY LOW Price at which he sells will not afford a lengthy Advertisement.”

Joshua Blanchard did not have much patience for the sort of list advertisement that frequently appeared in colonial American newspapers. Retailers commonly made appeals to consumer choice, inserting lengthy lists of merchandise to underscore the extent of the choices they offered prospective customers. Accordingly, such advertisements took up significant space in many newspapers. Blanchard’s advertisement, for instance, appeared to the left of an advertisement placed by competitor Frederick William Geyer, an advertisement that extended most of the column and listed more than one-hundred items. Samuel Eliot inserted a similar advertisement on the previous page. Both retailers used extensive lists of goods to entice potential customers into their shops.

Blanchard took a different approach. Although he stated that he carried “a large and general Assortment of Goods,” he specified very few of them. Instead, in a separate paragraph, headed by a manicule, he proclaimed that “The VERY LOW Price at which he sells will not afford a lengthy Advertisement enumerating every Particular, even to Pins and Needles.” Blanchard considered the advertisements published by his competitors preposterous. He mocked their marketing strategies, but also cleverly dismissed extensive lists of merchandise by claiming that more modest advertising allowed him to offer lower prices to his customers. Eliot and Geyer promised “the very lowest Rates” and “the very lowest Advance,” but Blanchard called those claims into question when he suggested that listing their entire inventory, down to the smallest “Pins and Needles,” incurred significant advertising costs to be passed along to consumers.

Lest potential customers suspect that Blanchard did not provide a list of his merchandise because he could not offer the same array of choices as his competitors, he stressed that “his Friends and the Publick may be assured, that his Assortment consists perhaps of as many Articles, that are as good Goods, and will be sold as cheap for CASH, as at any Shop or Store in TOWN.” He folded together appeals to choice, quality, and price in his argument that a longer advertisement did not necessarily mean more merchandise on hand.

Joshua Blanchard made a virtue out of his shorter, more modest advertisement when he implied that his competitors could not compete with his prices because they purchased significant amounts of advertising space in the local newspapers. He needed to publish an advertisement to make this claim, an advertisement designed to shape the attitudes and actions of potential customers even as it critiqued other marketing practices.