May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (May 23, 1768).

Those who will favor him with their Custom may always depend upon being as well used as at any Store or Shop in Town.”

Shopkeeper William Bant advertised in a very crowded marketplace. Residents of Boston encountered shops and stores practically everywhere they went as they traversed the city in the late 1760s. They also experienced a vibrant culture of advertising for consumer goods and services in the pages of the several newspapers published in the city. Some of those newspapers so overflowed with advertisements that the publishers regularly distributed supplements to accompany the regular issues. As the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century continued in Boston, Bant was just one of countless merchandisers attempting to entice prospective customers to patronize his shop.

As part of that effort, he inserted a relatively brief advertisement in the May 23, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. In it, he announced that he stocked “A general Assortment of English and India GOODS.” Unlike many other shopkeepers, however, Bant did not provide a list of his inventory. On the following page, Thomas Lee’s advertisement extended one-third of a column and listed dozens of imported goods he offered for sale. Jonathan and John Amory’s advertisement was twice as long and listed even more merchandise. John Gore, Jr., inserted an advertisement of a similar length, though its list of goods appeared even more crowded due to graphic design choices made by the compositor.

How did Bant attempt to compete with merchants and shopkeepers who invested in so much more space for promoting their wares in the public prints? He left the details of his “general Assortment” of goods to the imagination, instead opting to emphasize customer service. He pledged that “those who will favor him with their Custom may always depend upon being as well used as at any Store or Shop in Town.” Bant did not promise merely satisfactory service; he proclaimed that the service he provided was unsurpassed in the busy marketplace of Boston. He did not need to overwhelm prospective customers with dense and extensive lists of all the items they could purchase in his shop. Instead, he invited them to imagine the experience of shopping and interacting with the purveyors of the goods they desired. Just as merchandisers competed with each other for customers, consumers sometimes competed with each other for the attention of merchants and shopkeepers. Bant presumed that shoppers sometimes experienced frustration when they dealt with retailers. In turn, he assured prospective customers that they would not be disappointed in the service they received at his shop.

May 13

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

May 13 - 5:13:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 13, 1768).

“Not be obliged to wear out one Pair of Shoes, coming after another.”

Zechariah Beal, a cobbler, placed an advertisement in the May 13, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette to announce that he had moved to a new location in Portsmouth. In addition to giving directions to his new shop, Beal also offered commentary on what he considered a sorry state for footwear in the port city. He pledged that his customers would “not be obliged to wear out one Pair of Shoes, coming after another,” a situation “which he is very sorry to hear is too much the Case in Portsmouth.”

In making this assertion, Beal buttressed his appeal to quality. He included one of the standard phrases to describe his workmanship, asserting that he made shoes “in the neatest and best Manner,” but he elaborated on that commonly deployed phrase by favorably contrasting his shoes others sold in the city, whether imported or made locally. Too many colonists purchased shoes that wore out too quickly, forcing them to continuously replace them. Beal set about remedying that situation.

The industrious shoemaker balanced that marketing strategy with an appeal to customer service. Like many others in the garment trades, he declared that his clientele “may depend on being punctually served,” but once again he elaborated on the standard language inserted in many eighteenth-century advertisements. Beal guaranteed that his customers would “have their Work done at the Time appointed.” He would not inconvenience or disappoint them by not meeting the deadlines determined at the time customers contracted his services.

Beal took an innovative approach to writing the copy for his notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette. He started with some of the most common appeals to quality and customer service, but then elaborated on those appeals as a means of distinguishing both his advertisement and his business. Eighteenth-century newspapers advertisements for consumer goods and services often appear static at first glance, but Beal and others incorporated all sorts of variations to make their notices distinctive as they sought to incite demand among prospective customers.

February 2

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

Feb 2 - 2:2:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 2, 1768).

“They engage to take back every Article from a Customer, that they can make the least reasonable Objection against.”

David Maull and John Wood, “TAYLORS, from LONDON,” incorporated a variety of marketing appeals into their advertisement in the February 2, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. They included some of the most popular marketing strategies deployed in the eighteenth century, but they also devised several innovative strategies that differentiated their commercial notice from others.

Purveyors of goods and services commonly promoted quality and fashion. Maull and Wood did so when they stated that their work represented “the neatest and newest fashion.” Artisans often underscored their competence. Maull and Wood reported that “they carry on the Taylors Business in all its Branches.” Shopkeepers and artisans both proclaimed their origins or other connections to London to give their goods and services more cachet in the transatlantic marketplace. Maull and Wood announced that they had migrated “from LONDON,” where they had presumably received training and previously worked. Invoking some sort of link to London also bolstered their claim to produce garments in the “newest fashion.” Many advertisers made a nod toward customer service, as Maull and Wood did when they pledged to fulfill orders “with quickest Dispatch.” Maull and Wood used stock language in making these common appeals to customers.

Yet the tailors also attempted to entice clients with a series of other marketing strategies in a nota bene that concluded their advertisement. They provided a money-back guarantee, promising “to take back every Article from a Customer, that they can make the least reasonable Objection against.” They also offered reduced rates to customers who paid in cash, vowing to “discount Five per Cent.” On the other hand, they extended “twelve Months Credit” to other customers during a period that most advertisers either demanded cash or allowed only “short credit.” Consumers regularly made purchases on credit in eighteenth-century America, but it was not a method of payment promoted by most purveyors of goods and services in their advertisements in the late 1760s. Maull and Wood made clear that they were willing to work out payment schedules that fit the needs of their prospective clients. John Ward, another tailor who advertised in the same issue, made no mention of how he expected customers to pay. Finally, Maull and Wood doubled the length of their advertisement by publishing a roster of prices to demonstrate their reasonable prices to prospective clients. This eliminated negotiating over the bill and anxieties that a better deal might have been possible by locking in rates from the start.

Maull and Wood distinguished their advertisement from others published in Charleston’s newspapers by augmenting the most common appeals with innovative marketing strategies. They did not invent any of the methods they used, but they effectively amalgamated multiple popular and novel tactics for attracting customers into a single advertisement to an extent not achieved by most other advertisers of consumer goods and services in the 1760s.

January 23

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

Jan 23 - 1:23:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 23, 1768).

“Three very compleat Stage-Boats, for the Carriage of GOODS and PASSENGERS.”

In the late 1760s, Thomas Lindsey and Benjamin Lindsey frequently advertised their ferry service or “STAGE-BOATS from Providence to Newport” in the Providence Gazette, sometimes directly competing with advertisements inserted by Joshua Hacker. That competition may have inspired the Lindseys to provide additional services and market them in their notices aimed at potential customers. In November 1767, Hacker had upstaged them when he published a list of prices and promoted several services he provided gratis, including storage of goods at his warehouse until they were ready for shipment. The Lindseys’ advertisement that ran at the same time much more briefly promised “excellent Accommodations for Passengers.”

In their subsequent advertisement, however, the Lindseys elaborated on the sort of experience travelers could expect on their “very compleat Stage-Boats.” As a convenience for their passengers, they “supply their Boats with Provisions and Liquors of all Kinds” to make the journey more enjoyable. Furthermore, they also pledged that “Passengers will be treated in the most genteel Manner.” In addition, the Lindseys augmented their schedule, sailing between Providence and Newport “every Day” instead of “twice a Week” as they had done just a couple of months earlier. In that regard, they now matched Hacker’s itinerary, making their schedule just as convenient for prospective clients. For customers who wished to ship commodities, they now offered “a convenient Store for the Reception of Goods, with Conveniences for weighing the same, at Arnold’s Wharff.” Again, their services matched those Hacker previously outlined in his advertisement.

The differences between the Lindseys’ advertisements published in November 1767 and January 1768 suggest that they determined that they needed to augment their services if they wanted to compete with Hacker. Yet improving their services was not sufficient: they also needed to market them in the public prints lest Hacker become the preferred carrier of passengers and goods between the two ports by default. They did not want potential clients to gain the impression Hacker offered superior services based on the more extensive advertising campaign he previously launched. The Lindseys may have considered their expanded services and expanded advertisement necessary to maintain and improve their position in the marketplace, especially if they felt they previously had been at a deficit that resulted from Hacker besting their advertisements with his own.

June 5

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

Jun 5 - 6:5:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 5, 1767).

“He now keeps the TAVERN at Newbury Ferry.”

Thomas Wood, “Innholder in Salisbury,” offered some helpful advice to travelers in New Hampshire when he announced that he “now keeps the TAVERN at Newbury Ferry.” Not surprisingly, that advice also served to increase the number of patrons, especially overnight guests, at the tavern. Travelers heading east faced a choice when they arrived in his area at the end of the day. Continuing their journey required passage via ferry. Realizing that some might be tempted to call it a day, especially if they had traveled any distance or experienced any difficulties, and wait until the next morning to embark on the ferry, Wood recommended that it actually would be more efficient to make the crossing as the final leg of the journey for the day and then have the liberty to move along at their own convenience at a time that suited the following morning, perhaps saving the trouble of waking the ferry operators. Not only would this arrangement save time, travelers would also benefit from the accommodations that Wood offered at a tavern “repaired in a handsome manner, for the reception of all Gentlemen, Ladies, and others, who travel that way.” Wood assured potential guests they could “depend upon the best of Usage, both for themselves and their Horses.”

Wood made a nod toward what this “best of Usage” entailed in making his recommendation that “it would greatly forward their Journey to cross the Ferry and put up at his House, which would save the trouble of disturbing the Ferrymen so early in the Morning.” Even before interacting with patrons in person, he stepped into the role of concierge to facilitate their travels and create the best possible experience. Many eighteenth-century advertisements indicate that shopkeepers, artisans, and others who provided goods and services practiced what is now commonly known as customer service, though many did not go into detail beyond phrases indicating customers received “the best of Usage.” In his advertisement, Wood included an example to entice potential guests and demonstrate that he did indeed have their best interests at heart, even as he stood to increase his own business at the same time.

February 27

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

feb-27-2271767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 27, 1767).

“LONDON, New-York, and other MADEIRA WINE, by the Pipe, Hogshead, Quarter Cask, or Dozen.”

Colonial Americans drank alcoholic beverages all the time and at any time they wanted. According to Ed Crews, colonists commonly had a drink for breakfast, brunch, lunch, pre-dinner snacking, during supper, and right before bed. Colonists enjoyed drinking at social events, work, and, even during studies at colleges. In fact, Crews reports, in 1639 Nathaniel Eaton, the President at Harvard College at the time, “lost his job” when he did not provide enough beer for students and staff. Alcohol was a wonder drink believed to have many beneficial properties ranging from warming the body, making people stronger, aiding the sick, and generally causing people to have a good time.

Today’s notice advertised the sale of a variety of wines and spirits imported from across the Atlantic, including Madeira, Port, Burgundy, Claret, and Brandy, as well as Jamaican Rum from the Caribbean. Colonists had a variety of different drinks they preferred, including mixers called Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle, Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip, and just as many names for being drunk.

Wine, rum, and whiskey were favored drinks among the colonists, with rum being king amongst the common man. Elites imported wine, especially Jefferson who loved French wine and attempted to produce wine in America, a failed endeavor. George Washington, on the other hand, owned and operated a private whiskey distillery on his property at Mt. Vernon.

American colonists consumed a large variety of alcoholic beverages for various occasions and at times throughout the day, with wine, rum, and whiskey being especially favorite drinks.

For more on “Drinking in Colonial America,” see Ed Crews’ article on the Colonial Williamsburg website.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Cunningham and Sands, purveyors of all sorts of alcohol, emphasized quality and service in their advertisement. Whether customers purchased any of a dozen different varieties of wine or instead opted for rum from Jamaica and other locales in the West Indies, all were “warranted to be excellent in Quality.” This was possible because Cunningham and Sands took “the greatest Care” in choosing which wines and rum to import and sell, implying a certain level of expertise on their part. They also took great care in “the Management” of the wines they stocked, suggesting that they were shipped and stored under the best conditions in order to avoid any sort of contamination or turning. Cunningham and Sands implied that they knew wine as well as artisans knew their trades.

In terms of service, the partners offered several options to potential customers interested in obtaining their products. Consumers could visit Cunningham and Sands at one of two locations in Charleston, either “at their Counting-House fronting the Bay, on Mr. Burn’s new Wharf, or at their Store in Union-street.” Realizing that not all readers of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette – and prospective customers – resided in the Charleston or had easy access to either of their two locations, Cunningham and Sands also announced that “All Orders from the Country will be punctually complied with.” In effect, they offered mail order service! They apparently believed this convenience would attract customers. Not only did they include it in their advertisements, they also drew special attention to it by inserting it as a separate nota bene rather than including it in the paragraph of dense text that detailed the other aspects of quality and service they provided. (Whether Cunningham and Sands or the printer decided that the nota bene should be printed in italics is much more difficult to determine. Advertisers generally wrote their own copy and printers generally made decisions about layout, but occasionally advertisers exercised some influence over format.)

Sam notes that Americans consumed a fair amount of alcohol and enjoyed various sorts of wines and spirits. Today’s advertisement reveals some of the options available to them as well as part of the process involved in shopping for these items.

December 21

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

dec-21-12201766-agar-in-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 20, 1766).

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dec-21-12201766-new-york-jorunal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 20, 1766).

“A fresh and general Assortment of Drugs and Medicines.”

Thomas Bridgen Attwood and Edward Agar both sold patent medicines recently imported from London, but the competitors advanced different strategies for attracting customers in their advertisements. Readers of the December 20, 1766, supplement to the New-York Journal encountered notices from both druggists in the center column on the second page, separated by only three other advertisements.

Like many shopkeepers, Agar provided a partial list of his merchandise, hoping to entice potential customers interested in particular products. Among “numberless other articles in the medicinal way,” Agar carried a dozen patent medicines that he mentioned by name: “DR. James’s fever powders, Hill’s pectoral balsam of honey, … Turlington’s balsam, Greenough’s tincture for the teeth, Lockyer’s pills, Anderson’s [pills]; Dr. Ward’s essence for the head-ach, Bateman’s drops, Stoughton’s bitters, Daffy’s elixir, Godfrey’s cordial; … [and] Dr. Ryan’s sugar plumbs for worms.” Colonists would have recognized each of these, just as modern consumers associate particular brands with specific symptoms and remedies.

Attwood depended on that familiarity, refraining from inserting any sort of list. Instead, in a separate paragraph (headed with a manicule to draw attention to it), he promised “The most approved patented Medicines, warranted genuine, from the Original Warehouses.” His advertisement appeared just below Agar’s, making any sort of list unnecessary since his competitor already named many of the most popular eighteenth-century patent medicines. However, even without such fortuitous placement of the two notices, Attwood could have depended on potential customers’ ability to identify a variety of medicines and makers on their own. He chose instead to focus on the services that he provided, including compounding new prescriptions and filling “Country Orders” from those who contacted him by letter rather than visiting his shop.

In general, Agar emphasized selection while Attwood accentuated service. The druggists found common ground when they each promised low prices, one of the most common appeals made to consumers in eighteenth-century advertising. Attwood, more economical in his use of words, pledged to “Sell at the very lowest prices, wholesale and retale.” Agar, the more verbose of the two, stoutly proclaimed that he sold imported patent medicines “on the lowest terms they can possibly be afforded by any one in America.” Which swayed potential customers? Agar’s extravagant assertions about his prices? Or Attwood’s variety of consumer-centered services?