August 18

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

Essex Gazette (August 18, 1772).

“His utmost Abilities will be exerted to give Satisfaction to his Customers.”

In August 1772, George Deblois alerted readers of the Essex Gazette that he “has received, in the last Ships from LONDON, and has now for SALE … A Good and general Assortment of Hard-Ware and ENGLISH GOODS” at his shop in Salem.  The merchant boasted that he purchased this merchandise “in England on the best Terms.”  As a result, he “is enabled, and is determined to sell them, by Wholesale and Retail, at the very lowest Advance.”  Deblois hoped to hook “his Customers and others” with lots of choices and low prices.

He did not, however, catalog his inventory in an attempt to demonstrate the many choices he made available to consumers, a popular strategy among eighteenth-century advertisers.  Instead, he suggested that doing so “would be only tedious” because “his Assortment consists of a great Variety.”  Rather than publish a dense list of his wares, he encouraged prospective customers to visit his shop, browse his merchandise, and see for themselves that they would “find almost every Article usually enquired for, and on as low terms as can be purchased in the Province.”  He pledged that “those who please to call and look” at his imported goods would not be disappointed.  Deblois also emphasized customer service in his efforts to encourage colonizers into his shop, declaring that “His utmost Abilities will be exerted to give Satisfaction to his Customers, and to use them in such a Manner as to encourage them to call again, or to recommend any of their Friends.”  In addition, he added a nota bene to underscore that “Constant Attendance will be given, and the Favours of his Customers gratefully acknowledged.”

Many merchants and shopkeepers focused primarily on their merchandise when they advertised in colonial newspapers.  Deblois took a different approach, treating shopping as an experience to be enjoyed by consumers in Salem and nearby towns.  He invited colonizers to browse in his shop, encountering items they wanted or needed on their own instead of finding them in a list in the public prints.  That experience included customer service as well as the “Hard-Ware and ENGLISH GOODS” offered for sale.  Deblois seemed to understand that cultivating relationships with “his Customers and others” who had not yet visited his shop would likely yield subsequent sales over time.  Accordingly, he emphasized more than moving merchandise in his advertisement.

June 6

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

Providence Gazette (June 6, 1772).

“HE doubts not of giving Satisfaction to such persons as may please him with their Custom.”

Among the various marketing appeals in their newspaper advertisements, merchants and shopkeepers often vowed to provide exemplary customer service.  Several who placed notices in the June 6, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazettedid so.  Edward Thurber, for instance, declared that “Whoever pleases to favour him with their Custom may depend upon the utmost Fidelity, and on having their Business executed with Dispatch.”  An extensive catalog of the “fine Assortment of Grocery, Hard-Ware, and Piece GOODS” for sale at his store “at the Sign of the BRAZEN LION” in the “North End of Providence” comprised most of his advertisement, but he did not intend for that testimonial to consumer choice to eclipse his commitment to customer service.  Gabriel Allen and William Allen also stocked a “compleat Assortment of English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS” at their shop “on the West Side of the GREAT BRIDGE.”  They enhanced their allusion to so many choices with a promise that “Ladies and Gentlemen that are pleased to favour them with their Custom, may depend on the best Treatment.”

Artisans and others who provided services also incorporated customer service into their marketing efforts.  Benjamin Bagnall, Jr., informed the public that he “Carefully CLEANED and MENDED” clocks and watches at his shop, confidently stating that he “doubts not of giving Satisfaction to such Persons as may please to favour him with their Custom.”  In this case, “giving Satisfaction” had more than one meaning.  It implied that Bagnall extended good customer service to his clients, but it also signaled quality and skill, two appeals that artisans often included in their advertisements.  In addition, convenience was an element of the customer service that Bagnall provided.  He claimed that “Watches have been frequently sent to adjacent Places to repair,” presumably because colonizers believed that artisans in Providence did not possess the same skills as their counterparts in Boston and New York.  Such inconvenience was not necessary, Bagnall contended, since he “will endeavour to convince his Employers that there is no Occasion to send [watches] out of the Town.”  In making that pledge, Bagnall brought together customer service, skill, and quality in a single appeal to prospective customers.

June 1

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

Boston Evening-Post (June 1, 1772).

“He fears that some Folks would call it Puffing.”

Recently the Adverts 250 Project featured Andrew Dexter’s advertisement to examine the type seemingly set in one printing office and transferred to others, but the copy merits attention as well.  Dexter attempted to entice prospective customers into his shop with a notice that mocked and dismissed many of the most popular marketing strategies of the period.

He began by stating that he sold ‘GOODS of various Sorts, fresh and new, from different Ports, but then refused to give details or elaborate.  Many merchants and shopkeepers gave that information.  Dexter critiqued the practice, proclaiming that he could mention the Ships by which he received them, and the Names of the respective Commanders; but most People know that this would not affect either the Quality or Price.”

Dexter then turned to other common elements of advertisements for imported goods.  “He could assert, that they were bought with ready Money, came immediately from the Manufacturers, and are the best of the several Kinds that were ever imported.”  Wanting it both ways, he implied that all of that was the case, but then called into question all of the advertisements that deployed such strategies.  “All of this he could say.– All of this, indeed, is easily said.”  He then leveled his most trenchant critique of a popular marketing strategy.  “But if he should add, that Shopkeepers might have his English Goods as cheap as from the Merchants in London, he fears that some Folks would call it Puffing, & others would give it even a worse Name.”

He continued to imply that he offered bargain prices without stating that he did so.  “If his Goods are cheaper than they are sold at any other Shop in Town, ‘tis abundantly sufficient.  He will not, however, roundly affirm any such Thing.”  Only after deriding the appeals made by his competitors in their advertisements did Dexter definitively present a reason for readers to visit his shop.  “He only wishes good People, Country Shopkeepers in particular, as they pass along, would be kind enough to call, and inform themselves.”  Figuring prospective customers engaged in comparison shopping, he acknowledged that they ultimately made decisions based on the information they gathered, no matter how much “Puffing” he included in his advertisements.

Ultimately, Dexter sought to build relationships with prospective customers, whether or not they bought anything the first time they visited his shop.  “After they have viewed every Article he has got, tho’ they should not then chuse to purchase even one of them,” he confided, “he will nevertheless own himself under great Obligations, and will kindly thank them for having given him Reason to hope, that, at some future Time, they will favor him with their Custom.”  Dexter prioritized prospective customers giving him the opportunity to serve them, now or in the future, over any of the usual appeals merchants and shopkeepers made about imported goods.  To underscore his intention, he jeered at the claims made in other advertisements, though he never denied that they also applied to his own merchandise.  He encouraged prospective customers to decide for themselves.

November 26

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

Connecticut Courant (November 26, 1771).

“WE also return out sincere thanks to all our good customers.”

In the fall of 1771, Thomas Converse placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Courant to inform prospective customers that he stocked a “Neat Assortment of English and India GOODS” at his store in Hartford.  In addition, he and a partner continued to make breeches at the same location, conveniently marked by the “sign of the Leather Breeches.”  Converse and Stone had on hand “a number of breeches already made” as well as “leather of the neatest kind,” both options sure to suit the “gentlemen” of the town.

Converse and Stone devoted a significant portion of the advertisement to expressions of gratitude directed at both current and prospective customers.  “WE also return our thanks,” the partners declared “to all our good customers for past favours, and doubt not but our continuance to do our work well … will insure their further favours.”  In addition, Converse and Stone emphasized customer service, stating that they provided “courteous and kind treatment.”  Eighteenth-century advertisers, especially artisans who produced the goods they sold, regularly acknowledged their customers in their advertisements.  Doing so suggested to those who had not yet availed themselves of the goods and services being offered that an advertiser already had an established clientele.  In the case of Converse and Stone, prospective customers may have felt more confident engaging their services if they believed that their “good customers” were also satisfied customers.  This served as an invitation to join a community of consumers that the breeches makers already cultivated.  Extending “sincere thanks” in print also contributed to the customer service that Converse and Stone purported to practice at the “sign of the Leather Breeches,” demonstrating to current and prospective customers that their attention to their patrons continued after they departed their store.  Converse and Stone sought to be “the public’s humble servants” if customers would give them the opportunity.

October 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Colleen Barrett

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

Essex Gazette (October 15, 1771).

“Apothecary’s SHOP, AT THE Head of Hippocrates.”

On October 15, 1771, Nathanael Dabney advertised his apothecary shop in the Essex Gazette. Dabney sold “Drugs, Medicines, AND Groceries” in Salem, Massachusetts. This is one of many examples of advertisements for medicines in the newspapers of the period. Dabney sold medicines and other items imported from London, including “Patent Medicines of every sort from Dicey & Okell’s Original Wholesale Warehouse.”  According to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, patent medicines, like those mentioned in the advertisement, “are named after the ‘letters patent’ granted by the English crown.” Furthermore, the maker of any of these medicines had “a monopoly over his particular formula. The term ‘patent medicine’ came to describe all prepackaged medicines sold ‘over-the-counter’ without a doctor’s prescription” in later years.  Dabney also mentioned the services he provided at his shop, letting customers know that he “will wait on them at all Hours of the Day and Night.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

As Colleen notes, customer service was an important element of Nathanael Dabney’s marketing efforts.  He concluded his advertisement with a note that “Family Prescriptions” were “carefully put up, and Orders from the Country punctually obeyed.”  A manicule helped to draw attention to these services.  That Dabney “put up” prescriptions suggests that he was an apothecary who compounded medications at his shop rather than merely a shopkeeper who specialized in patent medicines.  He likely possessed a greater degree of expertise about the drugs and medicines he sold than retailers who included patent medicines among a wide array of imported goods.

Prospective customers did not need to visit Dabney’s shop “AT THE Head of Hippocrates” in Salem.  Instead, the apothecary offered the eighteenth-century equivalent of mail order service for clients who resided outside of town.  He assured them that they did not have to worry about receiving less attention than those who came into his apothecary shop.  Instead, he “punctually obeyed” their orders, echoing the sentiments of other advertisers who provided similar services.

In addition to customer service, Dabney attempted to entice potential customers with promises of quality, declaring that he imported his drugs “from the best House in LONDON.”  He made a point of mentioning that he received “Patent Medicines of every Sort from Dicey & Okell’s Original Wholesale Warehouse,” an establishment well known in London and the English provinces.  According to P.S. Brown, newspaper advertisements published in Bath in 1770 referred to “Dicey and Okell’s great original Elixir Warehouse.”[1]  Dabney may have hoped to benefit from name recognition when he included his supplier in his advertisement.

The apothecary promised low prices, stating that he sold his wares “at the cheapest rate,” but he devoted much more of his advertisement to quality and customer service.  He waited on customers whenever they needed him “at all Hours of the Day and Night,” compounded medications, and promptly dispatched orders to the countryside, providing a level of care that consumers did not necessarily receive from shopkeepers who happened to carry patent medicines.

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[1] P.S. Brown, “Medicines Advertised in Eighteenth-Century Bath Newspapers,” Medical History 20, no. 2 (April 1976):  153.

August 9

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 9, 1771).

“Griffith is now well settled in Business.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith frequently advertised his services as clock- and watchmaker in the New-Hampshire Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  For eighteen months in 1769 and 1770, he placed many of his notices in response to advertisements inserted by John Simnet, a rival who migrated to Portsmouth after gaining decades of experience as a clock- and watchmaker in London.  Simnet repeatedly denigrated colonial clock- and watchmakers in general and Griffith in particular, claiming that those who did not receive their training in England did more harm than good when they attempted to fix broken clocks and watches.  For his part, Griffith sometimes refused to take the bait, but on other occasions published pointed responses to the Simnet, accusing him of being an itinerant just as likely to steal watches as repair them.  Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette observed their feud for months.  When Simnet departed for New York, Griffith continued advertising, but returned to positive messages.

Such was the case in an advertisement that ran in the August 9, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette (though the notice was most likely misdated July 8).  Griffith announced “CLOCK and WATCHES, clean’d & repair’d as usual in the neatest compleatest and cheapest manner.”  Like other artisans, he emphasized quality, skill, and price.  He also made a nod toward customer service, stating that “his Customers and others may depend on being well used, with Punctuality.”  Griffith also mentioned that he was “now well settled in Business,” testifying to his experience without having to draw comparisons to a competitor with decades of experience who formerly mocked him in the public prints.  A year after Simnet removed to New York, many readers likely still remembered the war of words between the watchmakers that regularly played out in the newspaper.  Griffith likely experienced some relief at no longer being at the receiving end of Simnet’s harangues.  No longer debating whether he needed to respond to Simnet or how vociferously, Griffith ran advertisements that promoted his business without launching attacks on his competitors.  That may have suited him just fine, but readers lost out on one source of entertainment that formerly appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

May 28

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

Essex Gazette (May 28, 1771).

“Any that will favour him with their Custom my depend upon being used as well as they can be at any Store upon the Continent.”

In an advertisement that extended nearly an entire column in the May 28, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette, Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., listed dozens of items available “at his Store next to the Rev. Doctor Whitaker’s Meeting-House.”  Other advertisers also provided lengthy lists of their merchandise, but none of them as long as the description of the “general Assortment of English and India GOODS” that Sparhawk carried.  To further underscore the multitude of choices, he concluded the list with “&c. &c. &c. &c. &c.”  Advertisers frequently inserted the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera once, twice, or even three times to suggest that the amount of space in their advertisements was not sufficient for cataloging all of their wares.  Sparhawk was even more intent on making that point.

He also enhanced his notice with a nota bene directed to wholesalers.  Like many other advertisers, he sold his goods “by Wholesale or Retail.”  Most who did so did not make special overtures to customers who wished to buy in volume.  Sparhawk, on the other hand, advised “all those that deal in the Wholesale Way, that they may be assured that his Goods come from one of the best Houses in LONDON.”  The merchant sought to assure shopkeepers, tailors and milliners who purchased textiles and accessories, and other retailers that he carried goods of the highest quality and most current fashions.  Sparhawk’s customers did not need to fear that their own customers and clients would reject this merchandise.  Furthermore, the merchant aimed to cultivate good relationships with retailers.  He expressed a desire “to sell chiefly by Wholesale,” pledging that “any that will favour him with their Custom my depend upon being used as well as they can be at any Store upon the Continent.”  Sparhawk had many competitors, not only in Salem, but also in nearby Boston.  For the right prices, retailers might have even looked to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and beyond.  The merchant proclaimed that doing so was not necessary, that he provided service that equaled any in the colonies.  In return for their custom, “their Favours shall ever be gratefully acknowledged.”

Sparhawk deployed several strategies to attract customers, especially those who wished to make wholesale purchases with the intention of retailing those items.  He underscored the extensive choices available among his merchandise, both through a lengthy catalog of goods and a hyperbolic expression of just how many items did not fit in his advertisement.  He also made a point of describing his own supplier as “one of the best Houses in LONDON,” bestowing even greater cachet on his merchandise.  In addition to promoting his goods, Sparhawk also promised superior customer service in his efforts to attract retailers as customers.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:21:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 21, 1770).

“The Taylor’s Business is carried on in all its branches.”

When Jonathan Remington, a tailor, moved to a new location early in 1770, he placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette so prospective clients would know where to find him.  Although he devoted much of the notice to giving directions, he also incorporated, though briefly, several marketing appeals.  “The Taylor’s Business,” he proclaimed, “is carried on in all its branches, in the genteelest manner, and with the utmost dispatch.”  Remington deployed formulaic language, though its familiarity to consumers may have been an asset.  Such brevity may have also allowed the tailor to keep down the costs of advertising while still promoting several aspects of his services.

In that single sentence, he communicated that he possessed a range of skills associated with his trade, declaring that he was qualified to pursue “all its branches.”  Prospective clients need not worry that they might present him with requests too difficult or beyond his experience.  He also made a nod to fashion, asserting that he did his work “in the genteelest manner.”  That appeal also implied the quality of his work.  Prospective customers would not look as though they had visited a second-rate tailor.  They could don his garments and confidently go about their daily interactions with other colonists without fearing that careful observation resulted in damaging judgments.  Remington’s pledge to tend to clients “with the utmost dispatch” testified to the customer service he provided.

Remington also attempted to attract new customers by leveraging his former customers as evidence of his abilities.  He expressed gratitude to “his friends and good customers for their past favours, and hopes for the continuance of them.”  In making that acknowledgment, Remington sought to maintain his current clientele while implicitly extending an invitation to new customers to visit him at his new location.  He reported that his services were already in demand, hoping to incite additional demand among readers of the Georgia Gazette who had not previously employed his services.  He played on consumer psychology that demand, or even the appearance of demand, could create additional demand.

Although not extensive, Remington’s advertisement delivered several marketing appeals intended to make his services attractive to prospective clients.  He relied on standardized language that allowed him to deliver messages grounded in the consumer culture of the period in relatively few words.

March 19

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 17, 1769).

“WATCHES PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D.”

This advertisement stood out to me because John Simnet sold watches and also provided a service related to watches. He “PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D” watches. Pocket watches were intricate and watchmakers were the only people that could fix them. Simnet promoted himself as a skilled artisan in this advertisement, making it known that he would be able to fix watches correctly and quickly. According to the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, “Most colonists with watchmaking skills sold and repaired imported watches instead of making them.” Simnet’s advertisement seems to demonstrate that trend. He emphasized repairing watches at the beginning and did not mention “Gold and Silver Watches for Sale” until the end. He may have made those watches during the time he lived in London and Dublin and brought them across the Atlantic to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors also states that advertisements “show that a small number of watches were made in America” in the mid 1770s.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

To drum up business when he arrived in New England, John Simnet placed a series of advertisements in colonial newspapers. This notice from the March 17, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette was a variation on others that he had previously inserted in the same newspaper, though it scaled back on some of the appeals to price, quality, and experience in the earlier advertisements.

Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 16, 1769).

All of Simnet’s advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, were rather restrained compared to the much lengthier advertisement that he inserted in the February 16, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. In that notice he expended far more prose to convince prospective clients of his skills as a watchmaker. He lamented that “many People are put to Expence to no Purpose by those who undertake to repair their Watches,” suggested that some artisans who claimed to be skilled watchmakers charged fees for their efforts but did not produce results. Others, he proclaimed, caused further injury as a result of their attentions, leaving “many good Pieces of Work spoiled or damaged by unskilful Practitioners.” Such was not the case with Simnet! To demonstrate that prospective clients could entrust their watches to him, he provided his credentials: “Citizen of LONDON, and principal Manufacturer in England and Ireland, Inventor of and Skeleton Watch-Finisher.” He had acquired and refined his skills throughout his long experience as a watchmaker on the other side of the Atlantic. He made only a nod in that direction in his shorter advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, noting in one that he had been “Twenty-Five Years Watch-maker in London” and in another describing himself as “Watch-Finisher, and Manufacturer of London and Dublin,” but not indicating his years of experience.

In his lengthier advertisement in the Boston Weekly News-Letter, Simnet also emphasized customer service to a greater degree. Attempting to enlarge his market beyond Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he addressed “Gentlemen in or near Boston.” Realizing that most would not travel to the neighboring colony just to have their watches cleaned or repaired, he offered them the “Convenience” of paying for “the Carriage to and fro, for all Watches sent by Mr. Noble’s Stage” to his shop “opposite Mr. Stavers’s Tavern.” This was an eighteenth-century version of mail order service. A savvy entrepreneur, Simnet absorbed the costs of shipping to make his services more attractive to faraway clients. He also offered a premium to colonists who owned watches made by certain manufacturers: “All Watches of the name Upjohn, or Story clean’d gratis.” Simnet did not specify his connection to those watchmakers, but that probably mattered little to prospective clients interested in this free service. For Simnet, it may have been merely a way to initiate or cement relationships with clients.

Why were Simnet’s advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette truncated compared to the one in the Boston Weekly News-Letter? Perhaps the watchmaker felt that he faced less competition in Portsmouth but needed to distinguish himself if he hoped to enlarge his market to include Boston and its environs. He advanced a variety of appeals in each advertisement, but some of them better demonstrated the marketing innovations he was capable of devising.

January 16

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 16, 1769).

“As she is a Stranger, will make it her constant Study to give intire Satisfaction.”

When milliner Margaret Wills migrated from Dublin to New York she placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to announce that she now received customers “in the Broadway, Next Door to Richard Nicol’s, Esq.” She briefly described the services she offered, noting that she made “all Sorts of Caps, Hats, Bonnets, Cloaks, and all other Articles in the Millinary Way.” She incorporated some of the most common appeals made by milliners and others who advertised consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America: price and fashion. She stated that she charged “the lowest Prices” and that her hats and garments represented “the newest and most elegant Fashion.” In addition, she provided instruction to “young Ladies” interested in learning a “great Variety of Works” related to her trade.

Wills devoted half of her advertisement, however, to addressing her status as a newcomer in the busy port. Unlike many of her competitors who had served local residents for years and cultivated relationships, she was unfamiliar to colonists who perused her advertisement. She acknowledged that she was “a Stranger” in the city, but strove to turn that to her advantage. To build her clientele, she pledged “to make it her constant Study to give intire Satisfaction to those who please to honor her with their Commands.” In so doing, she advanced customer service as a cornerstone of her business. Its allure had the potential to attract prospective clients for an initial visit; following through on this vow could cement relationships between new customers and the milliner “Just arrived from DUBLIN.” It might even lead to word-of-mouth recommendations, but Wills determined that she needed to start with a notice in the public prints to enhance her visibility before she could rely on any satisfied customers circulating any sort of buzz. Her advertisement operated as a letter of introduction to the entire community.