What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“AN ASSORTMENT OF MILLINARY GOODS.”
Elizabeth Prosser, a milliner, took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise “AN ASSORTMENT OF MILLINARY GOODS” available at her shop on Broad Street in Charleston. She informed prospective customers that her wares recently arrived “per the MERMAID, Capt. BALL.” Merchants, shopkeepers, and others who sold imported goods often noted the ships that transported their merchandise across the Atlantic as a means of demonstrating to consumers that they had new items among their inventory. New also implied fashionable, but Prosser explicitly made the connection. She proclaimed that she carried “the most fashionable” millinery goods for “those Ladies who please to Favour her with their Custom.”
At the same time that she addressed readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Prosser attempted to cultivate a clientele among readers of the South-Carolina Gazette. Her advertisement appeared in both newspapers on September 24, 1771. Purveyors of goods and services frequently advertised in multiple newspapers, seeking to reach more prospective customers and increase their share of the market. Prosser apparently considered it worth the expense to place the same advertisement in two newspapers simultaneously. She did not, however, decide to insert her advertisement in the third newspaper published in Charleston at the time, the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.
If she had done so, her advertisement might have appeared alongside one placed by a competitor. In the September 24 edition of that newspaper, Jane Thomson advertised “A fresh Supply of MILLINARY GOODS” that she “received by theMermaid, Capt. Ball, from LONDON.” Thomson did not advertise in the other two newspapers. That limited the competition between the milliners, at least in the public prints, but it also meant that readers of all three newspapers encountered advertising by female entrepreneurs who joined their male counterparts in marketing a vast array of imported goods. Prosser addressed the “Ladies” in her notice, but women did not participate in the marketplace merely as consumers. Prosser, Thomson, and many other female entrepreneurs conducted business as “she-merchants,” shopkeepers, and artisans during the era of the American Revolution.