August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:23:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (August 23, 1769).

“Several other articles too tedious to enumerate.”

Although male merchants and shopkeepers placed the vast majority of advertisements for imported consumer goods in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and other newspapers published in Charleston in the 1760s, their female counterparts occasionally inserted advertisements as well. Given the number of women who earned their livelihoods as shopkeepers in the largest port cities, female entrepreneurs were disproportionately underrepresented when it came to advertising in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Those who did advertise, however, tended to deploy the same marketing strategies as men rather than crafting commercial notices that made distinctive appeals based on their sex.

Such was the case for Frances Swallow. Except for her name and the pronouns, her advertisement did not differ from those placed by male competitors in the August 23, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. She made an appeal to price, stating that she sold her wares “on the most reasonable terms.” She also invoked current tastes more than once. She sold “ribbons of the newest fashion” and “continues to make up all kinds of MILLINERY, in the newest fashion.” Price and fashion, along with quality, were among the most commonly deployed marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspapers.

Most significantly, Swallow’s advertisement emphasized consumer choice, another exceptionally popular marketing strategy of the period. Swallow produced a litany of goods equal in length to those published by her male competitors in the same issues. Indeed, Swallow’s list might be considered even more extensive because it consisted almost exclusively of textiles and millinery supplies, whereas most of the male advertisers listed those items along with housewares, hardware, and other items. To underscore the extent of the choices she presented to customers, Swallow concluded her list with a proclamation that she also carried “several other articles too tedious to enumerate.” This challenged readers who already envisioned the dozens of items she did describe to imagine what other merchandise did not appear on Swallow’s list.

Swallow specialized in retailing textiles and millinery ware. In marketing her goods, she adopted the same strategies as male merchants and shopkeepers who advertised all sorts of imported goods. She made appeals to price, fashion, and, especially, consumer choice to convince prospective customers to visit her shop.