July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:25:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 25, 1768).

“A large Assortment of … GOODS.”

Frederick William Geyer advertised regularly in several of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. The shopkeeper deployed a variety of strategies to promote his wares, including appeals to price and consumer choice. Both appeared in a notice he placed in the July 25, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, he announced that he had just imported a “large Assortment of English, India and Scotch Peice [sic] GOODS.” Not only did he proclaim that he offered low prices, he also asserted that he was “determined to sell … as cheap as can be bought in Parts of America.”

Geyer devoted more effort – and space – to developing an appeal to consumer choice. In addition to introducing his merchandise as a “large Assortment,” he reiterated the word “assortment” several times to describe particular kinds of items he sold: “A large assortment of Irish linens,” “An assortment of superfine, middling and low pric’d Broad Cloths,” “An assortment of Ribbons,” “A large assortment of plain and painted Ebony Fans,” “a very pretty assortment of black and coloured paddlestick Fans,” “A pretty assortment of plain & flower’d Lawns,” “A large assortment of white Threads,” “a large and neat Assortment of Mettle Buttons immediately from the Makers,” and “a large Assortment of Glass Necklaces.” These descriptions appeared among an extensive list that included hundreds of items in his inventory, indicating to prospective customers that he carried wares to suit practically any taste or budget.

The space that Geyer’s advertisement occupied on the page also played a role in communicating that message to consumers. It more than filled an entire column on the front page of the July 25 issue, spilling over into a second column. A competitor, William Gale, advertised his own “General Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” in a notice that appeared on the same page, but it looked paltry printed next to Geyer’s advertisement. Indeed, Gale’s entire notice was similar in length to the portion of Geyer’s advertisement that required an additional column. They may have carried similar merchandise, but the space on the page consumed by Geyer’s notice suggested that customers would encounter so much more when they visited his shop on Union Street. Twice the length of any other advertisement in the same issue, Geyer’s notice dominated the page, part of a strategy of overwhelming his competitors by vividly presenting prospective customers with the many choices he made available to them.

January 10

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

Jan 10 - 1:7:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 7, 1768).

“He is determined to sell as cheap as can be bought in any Part of America.”

Frederick William Geyer, a frequent advertiser in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s, advanced one of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century: he promoted his low prices. He did not, however, resort to any of the stock phrases or formulaic language often deployed by shopkeepers and merchants in newspaper advertisements throughout the colonies. Instead, he made hyperbolic claims about the bargains prospective customers could expect to encounter upon visiting his shop. Geyer proclaimed that he was “determined to sell as cheap as can be bought in any Part of America, either by Wholesale or Retail.” Some advertisers compared their prices to others in the same city or the same region, but virtually none made such sweeping statements about prices throughout the colonies.

While readers certainly would have been skeptical of such a claim, Geyer won the advantage of forcing consumers to grapple with it. He planted the idea, challenging them to learn his prices and assess them on their own. At the very least, such language set his advertisement apart from others, making it memorable for its bold assertion. It also set the stage for negotiations between buyer and seller. Although Geyer did not promise to match the prices of his competitors, expressing his determination to offer the lowest prices “in any Part of America” suggested his willingness to make a deal in order to satisfy customers that he delivered on his rhetoric.

Eighteenth-century advertisers promoted their prices, not unlike advertisers today. Many relied on standardized language to make the most basic sort of appeal to potential customers, but the language of price was not static. Others, like Geyer, experimented with increasingly audacious descriptions of their prices to overshadow their competition and attract the attention of consumers. Even if readers did not immediately make purchases from Geyer, his advertisement contributed to a reputation that could convince consumers to visit his shop and check out his prices at some point in the future.

June 16

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

Jun 16 - 6:16:1766 Supplement to the Boston-Gazette
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (June 16, 1766).

“A Fresh and neat Assortment of English and India GOODS.”

Business was booming in Boston at the beginning of summer in 1766. The pages of the Boston-Gazette were filled with advertisements, most of them marketing consumer goods. Perhaps it was because a greater number of ships arrived in port with “English and India GOODS” now that winter was over and conditions for traveling had improved. Or perhaps it was because in the wake of the repeal of the hated Stamp Act a greater number of sellers felt comfortable announcing to the public that they sold imported goods.

Frederick William Geyer was just one of many advertisers in the June 16, 1766, issue of the Boston-Gazette. Indeed, the printer had received so many advertisements that a two-page supplement featuring nothing but advertisements was necessary, increasing the length of the newspaper for that week by half! Geyer’s advertisement appeared on the second page of that supplement. Many of the other advertisements were fairly short, at least in comparison to Geyer’s extensive list of textiles and other dry goods. His advertisement extended an entire column, catching the eye because it took up so much space on the page. Such a lengthy advertisement would have certainly been an investment for the merchant and shopkeeper (he sold the goods (“Wholesale or Retail”), one that he hoped would more than pay for itself by bringing customers into his shop. Given how many competitors were also advertising in the Boston-Gazette and the city’s other three newspapers, Geyer may have considered his own advertisement a necessity.

Jun 16 - 6:16:1766 Supplement to the Boston-Gazette fullpage
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (June 16, 1766).

June 2

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

Jun 2 - 6:2:1766 (page 4) Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 2, 1766).
Jun 2 - 6:2:1766 (page 2) Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 2, 1766).

“HAs just imported from London in Capt. Coffin and Capt. Marshall, a fresh and neat Assortment of Goods.”

Fredrick William Geyer wanted to make sure that readers of the Boston Post-Boy were aware of the “fresh and neat Assortment of Goods which he is determined to sell exceeding cheap for Cash only by Wholesale or Retail.” He was so anxious for potential customers to know that he could supply them with “a fresh Assortment of English & India GOODS” that he placed two advertisements in the June 2, 1766, issue of the Boston Post-Boy. One appeared on the second page and the other on the fourth page. Whether by design or coincidence, if a reader held open the broadsheet newspaper to peruse its contents one of Geyer’s advertisements would have been visible.

The advertisement from the second page appears to be an updated version of the one from the fourth page. In the latter, Geyer announced that he had just imported goods via the vessel captained by Shubael Coffin. The other advertisement indicated that he had just received goods shipped by “Capt. Coffin and Capt. Marshall.” According to the shipping news from the Boston Custom House published in this issue of the Boston Post-Boy, “Marshall from London” entered port on May 31. The previous issue, published a week earlier, indicated that Coffin’s ship had just arrived, which probably prompted Geyer to compose the shorter notice (which also appeared in the previous issue, making it as current as possible for a weekly publication). He later updated his advertisement to underscore that he really did sell goods “fresh” from London. (He used the word “fresh” in both advertisements.)

The appeal in Geyer’s advertisement required active reading on the part of potential customers. It worked best if consumers engaged with different parts of the newspaper – the shipping news and the advertisements – simultaneously in order to reach the intended conclusions.