June 4

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

Essex Gazette (June 4, 1771).

An additional Supply of English GOODS.”

Wholesalers and retailers rarely placed multiple advertisements in a single issue of a newspaper prior to the American Revolution, but on occasion some did so.  Such was the case for George Deblois of Salem in the spring of 1771.  He originally published one advertisement in the Essex Gazette in April and then supplemented it with another advertisement in May.  The timing of the advertisements as well as the contents corresponded with the arrival of ships in port.

In an advertisement in the April 23 edition, Deblois “acquaint[ed] his Customers and others” that he stocked “A good Assortment of English Piece Goods” that he “just imported, in the last Ships from LONDON.”  To entice consumers, he enumerated some of the merchandise available at his shop, including textiles, stationery, and hardware.  That advertisement filled two-thirds of a column.  A month later, he placed another advertisement promoting “An additional Supply of English GOODS” and listing dozens of items not mentioned in the first advertisement.  These goods, Deblois explained, arrived “in the Captains Lyde, Hall, and Hood, from LONDON, and in Capt. Gough from BRISTOL.”  Like many other advertisers, he named the captains rather than the vessels that transported the goods.  The merchant also proclaimed that he received “in Captain SMITH from BRISTOL, a large Assortment of HARD WARES.”  Not as lengthy as the first advertisements, this one filled one-third of a column.

Both advertisements ran in the May 21 edition of the Essex Gazette and then appeared in the same issue again on June 4.  In each instance, they accounted for a considerable portion of the content.  Between them, they extended an entire column in a newspaper that consisted of only twelve columns.  For his marketing efforts, Deblois purchased a significant amount of space in the local newspaper.  Running two advertisements simultaneously, though briefly, enhanced the visibility of his enterprise.  Nathaniel Sparhawk, one of Deblois’s competitors, ran an advertisement that extended nearly an entire column, but readers encountered his notice only once when they perused the Essex Gazette.  That Deblois published multiple advertisements, each documenting a variety of items, suggested an even greater array of choices for consumers who visited his shop.

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 30, 1769).

“A good Assortment of Hard Ware and English Piece Goods.”

Several purveyors of goods imported from England advertised in the May 30, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. In an advertisement that previously appeared earlier in the month, John Appleton promoted “a good Assortment of English Piece Goods, suitable for the Season,” but he also acknowledged that he had a smaller inventory than usual because he “strictly adher[ed] to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.” Other advertisers, however, did not address the nonimportation agreement currently in effect as a means of resisting the duties on certain imported goods levied in the Townshend Acts. Samuel Cottnam and George Deblois, for instance, did not offer any explanation about when they imported the goods listed in their advertisements or how abiding by the boycott affected their businesses.

Cottnam advertised “a Variety of English Goods” and listed half a dozen textiles, “all at the very lowest Prices.” Deblois went into greater detail about the “good Assortment of Hard Ware and English Piece Goods” that he sold for low prices “by Wholesale and Retail.” His list of merchandise extended nearly half a column, repeatedly invoking the words “assortment” and “variety” to suggest even more extensive choices for prospective customers. He carried a “Good Assortment” of fabrics, a “large Assortment” of ribbons, threads, and other accessories, a “great Variety” of buttons, a “large Assortment” of hardware, and a “large Assortment” of cutlery. Where Appleton went out of his way to suggest that his own “good Assortment” did not amount to a “full Assortment” of items that consumers might otherwise expect to find at his shop, Deblois did not adapt the customary litany of goods in his advertisement in response to the nonimportation agreement. Nor did Cottnam, though he was not nearly as verbose in listing his merchandise.

Deblois and Cottnam may not have considered it necessary to comment on how carefully they adhered to the nonimportation agreement in their advertisements because committees of merchants compiled reports and submitted them for publication in the public prints. As long as they played by the rules and were not singled out for breaking the agreement, both may have considered underscoring the selection available at their shops the best marketing strategy, especially if they had previously imported surplus goods and saw nonimportation as an opportunity to rid themselves of merchandise that had occupied space on their shelves for too long. Appleton’s advertisement mobilized political virtues, but advertisements placed by many other merchants and shopkeepers suggest that the nonimportation agreement presented an opportunity to eliminate surplus inventory.