January 7

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 7, 1772).

“They will be put up in small Lots for the better Conveniency of private Families.”

Samuel Gordon planned to leave South Carolina in February 1772.  In advance of his departure, he advertised that he would sell a variety of goods at auction on January 10.  To entice bidders, he listed many of those items, including “a great Variety of blue and white enameled Dishes and Plates,” “a great Number of Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate Cups and Saucers,” “Decanters and Wine Glasses,” and “an Assortment of Table Knives and Forks.”  He concluded the list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate far more choices awaited those who attended the auction.

Gordon did not want prospective bidders to assume that he was attempting to get rid of merchandise that had lingered on the shelves at his “IRISH LINEN WARE-HOUSE” in Charleston.  He asserted that he had recently imported the goods “in the HEART-OF-OAK, who arrived here the Twentieth of December Instant, from LONDON.”  In other words, he acquired his inventory three weeks before the auction.  Colonizers had an opportunity to purchase new goods shipped from the cosmopolitan center of the empire for bargain prices at auction.

Yet they did not need to wait until the day of the auction if any of the textiles, housewares, and other items interested them.  In a nota bene, Gordon stated that he “continues to sell any of the above Goods at a very low Advance, till the Day of the Sale.”  He invited customers to visit his warehouse to examine the merchandise and select what they wished to purchase rather than take chances bidding against others at auction.  He offered low prices to make this option as attractive as the prospects of a good deal at auction.  Gordon also explained that any remaining inventory that went to auction “will be put up in small Lots for the better Conveniency of private Families.”  That meant that items would be bundled together.  Consumers who wished to purchase only specific items needed to buy them before the auction.

In his efforts to liquidate his merchandise before leaving the colony, Gordon sought to incite interest in new goods recently received from London.  He scheduled an auction for colonizers hoping for deep discounts via low bids, but also continued sales at his warehouse for others who wanted the security of making purchases without bidding against competitors.  Offering colonizers both means of acquiring his goods had the advantage of maximizing his revenue while also clearing out his inventory.

January 17

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 17, 1771).

“Each articles will be put up singly, and in the order of the inventory annexed.”

Both the size and format of Richard Tidmarsh’s advertisement on the final page of the January 17, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal likely attracted attention.  Rather than appearing in a single column, it ran across two columns.  It also extended half a column, creating a large rectangle of text that seemed to dominate the page even though it accounted for about one-third of the content.

Tidmarsh, a druggist, announced an upcoming auction of “DRUGS, MEDICINES, and SHOP FURNITURE” in advance of his departure from the colony “by the first spring vessels.”  He listed the items up for sale, in effect publishing an auction catalog as a newspaper advertisement.  That list made the format of his advertisement even more distinctive.  The introductory material extended across two columns, but the list of items for sale ran in three narrow columns that also did not correspond to the width of any columns that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.  To help prospective buyers navigate the list, Tidmarsh arranged entries for medicines in alphabetical order.  In the final column, he inserted headers in capital letters for sections enumerating “PERFUMERY,” “PATENT MEDICINES,” and “SPARE UTENSILS and FURNITURE.”  In the introduction, the apothecary explained his rationale for selling items separately rather than as a whole.  He envisioned that “practitioners, as well as Gentlemen of the trade, will have an opportunity of being supplied with such articles as they may be out of.”  Tidmarsh apparently did not anticipate any buyers for his entire inventory, but did anticipate demand for the various drugs and medicines on their own.  He offered credit to buyers who purchased a sufficient quantity and promised that the “whole of the stock of MEDICINES and DRUGS are of the first quality.”  To guide prospective buyers through the auction, he asserted that each article would be sold “in the order of the inventory annexed.”

Tidmarsh advertised an eighteenth-century version of a “going out of business” sale.  In an effort to liquidate his inventory before leaving Philadelphia, he organized an auction that would allow buyers to acquire medicines “of the first quality” at bargain prices compared to retail and perhaps even wholesale transactions.  He published an auction catalog in the public prints, its organized columns guiding prospective bidders through both the items for sale and the order.  He also encouraged participation by offering credit to those who purchased in sufficient quantities.  The unusual format of the apothecary’s advertisement also drew attention to the upcoming auction, helping to generate interest and incite bidders to attend.

December 5

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 5, 2020).

“Will sell by vendue … a neat assortment of CABINET-WORK.”

John Dobbins, a cabinetmaker, operated a shop on Tradd Street in Charleston in 1770.  As the year came to a close, he inserted an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to alert the public that he planned to leave the colony in the spring.  In preparation for his departure, he planned a vendue or auction for December 17.  His inventory consisted of “a neat assortment of CABINET-WORK,” including “chairs and tables of all kinds, china tables, carved and plain, mahogany bedsteads, neat double and half chests of drawers, French [c]hairs, brass nailed chairs,” and “many other articles not mentioned.”  Dobbins sought to liquidate his wares.  In effect, he ran a going-out-of-business sale.  Prospective customers stood to acquire better bargains by buying at auction.  The cabinetmaker faced improved prospects of finding purchasers for the array of furniture that remained in stock.

In his effort to attract bidders to the auction, Dobbins offered “Three months credit to any purchaser above Twenty Pounds.”  Providing such flexibility likely increased the number of prospective customers who considered attending the vendue.  After all, the cabinetmaker’s first goal was to get people through the door.  The number and amount of sales depended on the crowd that gathered, so announcing that he extended credit – and set the threshold at twenty pounds – was a savvy tactic for encouraging attendance and participation at the auction.

Dobbins also took the opportunity to express his appreciation to his customers for their patronage during the time he made and sold furniture at his shop on Tradd Street.  Although he was leaving the colony, the business would continue at the same location.  Dobbins endorsed his successor, John Forthet, asking “his friends … for their continuance as the business will be carried on at the same shop.”  As one last service to his customers, he offered a recommendation and a transition to another artisan who made and sold furniture.  As part of maintaining good relationships during the time that he remained in the colony, he prepared for a smooth departure that included bargains at auction, credit for preferred customers, an expression of gratitude, and recommending a successor.

August 2

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

Aug 2 - 8:2:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 2, 1769).

“THE subscribers being desirous to close all their concerns, in the dry good business.”

Inglis and Hall were among the most prolific advertisers in the Georgia Gazette in the late 1760s. They frequently inserted lengthy advertisements listing goods imported from Britain, the Caribbean, and other faraway places. They also participated in the transatlantic slave trade, advertising enslaved men, women, and children.

In the summer of 1769, the partners placed an advertisement announcing that they intended to “close all their concerns, in the dry good business.” Like other merchants and shopkeepers, Inglis and Hall extended credit to their customers. In preparation for going out of business, they asked their “friends” to pay any debts incurred prior to January 1. Those who made purchases since then presumably had more time to settle accounts. Despite their amicable description of their customers as “friends,” Inglis and Hall expressed exasperation that some of them “have given little or no attention to their repeated calls” to submit payment.   This was the last warning, the partners proclaimed, because those who did not “settle to their satisfaction” in one month’s time “may depend on being sued without further notice.” After first dispensing with that important piece of business, Inglis and Hall promoted their remaining merchandise, advising prospective customers that they still had “a variety of the most useful articles” in stock.

For several years Inglis and Hall provided residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony with vast assortments of goods, encouraging them to participate in the consumer revolution that was taking place throughout the British Atlantic world and beyond. During that time they were also important customers for James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette. For eighteenth-century newspaper printers, selling advertisements was often more lucrative than selling subscriptions. Most advertisements that ran in the Georgia Gazette were fairly short, extending three to fifteen lines. At fourteen lines, Inglis and Hall’s advertisement announcing the end of their dry goods business was short compared to many others that they placed in the Georgia Gazette, advertisements that filled half a column or more. Although Johnston did brisk business when it came to advertisements, he must have been disappointed to lose such an important customer and all of the revenue Inglis and Hall contributed to the operations of the Georgia Gazette.

February 14

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

Essex Gazette (February 14, 1769).

“Will sell the Remains of Mr. Hamilton’s Goods at the lowest Prices.”

GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!!! Although Arthur Hamilton and Archibald Wilson did not make such a proclamation, this was the marketing strategy they adopted in an advertisement that ran in the February 14, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Wilson placed the advertisement on behalf of Hamilton, explaining that the merchant had “gone out of the Country.” In the wake of his departure, Hamilton had “empowered” Wilson “to settle his Affairs,” including taking legal action against any associates who neglected to pay their debts. In addition, Wilson had taken possession of “the Remains of Mr. Hamilton’s Goods.” He occupied Hamilton’s former shop, where he sold the remaining merchandise “at the lowest Prices, for Cash or short Credit.” Settling Hamilton’s affairs, including liquidating his inventory, merited setting the “lowest prices” to entice prospective customers.

Hamilton and Wilson were not the only advertisers in the Essex Gazette who ran a sale without calling it a sale. Robert Alcock had been advertising for more than a month that he intended “to clear off his Stock.” To that end, he sold textiles and other goods “greatly under the usual Prices.” In other words, he ran a clearance sale. Featuring this marketing strategy in his advertisement may have offered inspiration to Hamilton and Wilson as they considered how to best attract customers. The Essex Gazette, barely six months in publication at the time they placed their notice, contained relatively few advertisements compared to newspapers printed in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Pennsylvania. Most issues had a dozen or fewer paid notices, making each of them that much more visible to readers. Given the circulation of colonial newspapers, Hamilton and Wilson would have had access to publications from Boston and other cities, but for the purposes of advertising to their local market they likely paid the most attention to advertisements in the Essex Gazette. They did not need other merchants and shopkeepers to demonstrate that setting low prices would aid in selling Hamilton’s remaining merchandise, but they may have benefited from Alcock’s example when it came to informing the public that they had adopted this approach. Sales were not a standard element of print marketing in the eighteenth century. Hamilton and Wilson may have adopted a method of addressing prospective customer that they saw Alcock introduce in their community. Given the small number of advertisers in the Essex Gazette, they could have decided that they needed to take a similar approach in order to be competitive.

November 12

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

Nov 12 - 11:12:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 12, 1767).

“Joshua Blanchard Going into another Trade, Is selling his GOODS.”

It would have been difficult for readers not to notice Joshua Blanchard’s advertisement in the November 12, 1767, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. It occupied the entire first column on the first page. In addition, it had a different format than most other advertisements that listed consumer goods. On the left Blanchard listed his inventory; on the right he indicated prices. Approximately fifty entries included specific prices that potential customers could expect to pay at Blanchard’s shop. Throughout the eighteenth century, merchants and shopkeepers rarely inserted prices in their advertisements. When they did, they usually confined themselves to a small number of items. Blanchard, on the other hand, provided an extensive guide to retail prices at his shop on Dock Street.

Why did Blanchard take this extraordinary step? He had previously emphasized the “VERY LOW Price at which he sells” in other advertisements, but had mocked the popular practice of “enumerating every Particular, even to Pins and Needles.” Apparently he changed his mind when he decided to have a going-out-of-business sale. He opened his advertisement by explaining that because he was “Going into another Trade” that he was “selling his GOODS.” He listed specific prices as a means of attracting attention, inciting demand for his merchandise, and demonstrating that he meant business. Prospective customers did not need to worry that Blanchard would lure them into his shop with promises of low prices only to end up haggling over prices similar to those of his competitors. Instead, they knew in advance how much he charged for dozens of items.

Blanchard ceased listing prices about two-thirds of the way through his advertisement, switching to two columns that merely listed other merchandise. Space constraints and the cost of placing a lengthier advertisement may have prevented him from providing prices for every item. Or, he might not have intended to list prices for his entire inventory, preferring instead to use the first items in his advertisement to draw customers into his shop and trusting that they would then encounter other bargains that they could not resist.

Eighteenth-century retailers did not usually use sales as a means of marketing their wares, certainly not to the extent that the practice became standard in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but some did experiment with the concept. In effect, Joshua Blanchard advertised a going-out-of-business sale in the fall of 1767.

June 28

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

Jun 28 - 6:26:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (June 26, 1767).

“Guerin & Williamson … will dispose of their remaining STOCK of Goods.”

Guerin and Williamson published this understated advertisement in the June 26, 1767, issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. The partners announced that, “INtending to decline the DRY GOOD BUSINESS, they will dispose of their remaining STOCK of Goods on hand, by wholesale or retail, on reasonable terms.” Their entire notice barely exceeded the number of characters contained in today’s tweets, yet their advertising did not otherwise anticipate modern marketing efforts. They posted this brief advertisement in only one of the three newspapers published in Charleston at the time, limiting its market penetration. Guerin and Williamson were going out of business and wished to liquidate their remaining inventory. They offered attractive prices (“reasonable terms”) but did not pursue flashy techniques that eventually became associated with going out of business sales.

In preparing each entry for the Adverts 250 Project, I often argue that many modern marketing practices had their precursors in the eighteenth century. Rather than merely announcing that they had goods and services to sell, advertisers sought to incite demand and influence potential customers long before the rise of Madison Avenue. The road from eighteenth-century advertising to twentieth- and twenty-first-century marketing was not as long as often assumed. Guerin and Williamson’s advertisement, on the other hand, illustrates the distance between some of the practices common 250 years ago and today. Given the simplicity of their notice, it’s easy to understand why we so often focus on how much advertising has changed in the last two centuries rather than recognize similarities. In addition to enhancing marketing appeals over time, technological change and new media have played a role as well. What would Guerin and William’s advertisement sound like if it had been a radio or television commercial played on local markets? What would it look like as an email or a banner advertisement on a webpage? The stark contrast between those methods of delivering Guerin and Williamson’s advertisement and the newspapers that came off printing presses more than two centuries ago amplify the differences between modern marketing practices and those of the eighteenth century. Advertisements like this one from Guerin and Williamson seem to further confirm how significantly marketing has changed, making it all the more imperative to acknowledge the innovations and appeals in many other advertisements published in the eighteenth century in order to develop a better understanding of the state of marketing in the era.

December 15

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

New-York Mercury (December 15, 1766).

She has employ’d a young woman lately arrived from London.”

When she decided to “decline Business for the present,” shopkeeper and milliner Elizabeth Colvil announced the eighteenth-century equivalent of a going-out-of-business sale. She “resolved to dispose of all her shop goods by wholesale and retail, at prime cost, for ready money only; the sale to continue till all are sold.” Colvil was liquidating her merchandise, enticing prospective customers with low prices in order to move the process along as quickly as possible.

In and of itself, that sort of promotion distinguished Colvil’s advertisement from many others of the period, but it was not the only aspect of her announcement that set it apart. After listing much of her remaining merchandise and promising “sundry other goods too tedious to mention,” Colvil indicated that she had hired an assistant, a young woman who had recently arrived from London. Her assistant, “who understands the millinary business, in all its branches,” would stay on until Colvil closed shop. At that time, she would pursue the business on her own “in the most extensive manner.” Although Colvil was not selling her shop to her assistant, she was setting her up as her successor.

To that end, Colvil made an appeal to current and prospective customers: “those ladies that shall please to favour her [the young woman recently arrived from London] with their custom, may rely on being served on the best terms, and their work done in the neatest and most fashionable manner.” Colvil voiced a strong endorsement of her assistant, directing the women of New York to patronize her assistant’s shop once Colvil had departed the marketplace.

This differs significantly from most eighteenth-century advertisements in which male merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans indicated the amiable end of a partnership or the transfer of a business from one man to another. In such cases they used advertisements to announce a change in status but did not incorporate an extensive endorsement of the new business or its proprietor.

Elizabeth Colvil probably knew a thing or two about the particular difficulties of being a woman and operating a business in eighteenth-century America. As a result, she attempted to assist her assistant in launching her own shop, recognizing that a young woman, especially one new to the city and unknown to most of its residents, would benefit from establishing a good reputation as quickly as possible. Colvil’s endorsement in her advertisement was the first step. The assistant working with customers was the second. She could build up a clientele, drawing on Colvil’s network of patrons, while the senior shopkeeper and milliner was still active in the business. In this advertisements, Elizabeth Colvil advocated on behalf of a fellow female entrepreneur.

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 5, 1766).

They have a Quantity of Goods remaining on Hand which they’ll Sell cheap.”

Trumbull, Fitch, and Trumbull ended their partnership on June 20, 1766. More than two months later they continued to advertise that their common enterprise had been terminated as they encouraged “All Persons having Accounts open with said Company” to settle them with Joseph Trumbull, one of the partners, “as soon as possible.”

Apparently the former partnership still had inventory remaining to be sold. Trumbull, Fitch, and Trumbull were certainly interested in receiving what they were owed by former customers, but their advertisement also indicated that any reader and potential customer could visit the store they had operated in Norwich and purchase the remaining merchandise. To make this an even more attractive prospect, they noted that “they have a Quantity of Goods remaining on Hand which they’ll Sell cheap for Cash or short Credit.”

The advertisement did not indicate how the current prices compared to what they had been during the partnership, but readers could assume that Trumbull, Fitch, and Trumbull were motivated to sell as they went their separate ways. In effect, the former partners operated an eighteenth-century precursor to a “going out of business” sale, though their advertising was not nearly as bold or flashy as modern promotions of similar events.

Still, this reminds us that some of the most basic marketing techniques were not invented in the twentieth century. Instead, over the last century or so marketers have further developed incipient strategies already deployed in the colonial America. A twenty-first-century version of today’s featured advertisement would likely focus exclusively on offering low prices in order to liquidate inventory (and leave the settling of accounts to be pursued via other means), refining the method used by Trumbull, Fitch, and Trumbull a quarter millennium ago.

July 18

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

Jul 18 - 7:18:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 18, 1766).

“He leaves Shopkeeping soon.”

Richard Wescott was having a “going out of business” sale, though he did not announce it with the same fanfare as modern advertisers. Indeed, he only mentioned this information at the very end of his notice, followed only by a nota bene about a particular kind of handkerchiefs he stocked. Even though much of the advertisement was understated in the appeals it made, Wescott did mobilize several methods of attracting potential customers.

In contrast to many shopkeepers who promoted extensive consumer choices inherent in their lengthy lists of merchandise, Wescott instead stated that he carried “a small Assortment of Summer Goods” at the beginning of the advertisement. This worked well with his note that all of his merchandise would be “Sold very Cheap for Cash, as he leaves Shopkeeping soon” at the conclusion. In combination, this gave the impression of scarcity (get them while they last!) and a willingness to charge lower prices in order to reduce his investment tied up in inventory (rock bottom prices!). He quietly made the appeals that advertisers two centuries later would pronounce as loudly as possible.

In addition, Wescott made limited appeals to the quality of his goods, particular when he described his “blew and green Shalloons” as “Best.” He also specified a particular price for his “Womens English Shoes.” Shopkeepers rarely indicated prices in their advertisements. Wescott may have been willing to part with these shoes at such a discount that he expected that listing this price would incite demand.

From a modern perspective, Wescott’s advertisement appears dense and drab. Upon closer examination, however, we see that it featured nascent innovations in advertising methods that subsequent advertisers further developed and made ubiquitous.