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?

dec-15-12151766-new-york-mercury
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.