May 27

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

Boston Evening-Post (May 27, 1771).

“The above Goods were Chose by ourselves and on the Lowest Terms.”

Douglas Heron and Company advertised “An Assortment of Scotch and English GOODS” recently imported from Glasgow in the May 27, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Their inventory included a variety of textiles, including “Scotch & Manchester Linen, and Cotton Checks,” a “Variety of plain, flower’d and stript Lawns,” and a “large Assortment of printed” handkerchiefs.  In addition, they stocked accessories and adornments, such as “Ivory and Horn Combs,” “Mens and Womens leather Gloves,” and a “neat Assortment of coloured Ribbons of the newest Patterns.”  In their advertisement, Heron and Company provided an abbreviated catalog of their merchandise to demonstrate the choices available to consumers.  They concluded their litany of goods with “&c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to suggest to prospective customers that they would encounter an even greater array of goods when they shopped at Heron and Company’s store.

The partners also appended a brief nota bene to explain that “The above Goods were Chose by ourselves and on the Lowest Terms.”  The invocation of “Lowest Terms” was the second invocation of price in the advertisement.  Before listing their wares, Heron and Company first assured consumers of their “exceeding Reasonable” prices.  Those prices were so reasonable because they negotiated the “Lowest Terms” with their suppliers and then passed along the savings to their customers.  In stating that they selected the merchandise themselves, Heron and Company made implicit pledges about quality and fashion.  They played an active role in choosing the goods rather than accepting whatever leftovers merchants on the other side of the Atlantic decided to send to faraway associates to attempt to sell in their local markets. Heron and Company knew that colonial customers desired the latest fashions and would not purchase items they considered out of style.  At the same time, those consumers depended on both correspondents in Britain and local merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans to keep them apprised of the newest tastes.  In proclaiming that they chose the items listed in their advertisement, Heron and Company suggested that prospective customers could trust them in offering advice and guidance.  Heron and Company staked their own reputation for understanding the market and assisting customers in outfitting themselves fashionably when they implied that customers should have confidence in the decisions they made when placing orders with their suppliers.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 4, 1767).

“JOHN GILES … has brought with him, chosen by himself on the spot; A General assortment of European and East-India goods.”

At a glance, John Giles’s advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal closely resembled the notices placed by other merchants and shopkeepers who imported and sold “A General assortment of European and East-India goods” in Charleston. The introductory lines of this list-style advertisement, however, included an important detail that potentially distinguished Giles’s merchandise from the inventory stocked by his competitors.

Consider the introductory lines in other advertisements in the same issue:

  • “MICHIE & ROBERTSON, Have imported, in the Mary, Capt. Gordon, from London, and in the Live Oak, Capt. Lundberry, from Bristol …”
  • “RICHARD WALTER, & Co. At DORCHESTER; Have just imported in the Live Oak, Capt. Lundberry, from BRISTOL …”
  • “DAWSON and DUDLEY, Have just imported in the Live Oak, Capt. Lundberry, from BRISTOL …”
  • “JUST IMPORTED, By JAMES DRUMMON in the QUEEN CHARLOTTE from LONDON …”
  • “ROBERT & NATHANIEL STOTT, At their Store in Beadon’s Alley, next to Elliott-Street; have just imported in the Mary, Gordon …”

Each of these variations fit a general pattern employed by advertisers throughout the colonies: inform potential customers of the origins of wares offered for sale, including the ship and captain who transported the goods so readers could determine how recently they had arrived. Elsewhere in their notices, advertisers often underscored that they carried the “newest fashions.” This appeal gained credibility when they demonstrated that their supplies had indeed been “just imported” on the most recently arrived vessels from England.

Like several of his competitors, Giles sold goods transported “in the Ship Mary, Capt. Gordon, from London.” However, he did not receive his “General assortment of European and East-India goods” as the result of corresponding with distant suppliers. Instead, he ventured to London himself to examine what was available. The items he imported, advertised, and sold in his shop had been “chosen by himself on the spot,” a claim that none of his competitors could make. Other retailers may have been at the mercy of choices made by their agents and associates in England. On occasion, American shopkeepers voiced concerns that they received castoff goods no longer en vogue in England; consumers similarly worried that they lagged behind the current fashions on the other side of the Atlantic. Giles alleviated this anxiety by traveling to London to select which merchandise he would sell “at his store in Elliott-street” in Charleston.