November 17

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 17, 1772).

“A large and valuable Assortment of Goods.”

Samuel Gordon promoted the “large and valuable Assortment of Goods” he sold at the “IRISH LINEN WARE-HOUSE” in an advertisement in the November 17, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Contrary to the name of his store, Gordon’s inventory extended far beyond textiles.  To aid prospective customers in perusing his notice, he identified more than two dozen categories of merchandise, including “MILLINARY,” “SHOES,” “HOSIERY,” “CHINA,” “GLASS,” “LOOKING-GLASSES,” “STATIONARY,” and “PEWTER.”  Each of those categories appeared in capitals, indented to form a new paragraph, and followed by a short description or list of goods.  The format likely made Gordon’s advertisement easier for readers to navigate than others that featured dense blocks of text.  Alexander Gillon’s advertisement, for instance, occupied a similar amount of space and included a similar number of items, but nothing about the format differentiated any of the goods from others.

In contrast, Gordon deployed short passages that invited prospective customers to engage with the various kinds of merchandise he stocked.  For “HATS,” he had a “choice of mens fine fashionable hats, felt ditto, ladies riding ditto.”  He did not go into greater detail, but instead encouraged readers to imagine the choices and then visit his store to see for themselves.  The “STATIONARY” items included a “great choice of pocket-books, quills, wax, wafer, paper of different qualities, and a complete set of large books, viz. ledger, journal, and waste-book.”  Gordon composed a longer blurb for “CUTLERY,” mentioning a “great choice of knives and forks, ditto in cases, razors, ditto in cases, … carving-knives, pen-knives,” and related items.  He repeatedly used the word “choice” to signal to prospective customers that they ultimately made decisions according to their own taste and budget rather than settling for whatever happened to be on the shelves.  Similarly, he used variations that included “large assortment,” “different sorts,” “large quantity,” and “variety.”  Many blurbs concluded with “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera), suggesting that far more choices awaited those who entered Gordon’s store.

Gordon did not rely on choice alone in marketing his wares.  He also offered a discount to “Merchants who may want any of the above articles.”  He extended credit, while promising a “discount of Ten per cent” to merchants who paid their accounts in January.  Gordon likely intended that the carefully formatted list of wares would spark interest and then the discount in the nota bene would seem like too good of a bargain for merchants to ignore.  The design of the advertisement suggests that Gordon carefully considered his marketing strategy rather than simply publishing an announcement that he had imported goods for sale.

February 9

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

Massachusetts Spy (February 6, 1772).

“MANCHESTER GOODS.”

Samuel Partridge offered many choices to consumers at his shop on Marlborough Street in Boston.  In an advertisement in the February 6, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Spy, he demonstrated the extent of choices available, listing dozens of items from an “assortment of superfine and low prized Broad-Cloths” and “an assortment of womens and childrens black Cloth coloured and crimson worsted Gloves and Mitts” to “large printed cotton Handkerchiefs” and “a compleat assortment of fashionable Ribbons” to “Cambricks” and “Calamancoes of all colours.”  His inventory was so extensive that his advertisement filled almost an entire column on the final page of the newspaper.

Partridge deployed a marketing strategy common among merchants and shopkeepers in Boston and other colonial cities and towns.  He encouraged prospective customers to imagine themselves purchasing and wearing, displaying, or using his merchandise by presenting them with many options.  Repeatedly inserting the word “assortment” underscored the number of choices.  However, he also differentiated his advertisement from others by using headings to categorize his wares and direct readers to items that most interested them.  He incorporated six headings, each of them in all capitals and centered.  At a glance, readers identified sections for “CLOTHS,” “HOSIERY,” “MANCHESTER GOODS,” “SILKS,” “INDIA GOODS,” and “STUFFS.”  Following a heading for “ALSO,” Partridge named additional items, that part of the advertisement resembling the format of most others placed by his competitors.  He listed most items, however, under the various headings.

Though enmeshed within newspapers rather than printed separately, such advertisements served as catalogs.  For Partridge’s advertisement, the headings made that even more the case.  Those headers helped readers navigate the contents.  Such an innovation suggests that Partridge did not merely announce that he had imported goods for sale but instead consciously considered how to most effectively engage consumers in hopes of inciting demand and convincing them to make their purchases at his shop.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:13:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 13, 1770).

“Coopers Bung borers, adzes, howells, compasses, crozes, bitts and rivets.”

In the 1770s, when merchants and shopkeepers enumerated the “general assortment” of goods they offered for sale, their advertisements usually followed one of two formats.  Most listed their merchandise in a dense paragraph of text that extended anywhere from a few lines to half a column or more.  As an alternative, others created more white space and made their advertisements easier to read by including only one item per line or organizing their wares into columns.  Adopting such methods meant that advertisers could name fewer items in the same amount of space as their competitors who chose paragraphs of text with no white space.

Both sorts of advertisements regularly appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but occasionally advertisers (perhaps in consultation with printers and compositors) added variations and innovations.  Such was the case with Thomas Hazard’s advertisement for ironmongery and cutlery in the August 13, 1770, edition.  Hazard began with a dense paragraph that included “H and H-L plain and rais’d joint hinges,” “brass and iron candlesticks,” and “sword blades.”  In addition, he divided a portion of his advertisement into two columns.  Within those columns, he resorted to short paragraphs of text rather than listing only one or two items per line, but those paragraphs were brief and likely easier for eighteenth-century consumers to navigate than the dense paragraph of text that constituted the bulk of the advertisement.  Furthermore, Hazard inserted headers for each of those shorter paragraphs:  “Carpenters,” “Shoemakers,” “Coopers,” “Barbers,” “Watchmakers,” and “Silversmiths and Jewellers.”  Each paragraph listed tools used in a particular trade.  In this manner, Hazard targeted specific consumers and aided artisans in finding the items of greatest interest to them.

Prior to the American Revolution, merchants and shopkeepers published undifferentiated lists of goods in their advertisements, but occasionally some attempted to impose more order and make their notices easier for prospective customers to navigate.  Thomas Hazard did so by grouping together tools used by various sorts of artisans, setting them apart in columns, and using headers to draw attention to them.  Carpenters or watchmakers who might have overlooked items when skimming dense paragraphs of text instead had a beacon that called their attention to the tolls of their trades.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:10:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 10, 1770).

Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China.”

Like many other colonial shopkeepers, George Ball published an extensive list of his merchandise in an advertisement he placed in the May 10, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  Most advertisers who resorted to similar lists grouped all of their wares together into dense paragraphs of text.  A smaller number, like Ball, used graphic design to aid prospective customers in differentiating among their goods as they perused their advertisements.  Ball formatted his advertisement in columns with only one, two, or three items per line, just as Abeel and Byvanck, John Keating, and Jarvis Roebuck did elsewhere in the same issue.  Ball, however, instituted a further refinement that distinguished his notice from the others.  He cataloged his merchandise and inserted headers for the benefit of consumers.

Ball offered several categories of merchandise:  “Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China,” “Brown China,” “White China,” “White Stone Ware,” “Delph Ware,” “Plain Glass Ware,” “Flower’d Glass,” “Iron Ware from England,” and “Queen Pattern Lamps.”  These headers appeared in italics and centered within their respective columns to set them apart from the rest of the list.  The goods that followed them elaborated on what Ball had in stock, allowing prospective customers to more easily locate items of interest or simply assess the range of goods Ball offered for sale.  His method could have benefited from further refinement.  The items that followed “Queen Pattern Lamps” were actually a miscellany that did not belong in any of the other categories.  Ball might have opted for “Other Goods” as a header instead.  Still, his attempt to catalog his merchandise at all constituted an innovation over the methods of other advertisers.

In most instances, eighteenth-century advertisers submitted copy and compositors determined the layout.  However, advertisements broken into columns suggest some level of consultation between advertisers and compositors, at the very least a request or simple instructions from one to the other.  Ball’s advertisement likely required an even greater degree of collaboration between advertiser and compositor.