May 27

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

Supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 27, 1773).

“Goods very Cheap.”

As May 1773 came to an end, Samuel Eliot and Thomas Walley continued publishing advertisements that included colorful commentary about their low prices.  In the supplement that accompanied the May 27 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Eliot once again asserted that “Those who are acquainted with his Prices, will not need to be told that he sells at low Rates; those who are not, who will please to call on him, shall be satisfied he makes no idle Profession, when he engages to sell his Goods on the most similar terms.”  Elsewhere in the supplement, Walley expressed his exasperation with the elaborate stories that some of his competitors printed about how they “sell cheaper than cheap and lower than anybody else.”  Rather than publish tales with “little meaning,” he “rather chuses to inform his good Customers and others that he will sell at such Prices, as that both the Seller and Buyer may make a Profit.”

In contrast, Gilbert Deblois took a streamlined approach to promote the low prices he charged for a “large and beautiful Assortment” of textiles, accessories, housewares, tea, and a “great Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention in an Advertisement.”  He deployed a headline that summarized his prices: “Good very cheap.”  He also inserted a nota bene to advise that “Country Traders may be supplied at as low Advance as can be bought at any Store in Town,” reinforcing the message in the headline.  In the standard issue, Herman Brimmer and Andrew Brimmer published an advertisement with a primary headline, “Variety of GOODS,” and a secondary headline, “Exceeding Cheap.”  The Brimmers listed dozens of items from among the “Assortment of English, India and Scotch GOODS” they recently imported, but they did not make additional remarks about the low prices of those items.  They relied on the secondary headline to market their prices.

Deblois and the Brimmers adopted a different approach than Eliot and Walley in their efforts to alert prospective customers to their low prices.  The former chose brevity, allowing short headlines to frame the remainder of their advertisements, while the latter offered narratives intended to engage and perhaps even entertain readers.  In both instances, the advertisers made price a defining factor in their newspaper notices.  They did not merely announce that they had goods for sale.  They presented a reason for consumers to select their shops over others.

May 15

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

Providence Gazette (May 15, 1773).

Once more!

The headline expressed some exasperation.  The partnership of Stewart and Taylor sought to settle their “Company Accounts, which was to have taken Place in November last,” but six months later they were placing an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to “Once more!” call on “all that are indebted to them to make immediate Payment.”  Merchants, shopkeepers, and others regularly ran newspaper notices for the same purpose.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted his own notice in the same issue that carried Stewart and Taylor’s advertisement, though it was brief in comparison.  Carter declared, “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more, are requested to make immediate Payment.”

Along with the headline intended to attract attention, Stewart and Taylor provided details about the consequences for not complying with their final notice.  They wished to settle accounts quickly, “otherwise they will be necessitated to sue [at the] June Court.”  The partners hoped that such threats would prompt “all Delinquents [to] come and make Payment, to prevent a Method being taken that will be very disagreeable.”  Although not all advertisements placed for the purpose of settling accounts included allusions to legal action, enough did so that readers recognized the tactic for leveraging the “Delinquents.”  Relatively few, however, included such a headline.  The “Once more!” likely communicated to those “Delinquents” that Stewart and Taylor meant business.

Among those who devised headlines, most advertisers used their names, including Jabez Bowen, Nicholas Brown and Company, Polly Chace, Nathaniel Green, Jonathan Russell, Thurber and Cahoon, John Updike, Joseph West, and Samuel Young.  Joseph Russell and William Russell deployed their names as a secondary headline that followed the primary headline that promoted “WEST-INDIA RUM.”  In his advertisement about an indentured servant who absconded, Samuel Jefferys used “Eight Dollars Reward” as the headline.  That made “Once more!” unique among the headlines featured in advertisements in the May 15, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Stewart and Taylor shrewdly invoked a phrase intended to arouse curiosity and capture the attention of the “Delinquents” who had not yet settled accounts.

March 19

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 19, 1773).

“Gentlemen in the Country … may depend upon Care being taken in the Packing of the WARE.”

Half a dozen women and two men advertised garden seeds in newspapers published in Boston in the middle of March 1773.  In the week from the 13th through the 19th, Elizabeth Clark and Nowell, Lydia Dyar, Elizabeth Greenleaf, Anna Johnson, Susanna Renken, Rebeckah Walker, John Adams, and Ebenezer Oliver each placed notices in at least one newspaper.  Greenleaf and Renken ran advertisements in all five newspapers in Boston.  Elsewhere in New England, other entrepreneurs inserted similar notices in other newspapers.  Walter Price Bartlett advised residents of Salem and nearby towns that he sold seeds in an advertisement in the Essex Gazette.  In Connecticut, Nathan Beers promoted garden seeds in Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  In Rhode Island, Charles Dunbar advertised seeds in the Newport Mercury and James Green did the same in the Providence Gazette.

The New-Hampshire Gazette also carried an advertisement for seeds, but not one placed by a local vendor.  Instead, John Adams extended his advertising campaign beyond the Boston Evening-Post, Boston-Gazette, and Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in an effort to capture the market in the neighboring colony.  His advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette included a feature that helped distinguish it from those placed by his female competitors in the public prints in Boston, a headline that proclaimed “GARDEN SEEDS” in capital letters.  For some reason, both Adams and Oliver deployed such headlines, but women who sold seeds in Boston did not.  The headline increased the visibility of Adams’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette and likely had other benefits since Adams did not enjoy the same name recognition in Portsmouth as in Boston.

His advertisement included another feature that not only distinguished it from those of his female competitors in Boston but also engaged prospective customers beyond the city.  Adams included a note addressed to “Gentlemen in the Country” at the end of his notice, assuring those “that will please to favour him with their Custom” that they “may depend upon Care being taken in the Packing of the WARE.”  In addition, he promised that those customers “shall be supplied as cheap as can be bought in Boston.”  Adams asserted that he would not be undersold by any of his competitors.

In writing the copy, Adams devised an advertisement appropriate for multiple markets.  The headline enhanced its visibility when it appeared alongside notices placed by competitors in Boston’s newspapers.  That same headline provided a quick summary to prospective customers beyond Boston who were less familiar with his business, whether they encountered his advertisement in a newspaper published in Boston or in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The note about carefully packaging any orders shipped outside the city addressed potential concerns among readers “in the Country” in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Adams thought ambitiously about the markets he could serve and crafted an advertisement with distinguishing features to achieve those ambitions.

November 10

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

Essex Gazette (November 10, 1772).

GOODS cheaper than the cheapest.”

William Vans ran a “Variety-Shop” in Salem in the early 1770s.  To incite interest in his wares, he regularly advertised in the Essex Gazette.  He often mentioned his low prices, comparing them to what consumers could expect to pay for the same merchandise in other shops.  For instance, in May 1771 he proclaimed that he sold his wares “as cheap as any Store in Town.”  Eighteen months later, he enhanced a similar appeal to price with a headline that made his marketing pitch.  “GOODS cheaper than the cheapest” appeared at the top of his advertisement in the November 10, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Vans intended the meaning of “cheap” as understood in the eighteenth century, promoting inexpensive wares without suggesting that low prices indicated inferior quality.  In the introduction to his extensive inventory, Vans declared that he set prices “as cheap or cheaper … than at any Shop in the County,” deciding to give his assertion more weight by expanding it beyond “any Store in Town.”

That Vans devised a headline with a marketing message distinguished his advertisement from others in the same issue.  William Scott advertised the “Essence of Pearl, and Pearl Dentifrice,” the toothpaste created by Jacob Hemet, “DENTIST to her Majesty, the Princess Amelia,” that he sold at his shop.  A headline that advised the product was “For the TEETH and GUMS” appeared at the beginning of the advertisement, but it did not make an explicit marketing appeal like Vans’s headline.  Most merchants and shopkeepers used their names, printed in larger font, as headlines.  Such was the case for John Appleton, “John & Andw. Cabot,” George Deblois, John Dyson, Samuel Flagg, Stephen Higginson, John Prince, and others.  Van’s name received similar treatment, but below the “GOODS cheaper than the cheapest” headline.  Some of those merchants and shopkeepers did make appeals to price in the introductions that came before their lists of merchandise.  Deblois, for instance, declared that “he will sell as cheap as is sold in any Shop or Store in Town, and as low as is sold in Boston, or elsewhere.”  John Appleton stated that “he is determined to sell at such very low Rates … as cannot fail to give full Satisfaction to every reasonable Purchaser.”  Those advertisers made appeals to price, but prospective customers encountered them only after wading into those notices.  Consumers did not have to read the smaller print in Vans’s advertisement to know that he claimed to sell “GOODS cheaper than the cheapest.”  In this instance, the format certainly enhanced the message.

August 25

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

Connecticut Courant (August 25, 1772).

“WINES.”

William Ellery stocked a variety of wares, but emphasized “WINES” in his advertisement in the August 25, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Many purveyors of goods and services used their names as the sole or primary headline in their newspaper advertisements, but Ellery opted to open his advertisement with a segment of his merchandise that he thought would attract attention.  The headline, “WINES,” appeared in a large font, followed by a list of “CHOICE Old Madeira, Claret, Teneriff and Mountain, Malaga WINES.”  Only after that preview did Ellery give his name and location as a secondary headline before providing a more extensive account of beer, spirits, and groceries.  In contrast, an advertisement in the next column featured a more familiar headline, “Imported from LONDON, and to be sold by Stephen Mears, Opposite the North Meeting House in Hartford,” with “Stephen Mears” centered and in a larger font.

Ellery used graphic design to his advantage elsewhere in his advertisement as well.  The “N.B.” that marked the nota bene that followed his list of merchandise appeared in an even larger font than “WINES,” as did the “M” in “MR. ELLERY.”  Even if readers skimmed over “Bristol Beer, and Dorchester Ale, by the Cask, or Dozen Bottles” and “Coffee by the Bag or single Pound,” the large letters guided them to a message from the merchant.  He expressed “his Thanks to those People who have heretofore favour’d him with their Custom” and invited them to continue to “favour him with their Custom.”  Ellery deployed two of the most popular marketing appeals of the period, choice and price, proclaiming that he “his Shop is fuller sorted than ever, as he has just received a large Supply of the above Articles, and flatters himself he cans sell so low as to give intire satisfaction” to his customers.  In contrast, other advertisers tended to position such notes below the headline and above the list of goods.  Once again, Ellery adopted a format that distinguished his advertisement from others.

Ellery’s notice consisted entirely of text, as did all of the advertisements in most issues of the Connecticut Courant.  That did not mean, however, that every advertisement looked the same.  Some advertisers did rely on standard formats, but others sought to engage readers by presenting familiar messages in less familiar formats.  The design of Ellery’s advertisement challenged prospective customers to look more closely at his merchandise and the assertions he made about low prices and extensive choices.

March 13

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 13, 1772).

Choice Bohea TEA.”

When Stephen Hardy, a tailor, placed an advertisement in the March 13, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, his name served as the headline.  Such was the case in many advertisements for consumer goods and services in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  The names of the purveyors appeared first or appeared in larger font than the goods and services offered for sale or both.  As a result, colonizers skimming advertisements encountered a litany of names of merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans rather than products.

On occasion, however, headlines for advertisements did identify products.  In that same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, one advertisement promoted “Choice Bohea TEA TO BE SOLD BY DANIEL PEIRCE, junr.”  The body of the advertisement listed other items for sale as well, but the headline, “Choice Bohea TEA,” appeared in the same size font as “Stephen Hardy” elsewhere on the page, making those two headlines the most noticeable content on the page.  Although Peirce’s name ran in all capital letters, the font size did not distinguish it from the rest of the content of his advertisement.  Indeed, the decision to also print “ENGLISH, & WEST INDIA GOODS,” “GROCERIES, NAILS, GLASS,” “PEPPER,” “GINGER,” and “SHOES” in all capital letters of the same size as “DANIEL PEIRCE” made it harder to spot the name of the advertiser.  “Choice Bohea TEA” was the focal point of Peirce’s advertisement, just as “Stephen Hardy” was the focal point of the tailor’s advertisement.

Other advertisements deployed a similar strategy.  Gilliam Butler’s advertisement for “ENGLISH and WEST INDIA GOODS” also used “Choice Bohea TEA” in a larger font as its headline.  Peter Pearse’s advertisement promoted “Shushong, Hyson, Congo, and Bohea TEA,” with “Sushong, Hyson” in a larger font, occupying the first line, and operating as an abbreviated headline.  Neal McIntire’s advertisement had a similar structure: “Tar, Pitch” led a list of commodities for sale, appeared in a larger font on the first line, and displaced the seller’s name as a headline.  In an advertisement for textiles, “Russia Duck” instead of “THOMAS MARTIN” served as the headline.

Why did so many advertisements in that issue deviate from using the name of the advertiser as the headline?  Did purveyors of goods and services who placed notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette adopt different standards for writing copy than advertisers in other towns?  That may have been the case, especially if they consulted advertisements that previously ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette when writing their own notices.  The printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, may have also played a role.  On occasion, printers noted that they aided in composing advertisements.  Perhaps Peirce, Butler, Pearse, McIntire, and Martin received advice from the Fowles, encouragement to place their products first and their names later in their advertisements.  Whatever the explanation, the advertising pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette often had a distinctive look in the early 1770s because the headlines name products instead of purveyors.

February 19

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 17, 1772).

“On as low Terms as at any Store in BOSTON.”

The partnership of Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers made low prices one of the focal points of their advertising in a notice that ran in the February 17, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Most newspaper advertisements of the era featured the names of the advertisers as headlines, if they included headlines at all, but in this case “Amorys, Taylor and Rogers” constituted a secondary headline.  Their advertisement commenced with a primary headline that proclaimed, “GOODS EXTREMELY CHEAP.”

The partners then developed that theme in a nota bene that preceded a lengthy list of their inventory that extended three-quarters of a column.  They offered their wares wholesale to retailers, both “Country Shopkeepers” and “Town Shopkeepers.”  Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers explained that they offered their customers low prices because they acquired “almost every Kind of Goods usually imported from Great Britain … immediately from the Manufacturors.”  In other words, they did not deal with English merchants whose intervention tended to inflate prices.  By eliminating those middlemen, Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers kept prices down for American retailers.  In turn, those retailers could generate business by setting their own low prices for their customers.

The partners underscored that they offered the best bargains.  They pledged that “Country Shopkeepers may be supplied at any Time with what Goods they want, and on as low Terms as at any Store in BOSTON.”  Those “Country Shopkeepers” had many choices of merchants supplying retailers with imported goods in that bustling port city, but Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers indicated that they matched the prices of any of their competitors.  In addition, “Town Shopkeepers … who usually import their Goods, may have them on such Terms as may answer them as well as importing.”  Retailers in Boston would not find better deals through corresponding with English merchants, especially since Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers had their goods shipped “immediately from the Manufacturors.”

Low prices played an important role in marketing imported goods among both wholesalers and retailers in eighteenth-century Boston.  Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers explained at some length how they were able to part with their goods “EXTREMELY CHEAP,” hoping to attract the attention of retailers looking to set low prices of their own and pass along the savings to consumers.  That merchants and shopkeepers promoted low prices comes as no surprise, but the commentary about prices that sometimes appeared in newspaper advertisements demonstrates that some advertisers made deliberate efforts to engage prospective customers rather than passively announcing low prices and expecting that would be sufficient to generate business.

November 15

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

Connecticut Journal (November 15, 1771).

Cheaper than the Cheapest.”

In the fall of 1771, Henry Daggett advertised a “large & general Assortment of English & India GOODS” in the Connecticut Journal.  His advertisement in the November 15 edition also listed several different kinds of wines and spirits as well as “Loaf and Brown SUGARS by the large or small Quantities” available at his store near Yale College in New Haven.  He offered all of his inventory “Wholesale and Retail,” supplying shopkeepers and selling directly to consumers.

Most purveyors of goods and services made appeals to price when they placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, but Daggett emphasized low prices to an extent not seen in most other notices in the Connecticut Journal and other publications.  John Sherman informed prospective customers that he sold his “large Assortment of GOODS … very reasonably.”  Similarly, John Atwater stocked a “general Assortment of English Goods” that readers could acquire “very cheap.”  Sherman and Atwater embedded appeals to price within their notices; in comparison, Daggett crafted a headline that presented his establishment as “ANOTHER CHEAP STORE!”  He deployed price as a means of framing the rest of his advertisement.  In the middle of the advertisement, he further elaborated, proclaiming that he set prices “Cheaper than the Cheapest.”  Customers might have found some of the same imported goods at Sherman’s store or Atwater’s store, but Daggett suggested that his competitors did not match the bargains he offered.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements might not appear very sophisticated compared to marketing campaigns of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but those notices should not be dismissed as mere announcements.  Daggett attempted to incite demand for his goods by emphasizing low prices, hoping that the promise of good deals would convince customers to make purchases and buy in greater quantities if he could convince them that they were getting the better end of the transaction.  Even the wording and format incorporated innovation as Daggett deviated from standardized language concerning prices to promote “Cheaper than the Cheapest” goods and inserted a headline describing his “CHEAP STORE!”  At a glance, Daggett’s advertisement may look like all the others to modern readers, but on closer examination it becomes clear that Daggett sought to create a distinctive notice that would garner greater attention.

September 6

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

Connecticut Journal (September 6, 1771).

Shoes sold cheap.”

Joseph Smith and Jacob Thompson competed for customers.  Both placed advertisements in the September 6, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal to promote the shoes they made and sold in New Haven.  Smith’s notice appeared first, informing prospective customers that “he carries on the Business of shoemaking or cordwaining, in all its Branches” at his shop located at “the Green Boot and Shoe.”  He used “good Materials” and hired “the best of Workmen.”  In case that was not enough to attract the attention of local consumers, Smith also described a limited-time offer for those ready to pay (or barter for “Country Produce”) immediately rather than purchase their shoes and boots on credit.  Until September 20, he would “work 10 per cent. cheaper than the booking price.”  Customers could take advantage of this bargain, but only if they acted quickly.

Thompson’s advertisement ran immediately below Smith’s notice.  He declared that he “continues to carry on the Business of Shoe-making as usual” and already had “a quantity of ready made Shoes” in stock.  Rather than allow Smith to get the upper hand by setting lower prices, Thompson made an offer of his own.  For customers prepared to pay (or, again, barter) rather than buy on credit, he sold his shoes “10 per cent cheaper than Joseph Smith.”  This offer also concluded on September 20.  Only on rare occasions did advertisers mention competitors by name in eighteenth-century America, making Thompson’s notice exceptional.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans frequently proclaimed that they had the lowest prices in town (or sometimes the entire colony).  Some offered to match the prices of their competitors, but they usually did not seek to undercut other purveyors of goods and services as blatantly as Thompson attempted to do with Smith.

The publication history of these advertisements added another layer to the competition.  Smith first inserted his notice in the Connecticut Journal on August 23, giving prospective customers four weeks to respond to his offer.  The following week, Thompson placed his advertisement as a response, but the two notices appeared on different pages.  On September 6, the printers decided to place the two advertisements together and added a headline that trumpeted, “Shoes sold cheap.” Neither Smith nor Thompson had previously included that headline in their advertisements.  A line separated it from Smith’s advertisement, making clear that the headline was an addition rather than part of either notice.  Why did the printers intervene?  Were they having some fun with the competition between two local shoemakers?  Whatever their intention, the new headline enhanced the advertisements, calling greater attention to them and benefitting consumers with cash (or country produce) on hand to respond to the limited-time offer.

July 31

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (July 29, 1771).

“Now Selling very Cheap.”

In the decades prior to the American Revolution, purveyors of goods and services regularly incorporated appeals to price into their advertisements.  They did so often enough, in fact, that many delivered appeals to price in standardized or formulaic language in their newspaper notices.  In the July 29, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, Joseph Gardener informed prospective customers that he sold a variety of textiles “at the very lowest Rates” and “upon the most reasonable Terms.”  Those phrases frequently appeared in the introductions and conclusions to advertisements, before and after lists of goods that demonstrated the choices available to consumers.

Some advertisers, on the other hand, experimented with other means of enticing customers with low prices.  The proprietors of the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse in King-Street” stocked a “General Assortment of Ironmongery, Braziery and Cutlery Ware.”  To attract attention, they made their appeal to price the headline for the entire advertisement: “Now Selling very Cheap.”  Near the end of the advertisement, the proprietors also stated that their inventory “will be Sold much lower than those Articles are usually Sold in this place.”

The headline appeared in the largest font and preceded everything else in the advertisement.  Other headlines tended to focus on the advertiser or the merchandise.  For instance, “Joshua Gardner” appeared in the largest font in that advertisement, as did “Richard Clarke & Son” in an advertisement for tea, spices, and other groceries.  Another advertisement bore a headline proclaiming “IRISH LINNENS” for sale at Bethune and Prince’s store.  On the same page, the headline for Joseph Mann’s advertisement drew attention to the “CHOCOLATE” he ground and sold.  Another advertisement for a stolen anchor demanded inspection with a headline that promised “Eight Dollars Reward.”

The proprietors of the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse recognized an opportunity to deviate from the usual practices concerning headlines in newspaper advertisements.  They made low prices the focal point of their notice with a headline, attempting to hook readers with that appeal and encourage them to examine the rest of the advertisement in greater detail.  Even when advertisements consisted entirely of text without images, advertisers and printers experimented with graphic design to deliver messages to consumers.