August 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (August 5, 1771).

“Diapers for clouting, napkins and table cloths.”

Throughout the summer of 1771, Bethune and Prince ran an advertisement for “IRISH LINNENS” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Like most other advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, it consisted entirely of text, but it differed in appearance from most other notices concerning commodities for sale.  Rather than goods listed in dense paragraphs of text, Bethune and Prince’s advertisement featured innovative graphic design that both organized the merchandise for readers and made the notice distinctive.

The “IRISH LINNENS” available at Bethune and Prince’s store on King Street included shirting, diapers, and sheeting.  Each of those categories appeared in font that rivaled the size of the headline.  Descriptions, in font the size that matched the text in the body of other advertisements on the same page, appeared to the right of each category of linen.  For instance, “Shirting” ran in larger font justified to the left margin with “3-4ths, 7-8th and yard wide” in smaller font on two lines to the right.  Similarly, “Diapers” appeared in larger font on the left and “for clouting, napkins and table cloths” in smaller font on the right.

Bethune and Prince deployed other means of enticing customers.  They promoted their “large Assortment” and promised that “Wholesale Customers may be supplied nearly as low as they are bought in England.”  Their marketing efforts, however, did not rely solely on those appeals.  Instead, their advertisement deployed graphic design to attract attention, increasing the chances that prospective customers would notice the variety of choices and low prices.  The unusual format required additional effort on the part of the compositor who set the type, but likely not so much as to increase the price of an advertisement usually determined by the amount of space that it occupied rather the number of words it included.  Bethune and Prince likely requested the unique format, but it also may have been the product of a compositor looking to experiment with the design elements of the advertisement.

October 20

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

Oct 20 - 10:20:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 20, 1767).

“If the linen is not liked, it will be taken back again, if not abused, and the money returned.”

In the fall of 1767 John McDonnell advertised “A Parcel of choice IRISH LINENS” in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. To entice potential buyers he resorted to several marketing appeals. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he underscored price. Indeed, he mentioned low prices even before naming the merchandise, first stating that customers could acquire his wares “at as low an advance as can be bought for in London” and only then revealing that he sold linens. Even though they had been transported across the Atlantic that did not raise the cost he charged for Irish linens in Charleston; local buyers enjoyed the same prices as their counterparts in faraway London. In addition, McDonnell pledged that he would not be undercut by any of his competitors, vowing to sell his linens “as cheaper than any in town.”

McDonnell also offered another opportunity for a potential customer to enjoy a discount, provided they had a willingness to purchase in bulk. “[A]ny merchant inclinable to purchase the whole,” he proclaimed, “will meet with a bargain.” McDonnell understood that he stood to generate greater revenues by selling his entire inventory at a reduced price than gradually selling smaller lots and perhaps ending up with surplus linens that never sold. (He was also willing to barter with customers who bought in bulk, accepting rice rather than cash.)

Yet emphasizing the low price was not the only marketing strategy McDonnell advanced in his advertisement. He also offered a money-back guarantee: “If the linen is not liked, it will be taken back again, if not abused, and the money returned.” He did stipulate one condition, that he would only accept returns and pay refunds if unsatisfied customers returned the merchandise in the same condition they purchased it. He needed to protect his own interests even as he proposed an arrangement that worked in potential customers’ favor.

Relying exclusively on text without images, McDonnell constructed a vibrant advertisement to convince readers to purchase his imported Irish linens. He made nods toward quality and customer service, but repeatedly emphasized low prices and bargains for consumers. If that was not enough to attract buyers, he also provided additional assurances about quality via an innovative money-back guarantee. Readers had nothing to lose if they gave McDonnell and his linens a chance.