February 21

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

Connecticut Journal (February 21, 1772).

Can be afforded cheaper than if purchased in Boston or New York.”

In February 1772, Isaac Beers and Elias Beers took to the pages of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy to advertise “a small Assortment of GOODS” they recently imported from London.  They listed some textiles, promising as well “a general Assortment of Articles in the Cloathing Way.”  They concluded their advertisement with a note that they sold their wares “at the very lowest Rates.”  A manicule drew attention to that proclamation.

The shopkeepers provided additional commentary about price intended to convince prospective customers to shop at their store rather than seek out alternatives.  “As we imported the above Goods immediately from London,” they explained, “they undoubtedly can be afforded cheaper than if purchased in Boston or New York.”  Residents of New Haven and nearby towns did not need to visit one of the bustling port cities or send away to shopkeepers there in order to benefit from the best bargains.  The higher volume of shipping that arrived in Boston and New York did not necessarily mean that consumers in those cities had access to better deals, at least not according to the Beerses.  In addition, they managed to keep prices low at their store in New Haven because they did not acquire their merchandise via wholesalers in Boston and New York.  Receiving their goods “immediately from London” eliminated a round of markups.

Readers did not need to look beyond New Haven for the best prices.  The Beerses underscored that point when they asserted that they “are determined to sell [the above Goods] as low as they possibly can be afforded.”  They were not the only entrepreneurs to make appeals to price in Connecticut Journal, but they did provide the most extensive explanation to demonstrate how they managed to keep prices low for their customers.  In so doing, they acknowledged that consumers assessed the claims made in newspaper advertisements and made careful choices when shopping.

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:27:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (May 27, 1768).

“A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.”

Isaac Beers and Elias Beers sold a variety of goods at their shop in New Haven. In the spring of 1768 they enumerated many of their wares in an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal, listing textiles and adornments that ranged from “blue, bluegrey, and blossom colour’d German Serges” to “A very large Assortment of Buttons, Bindings, and all kind of Trimmings for Mens Cloathes” to “A genteel Assortment of the newest fashion’d Ribbons.” They stocked grocery items, including tea, cofeem and sugar, as well as “Pigtail Tobacco” and snuff.

Although they were not booksellers or stationers, the Beers included writing supplies and books among their inventory. Like other shopkeepers, they carried “Writing Paper” and wax wafers for making seals. They also sold bibles and spelling books as well as “A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.” (Although that portion of the advertisement has been damaged in the copy of the May 27, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal seen above, the same advertisement appeared the next week in an issue that has not been damaged.)

The Beers did not need to provide any further explanation for prospective customers to identify the pamphlet that contained all twelve of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” previously printed and reprinted in newspapers throughout the colonies, starting in December 1767 and continuing into the spring of 1768. In these “Letters,” Dickinson, under the pseudonym of “A Farmer,” presented a dozen essays that explained how Parliament overstepped its authority in passing the Townshend Act and other measures that usurped the authority of colonial legislatures. He encouraged colonists to resist Parliament’s designs or risk even greater abuses.

Upon completion of the series, industrious printers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia collected all twelve “Letters” in pamphlets. Printers and booksellers in several colonies advertised that they sold the “Letters,” but supplying the public with that pamphlet was not the province of the book trade alone. Shopkeepers like the Beers purchased “A few” copies to retail alongside general merchandise in their own shops, considering the “Letters” significant enough to merit particular mention in their advertisements. In so doing, they assisted in disseminating some of the arguments that eventually transformed resistance into a revolution. The choices they made as retailers and advertisers helped to shape the rhetoric of the Revolution.