September 14

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

Providence Gazette (September 14, 1771).

“Those who favor him with their custom, either personally or by letter, may depend on the best treatment.”

When John Jenkins advertised his “Store and Shop … near the Great Elm-Tree” in the Providence Gazette in the late summer and early fall of 1771, he hoped to attract customers from towns throughout the countryside.  As one of only two newspapers published in Rhode Island at the time, the Providence Gazette, like the Newport Mercury, circulated far beyond its place of publication.  As a result, consumers in norther Rhode Island as well as portions of Connecticut and Massachusetts encountered the advertisements it carried, including Jenkins’s advertisement for an “assortment of English and India goods,” groceries, and “many articles suitable for the ladies.”

Patrons did not need to visit his shop and warehouse to purchase his merchandise.  Instead, Jenkins offered the eighteenth-century equivalent of mail order service, requesting that customers contact him “by letter” to place orders.  In turn, he pledged that he made no distinction between local customers who visited in person and those who instead sent letters.  Everyone received the same low prices and everyone could “depend on the best treatment, with thanks.”  That likely included prompt and courteous attention as well as access to the newest and most fashionable wares.

Jenkins incorporated convenience and customer service into his marketing efforts.  Other advertisers did so as well in the eighteenth century, but not to the same extent as they pursued other strategies that Jenkins also included in his advertisement.  Purveyors of goods often made appeals to price, as Jenkins did when he described his merchandise as “Very cheap,” and consumer choice, as he did in listing broad categories that ranged from “Stationary ware” to “Brasiery and hardware” to “Earthen ware.”  With a few lines promising “the best treatment” and providing an option to order “by letter,” Jenkins enhanced his advertisement, distinguishing it from otherwise similar notices than ran alongside it in the Providence Gazette.

March 23

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

Providence Gazette (March 23, 1771).

“A NEAT Assortment of QUEEN’s WARE.”

When John Jenkins opened a shop in Providence in 1771, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to advise prospective customers of the merchandise he offered for sale.  He focused on “A NEAT assortment of QUEEN’s WARE” or creamware, listing cups, saucers, plates, dishes, bowls, mugs, tea pots, and mustard pots.  Thomas Wedgwood adopted the trade name Queen’s ware to describe his line of cream-colored earthenware with a lead glaze.  Staffordshire potters developed the technique around 1750 to compete with Chinese export porcelains popular throughout the British Atlantic world.  Wedgwood and his contemporaries crafted fashionable and refined styles similar to porcelain in their efforts to both meet and expand consumer demand.

Jenkins apparently thought that Queen’s ware would capture the attention of prospective customers, but he peddled other items as well.  He included in his advertisement “Spices of all Sorts,” sugar, tea, and coffee in his advertisement as well as pins, needles, thread, and fish hooks.  He devoted less space to those items, listing them in a single paragraph rather than two columns with only one or two items per line as he did for the Queen’s ware.  The format suggested which items Jenkins anticipated would most excite consumers and convince them to visit his shop.

The shopkeeper concluded his advertisement with a nota bene about repairs to “China Bowls and Glass Ware.”  Lewis Jenkins, presumably a relation, riveted broken or cracked items “with Silver or Brass, in the neatest Manner,” preserving them for further use or display.  This was a common technique for making repairs in the eighteenth century.  In marketing Queen’s ware to readers of the Providence Gazette, Jenkins also provided an option for maintaining and repairing items purchased as his shop as well as damaged items previously purchased elsewhere.  He saw to the longevity of his fragile wares rather than just getting them into the hands of consumers.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 25, 1766).

“All Customers … may depend upon being as well served by Letter as if present.”

In an age of online shopping, modern consumers are accustomed to the convenience of purchasing goods to be delivered directly to their homes without visiting stores to examine the products they are buying. In the evolution of shopping, this seems like a natural progression from catalog shopping, which has been a popular means of distributing merchandise to consumers for more than a century.

Both means of acquiring goods have been considered simultaneously disruptive and revolutionary, but such narratives obscure continuities with consumer culture in earlier eras. Consider, for instance, this brief advertisement for “All Sorts of West-India Goods, and Grocery” placed by John Jenkins. He informed “All Customers, in Town and Country” that they “may depend upon being as well served by Letter as if present.” In effect, Jenkins offered an early variation of mail order delivery. Customers wrote to inform him which items they wished to purchase. In turn, he had the items delivered to them. While such an arrangement was not a standard business practice mentioned in most advertisements, it was common enough in the 1760s that customers would have readily recognized this service.

Jenkins’s advertisement does differ in one significant way from others by merchants and shopkeepers who solicited orders through the post: its brevity. Most such advertisements included much more extensive lists of the goods that had been imported and were available for sale. Jenkins, on the other hand, did not specify any particulars. He did not name any specific merchandise. Why not? Could he not afford a lengthier advertisement? How effective was such a truncated advertisement? Did potential customers write to him in hopes he stocked the items they desired? Jenkins certainly offered a convenience to his customers, but it may have been negated by not providing enough information about his wares to guide customers in making their choices.