November 12

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

Nov 12 - 11:12:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 12, 1767).

“Joshua Blanchard Going into another Trade, Is selling his GOODS.”

It would have been difficult for readers not to notice Joshua Blanchard’s advertisement in the November 12, 1767, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. It occupied the entire first column on the first page. In addition, it had a different format than most other advertisements that listed consumer goods. On the left Blanchard listed his inventory; on the right he indicated prices. Approximately fifty entries included specific prices that potential customers could expect to pay at Blanchard’s shop. Throughout the eighteenth century, merchants and shopkeepers rarely inserted prices in their advertisements. When they did, they usually confined themselves to a small number of items. Blanchard, on the other hand, provided an extensive guide to retail prices at his shop on Dock Street.

Why did Blanchard take this extraordinary step? He had previously emphasized the “VERY LOW Price at which he sells” in other advertisements, but had mocked the popular practice of “enumerating every Particular, even to Pins and Needles.” Apparently he changed his mind when he decided to have a going-out-of-business sale. He opened his advertisement by explaining that because he was “Going into another Trade” that he was “selling his GOODS.” He listed specific prices as a means of attracting attention, inciting demand for his merchandise, and demonstrating that he meant business. Prospective customers did not need to worry that Blanchard would lure them into his shop with promises of low prices only to end up haggling over prices similar to those of his competitors. Instead, they knew in advance how much he charged for dozens of items.

Blanchard ceased listing prices about two-thirds of the way through his advertisement, switching to two columns that merely listed other merchandise. Space constraints and the cost of placing a lengthier advertisement may have prevented him from providing prices for every item. Or, he might not have intended to list prices for his entire inventory, preferring instead to use the first items in his advertisement to draw customers into his shop and trusting that they would then encounter other bargains that they could not resist.

Eighteenth-century retailers did not usually use sales as a means of marketing their wares, certainly not to the extent that the practice became standard in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but some did experiment with the concept. In effect, Joshua Blanchard advertised a going-out-of-business sale in the fall of 1767.

January 1

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

Massachusetts Gazette (January 1, 1767.)

“The VERY LOW Price at which he sells will not afford a lengthy Advertisement.”

Joshua Blanchard did not have much patience for the sort of list advertisement that frequently appeared in colonial American newspapers. Retailers commonly made appeals to consumer choice, inserting lengthy lists of merchandise to underscore the extent of the choices they offered prospective customers. Accordingly, such advertisements took up significant space in many newspapers. Blanchard’s advertisement, for instance, appeared to the left of an advertisement placed by competitor Frederick William Geyer, an advertisement that extended most of the column and listed more than one-hundred items. Samuel Eliot inserted a similar advertisement on the previous page. Both retailers used extensive lists of goods to entice potential customers into their shops.

Blanchard took a different approach. Although he stated that he carried “a large and general Assortment of Goods,” he specified very few of them. Instead, in a separate paragraph, headed by a manicule, he proclaimed that “The VERY LOW Price at which he sells will not afford a lengthy Advertisement enumerating every Particular, even to Pins and Needles.” Blanchard considered the advertisements published by his competitors preposterous. He mocked their marketing strategies, but also cleverly dismissed extensive lists of merchandise by claiming that more modest advertising allowed him to offer lower prices to his customers. Eliot and Geyer promised “the very lowest Rates” and “the very lowest Advance,” but Blanchard called those claims into question when he suggested that listing their entire inventory, down to the smallest “Pins and Needles,” incurred significant advertising costs to be passed along to consumers.

Lest potential customers suspect that Blanchard did not provide a list of his merchandise because he could not offer the same array of choices as his competitors, he stressed that “his Friends and the Publick may be assured, that his Assortment consists perhaps of as many Articles, that are as good Goods, and will be sold as cheap for CASH, as at any Shop or Store in TOWN.” He folded together appeals to choice, quality, and price in his argument that a longer advertisement did not necessarily mean more merchandise on hand.

Joshua Blanchard made a virtue out of his shorter, more modest advertisement when he implied that his competitors could not compete with his prices because they purchased significant amounts of advertising space in the local newspapers. He needed to publish an advertisement to make this claim, an advertisement designed to shape the attitudes and actions of potential customers even as it critiqued other marketing practices.

January 2

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

Jan 2 - 1:2:1766 Massachusetts-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Massachusetts-Gazette (January 2, 1766)

Ducapes, Lutestrings, Padufoys, Capuchin Silks, Pelong Sattins, Persians, Colchester Bays, Camblets, Russia Duck…

Such an assortment of goods available to purchase in Joshua Blanchard’s shop on Dock Square in Boston!  Throughout the British Atlantic World a consumer revolution was taking place during the eighteenth century.  Potential customers experienced increasing choices as they considered what and whether to buy all kinds of goods.

As this advertisement indicates, early Americans spoke a specialized language of consumption.  Blanchard did not merely indicate that he stocked a variety of textiles and patterns.  He listed them in detail, employing a lexicon lost to most modern readers (so alien that spellcheck indicates the names of many of these fabrics have been misspelled).  Yet savvy consumers would have recognized each of these during the eighteenth century.  Even without glossy images used to market clothing in modern time, this advertisement would have conjured up visions of a variety of textiles for potential customers capable of making distinctions among them.