June 22

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

Boston Evening-Post (June 22, 1772).

“A great Variety of European & India Goods.”

Many advertisers sought to convince prospective customers that they offered an array of choices to meet their tastes and budgets.  In the June 22, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post, Timothy Newell promoted his “general Assortment of Hard Ware Goods.”  John Nazro hawked a “general Assortment of English, India, Irish and Scotch GOODS” and a “great Variety of Cutlery & Braziery Wares; with all Sorts of West-India Goods, Spices and other Groceries.”  Smith and Atkinson announced that they carried a large and very general Assortment of Piece GOODS.”  William Jackson even named his shop “Jackson’s Variety Store.”

Among the merchants and shopkeepers who made appeals to consumer choice in that edition of the Boston Evening-Post, William Scott published the lengthiest advertisement in an effort to demonstrate many of the different kinds of merchandise available at his “IRISH LINNEN Store.”  He listed dozens of items, from “Strip’d and flower’d bordered Aprons and Handkerchiefs” to “a variety of Ebony and Ivory paddle-stick & Leather Mount Fans” to “blue and white, red and white, green & white Furniture Checks with Nonesopretties to match” to “a variety of plain and striped and sprigg’d Muslins, such as Jaconets, Mull-Mulls, Mainsooks, Golden Cossacs, strip’d Doreas, and Book Muslins.”  The names of some textiles may seem unfamiliar to modern readers, but colonizers immersed in the consumer revolution readily identified Scott’s merchandise.  For some of these items, Scott offered an even larger selection, using descriptions like a “variety,” a “large assortment,” a “great variety,” and an “elegant assortment” to indicate that he often listed categories of goods rather than individual items.

In their advertisement, Smith and Atkinson declared it “would be equally tedious and unnecessary to enumerate” their inventory.  Scott disagreed … and he was willing to pay for the additional space necessary to transform his newspaper advertisement into a miniature catalog that accompanied the news in that issue of the Boston Evening-Post.  That did not stop him from adapting the strategy deployed by Smith and Atkinson.  Scott proclaimed that in addition to those items that he listed in his advertisement he also had “too great a Variety of small Goods to be inserted in this Advertisement.”  Where Smith and Atkinson signaled exasperation with lists of goods, Scott expressed disappointment that he could not provide an even more elaborate accounting of his merchandise for his customers.

Scott apparently considered this strategy worth the investment.  He ran the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy, thus placing it in three of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time.  He presumably expected an appropriate return on his investment or else he would have followed the lead of competitors who composed much shorter advertisement.  Scott encouraged consumers to imagine the many and varied choices that awaited them at his store, but he did not leave it solely to their imaginations.  He prompted them with a catalog of his wares in hopes that they would visit his shop to see for themselves.

February 9

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

Massachusetts Spy (February 6, 1772).

“MANCHESTER GOODS.”

Samuel Partridge offered many choices to consumers at his shop on Marlborough Street in Boston.  In an advertisement in the February 6, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Spy, he demonstrated the extent of choices available, listing dozens of items from an “assortment of superfine and low prized Broad-Cloths” and “an assortment of womens and childrens black Cloth coloured and crimson worsted Gloves and Mitts” to “large printed cotton Handkerchiefs” and “a compleat assortment of fashionable Ribbons” to “Cambricks” and “Calamancoes of all colours.”  His inventory was so extensive that his advertisement filled almost an entire column on the final page of the newspaper.

Partridge deployed a marketing strategy common among merchants and shopkeepers in Boston and other colonial cities and towns.  He encouraged prospective customers to imagine themselves purchasing and wearing, displaying, or using his merchandise by presenting them with many options.  Repeatedly inserting the word “assortment” underscored the number of choices.  However, he also differentiated his advertisement from others by using headings to categorize his wares and direct readers to items that most interested them.  He incorporated six headings, each of them in all capitals and centered.  At a glance, readers identified sections for “CLOTHS,” “HOSIERY,” “MANCHESTER GOODS,” “SILKS,” “INDIA GOODS,” and “STUFFS.”  Following a heading for “ALSO,” Partridge named additional items, that part of the advertisement resembling the format of most others placed by his competitors.  He listed most items, however, under the various headings.

Though enmeshed within newspapers rather than printed separately, such advertisements served as catalogs.  For Partridge’s advertisement, the headings made that even more the case.  Those headers helped readers navigate the contents.  Such an innovation suggests that Partridge did not merely announce that he had imported goods for sale but instead consciously considered how to most effectively engage consumers in hopes of inciting demand and convincing them to make their purchases at his shop.

January 24

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

Connecticut Journal (January 24, 1772).

“Garnet topaz amethyst and emeral’d ring stones.”

Abel Buell, a goldsmith in New Haven, placed advertisements in the Connecticut Journal to promote his business in the early 1770s.  He made brief appeals to quality and price, pledging that his wares were “all of the best sort” and that he sold them “very reasonably,” but he devoted much more space to listing his merchandise.  Advertisers throughout the colonies often did so, demonstrating the range of choices available to consumers.

Yet that was not the only purpose of publishing such lists.  Advertisers also sought to help prospective customers imagine the possibilities, hoping that would entice them to make more purchases.  Buell, for instance, could have simply stated that he had on hand a variety of jewelry certain to satisfy the tastes who visited his shop.  Instead, he listed “ROUND, square and oval cypher’d button cristals with cyphers, cypher’d and brilliant ear-ring tops and drops, round oval and square brilliant button stones, paste ear-ring tops and drops, cypher’d and brilliant paste for buttons, garnet topaz amethyst and emeral’d ring stones, mock garnets for rings and buttons, [and] garnet cristal and paste ring sparks,” along with other items.

That list served as Buell’s catalog.  Each entry introduced prospective customers to yet another item they might acquire. As readers perused the list, they likely imagined themselves wearing many of the items.  Buell intended for the list to cultivate desire for various buttons, earrings, stones, and other jewelry as consumers made quick decisions whether they might wear each item.  In many cases, they may not have given much thought to certain items until presented with the possibilities that Buell described.  Offering choices, such as “garnet topaz amethyst and emeral’d ring stones,” encouraged prospective customers to imagine which they desired the most, which might look best on them, or which complemented other items they already owned.  That likely brought consumers one step closer to making purchases.  Buell probably intended for his list to make the possibilities more vivid and more tangible to prospective customers who could be convinced to make purchases with a little bit of encouragement.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 8:31:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (August 31, 1769).

“Orders from the country will be punctually answered.”

When William Wilson placed an advertisement about “a fresh Assortment of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” in the August 31, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, he listed dozens of the items in his inventory. Wilson stocked everything from “Womens black Silk Gloves and Mitts” to “Steel Coffee-Mills” to “Coopers and Carpenters Adzes.” In addition to the merchandise that he named, he also carried “several other Articles, too tedious to enumerate.” As they contemplated their participation in the consumer revolution that was taking place throughout the British Atlantic world, Wilson invited colonists to imagine the vast array of goods he made available to them. He encouraged them to savor the choices.

Although Wilson addressed “his Friends and Customers,” his advertisement made clear that those “Friends and Customers” did not need to do their shopping in person at his store on Broad Street in Charleston. For those who lived some distance from the busy port, he pledged that “Orders from the Country will be punctually answered.” Customers who placed such orders could depend on the same level of service bestowed on patrons who visited Wilson’s shop. As a convenience to his customers, he offered a precursor to mail order or internet shopping.

That service made the extensive list of goods in Wilson’s advertisement even more imperative to operating his business. His notice in the South-Carolina Gazette doubled as a catalog for much of his merchandise, advising prospective customers “from the Country” which items they could order from afar. Wilson did not merely name items like “playing Cards” and “Womens and Girls Velvet Masks” to impress readers with the variety of goods in stock; instead, he provided a list that ranged from common items to unexpected novelties so customers placing orders became aware of the many possibilities. Wilson’s advertisement included clothing and textiles, accessories, housewares, hardware and tools, and groceries, signaling to those who could not examine the “several other Articles, too tedious to enumerate” that they had a good chance of a favorable response when submitting special requests not listed in his catalog of goods. This shopkeeper’s lengthy list was more than a conspicuous display of consumer goods; it was a critical element of a service he offered for those who wished to place “Orders from the Country.”