January 19

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

Jan 19 - 1:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

“A WELL assorted stock of Goods, consisting of most articles imported into this province.”

In their advertisement in the January 19, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Nowell and Lord incorporated many of the most common marketing strategies deployed by merchants and shopkeepers in eighteenth-century America. The format of their advertisement, like the appeals, would have been familiar to readers. Like many of their competitors in Charleston and throughout the colonies, Nowell and Lord composed a list-style advertisement that revealed the range of goods they stocked, from “Irish and Kentish sheeting” to “leather caps” to “blue and white earthen ware.”

In and of itself, this format demonstrated the veracity of one of their appeals to potential customers: consumer choice. The partners reiterated that their patrons could choose the items that matched their needs, desires, tastes, and budgets throughout their advertisement. First, they described their inventory as “A WELL assorted stock of Goods,” proclaiming that it included “most articles imported into this province.” In other words, customers were unlikely to find merchandise in other shops that Nowell and Lord did not also carry. To underscore the variety they offered, the partners promoted their “choice assortment of cutlery” midway through the advertisement. They also made a point of noting that the list they printed in the newspaper was not exhaustive; instead, they also carried “many other articles too tedious to enumerate.” Customers would delight in the number of choices available to them when they visited Nowell and Lord’s shop.

In addition to consumer choice, the shopkeepers also made appeals to price and fashion. For instance, they stressed that they sold their merchandise “remarkably low.” To make their wares even more affordable, they offered “credit to the first of December 1768.” When it came to textiles for making garments, they informed readers that they imported “the newest patterns,” allowing customers to impress their friends and acquaintances by keeping up with current fashions in other parts of the empire.

Nowell and Lord deployed consumer choice as the central marketing strategy in their advertisement, but they supplemented that appeal with assurances about price and fashion. To sell their merchandise, they replicated methods used by countless other advertisers throughout the colonies. That so many merchants and shopkeepers consistently relied on the same strategies testifies to the power they believed those strategies possessed to entice and influence colonial consumers.

January 3

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

Jan 3 - 1:1:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 1, 1768).

A large and well sorted CARGO of GOODS.”

As part of their efforts to entice potential customers to visit “their store in Broad street” in Charleston, Michie and Robertston emphasized consumer choice in their advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Extending approximately one-third of a column, their advertisement in the January 1, 1768, issue listed dozens of items in their inventory, from “German serges” to “rich black, white, blue and crimson sattin” to “mens, womens and boys cotton, thread and worsted hose.” In addition to textiles and garments, they also stocked housewares and grocery items.

On its own, this list of goods presented prospective customers with a multitude of choices available at Michie and Robertson’s shop, yet the shopkeepers supplemented an implicit appeal concerning their vast selection with explicit descriptions to shape readers’ assessment of their wares and the experience of shopping at their store. Before commencing the list of merchandise, Michie and Robertson first proclaimed that they had imported “a large and well sorted CARGO of GOODS.” Then they inserted further descriptions attesting to consumer choice as they cataloged their wares. For instance, they did not merely enumerate an array of fabrics, but instead promoted “a large sortment of shalloons, callimancoes, durants, camblets, queen’s stuff, harragon, black and blue everlasting, black russet, bombazeens and poplins.” Similarly, they sold “A Variety of very neat London dressed broad cloths with suitable trimmings,” “handkerchiefs of all sorts,” and “a compleat sortment of iron wares.” Their selection was not haphazard or random; customers were bound to find exactly what they needed or wanted among Michie and Robertson’s merchandise.

In taking this approach, Michie and Robertson adopted an advertising strategy that became increasingly popular as greater numbers of colonists participated in the consumer revolution. The length of such list-style advertisements dramatically increased in the second half of the eighteenth century, in part because of their capacity to incite sales. Listing an assortment of goods – informing potential customers of the vast array of possibilities – likely stimulated demand by prompting readers to imagine possessing items they may not have previously considered acquiring (especially when combined with appeals to price and fashion). It also encouraged them to examine the merchandise in person to select items that best suited their own tastes, allowing consumers to exercise their judgment in distinguishing among the many options available.

November 18

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

Nov 18 - 11:18:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 18, 1767).

“Several other articles too tedious to mention.”

Samuel Douglass and Company did not want prospective customers to merely take them at their word that they stocked “A COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS.” To demonstrate their extensive inventory they published a newspaper advertisement that listed hundred of items available at their shop. That advertisement began at the bottom of one column and entirely filled the next, making it rather unique among advertisements in the Georgia Gazette in the 1760s. Other merchants and shopkeepers in Savannah sometimes placed list-style advertisements, but the longest typically extended one-quarter or one-third of a column.

Due to its length, Douglass and Company’s advertisement was one of the most prominent items in the November 18, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. It accounted for slightly more than one of the eight columns of content in the issue, certainly a significant investment for Douglass and Company and a windfall for printer James Johnston. The Georgia Gazette sometimes struggled to attract advertisers, as demonstrated by the generous white space that separated paid notices in other issues, but in this instance shorter advertisements had an even more compact appearance as the result of efforts to make them all fit within the standard four-page issue.

Although an advertisement of such length was rather extraordinary in the Georgia Gazette, it would not necessarily have looked out of place to colonists. Regular readers would have certainly noticed it because it deviated from the advertisements that usually appeared in that newspaper, but newspapers printed in other colonies circulated so widely that readers likely would have encountered similar lengthy advertisements in other publications. Douglass and Company may have figured that if shopkeepers in other colonial ports found the method effective enough that they repeatedly placed notices that filled an entire column that it might be worth trying the same strategy in their local newspaper as a means of distinguishing themselves from their competitors.

In placing this advertisement, Douglass and Company announced to the residents of Savannah and its hinterland that even though they resided in the most recently established colony they still had access to the same variety of consumer goods sold in Boston, Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere throughout the colonies. To underscore that point, they concluded their list by asserting that they also carried “several other articles too tedious to mention.”

October 23

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

Oct 23 - 10:23:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 23, 1767).

Superfine, scarlet, blue, green, light colour’d and pompadour Broad Cloths …”

In the fall of 1767, Moses Wingate imported and sold a vast assortment of goods “At his Store on Spring Hill” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In a newspaper advertisement intended to entice potential customers, he adopted one of the most common marketing strategies of the eighteenth century: listing his merchandise. Very few entrepreneurs, mostly booksellers, distributed catalogs in eighteenth-century America; however, many treated newspaper advertisements as surrogates for publishing separate catalogs. Wingate’s advertisement filled half a column, with most of the space devoted to enumerating his inventory. Other merchants and shopkeepers sometimes published advertisements that occupied an entire column and, on occasion, spilled over into the next. List style advertisements for consumer goods filled the pages of American newspapers in the eighteenth century. These lists implicitly communicated an appeal to consumer choice. Wingate and others informed readers that they did not have to accept whatever happened to be on their shelves. Instead, merchants and shopkeepers stocked such varieties of goods that customers could exercise their own taste and judgment – assert their own independence – by choosing the goods that most appealed to them.

To that end, Wingate named more than seventy-five distinct items readers could expect to find among his inventory. In some cases, these were categories of goods, such as buttons or penknives, suggesting even variety. In one instance, he specified further choices: “A variety of Ribbons.” Like many of his competitors and counterparts, he also deployed “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera), inserting it once in the middle of the advertisement to indicate he sold an even broader array of imported textiles than listed there. He also concluded his advertisement with “&c. &c. &c. &c.” to underscore to potential customers that they would find much, much more when they visited his store. Wingate provided an extensive list of imported goods to encourage potential customers to imagine his inventory, to imagine touching, sorting through, comparing, and selecting from among his wares. He indicated readers could find even more imported goods at his store as a means of further inflaming their curiosity. Wingate could have placed a much shorter advertisement that simply announced that he sold a variety of goods imported from London, but he made an investment in a lengthier list style advertisement because he believed that perusing its contents would incite consumer demand.

September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1767 Cowper and Telfairs in Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 23, 1767).

“A LARGE ASSORTMENT OF GOODS.”

Lewis Johnson inserted an advertisement for his inventory of “A LARGE and COMPLETE ASSORTMENT of FRESH AND GENUINE MEDICINES” in the September 23, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The partnership of Cowper and Telfairs also placed an advertisement, informing potential customers of the “LARGE ASSORTMENT OF GOODS” they had imported from London. The notices, each listing an elaborate array of items, appeared side by side.

Although Lewis Johnson and Cowper and Telfairs each resorted to the common list-style advertisement to market their wares, the visual aspects of their notices distinguished them from each other. Cowper and Telfairs opted for a dense paragraph that extended two-thirds of the column, enumerating everything from “white, striped and ermine flannels” to “shirt buttons” to “broad and narrow axes” to “complete sets of china.” With some exceptions, they grouped their merchandise together by category (textiles, accouterments and accessories, hardware, and housewares). This made it somewhat easier for potential customers to locate specific items of interest (while also introducing them to others they may not have otherwise considered), even though the merchants did not include any sort of headers to indicate where one type of merchandise ended and another began. This dense list maximized the number of items Cowper and Telfairs presented to the public. While its format may have been somewhat overwhelming or difficult to read, it offered extensive choices to consumers.

Johnson’s advertisement, on the other hand, occupied the same amount of space on the page, but did not list nearly as many items. Instead, it divided a single column into two narrower columns, listing only one item per line. This left much more white space on the page, making it easier for readers to navigate through the merchandise. Like Cowper and Telfairs, Johnson introduced his list with the phrase “Amongst which are,” indicating that the advertisement did not include an exhaustive inventory. Both carried additional items at their shops. Given that he carried additional medicines, Johnson made a calculated decision to truncate his list in order to make it easier to read. Compared to the dense format of everything else on the page, the layout of his list likely drew the eyes of colonial readers, increasing the likelihood that they would take note of his advertisement.

Both list-style advertisements had advantages and shortcomings inherent in their appearance on the page. Although eighteenth-century advertisements lack the dynamic graphic design elements of modern marketing efforts, advertisers and printers did experiment with different layouts in their efforts to attract attention and incite demand among potential customers.

Sep 23 - 9:23:1767 Johnson from Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 23, 1767).

August 2

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

Aug 2 - 7:30:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 30, 1767).

“The following Goods, which will to be sold … by JOHN SHEE.”

Consisting of a block of densely formatted text with little white space and almost no variation in font size, John Shee’s advertisement certainly would not have been considered flashy, but that did not necessarily mean that it was ineffective by eighteenth-century standards.

Shee observed many of the conventions of the day. He made an appeal to price (“sold on the most moderate terms”) and offered more than one option for payment (“cash, or the usual credit”). In noting that his merchandise had been “Imported in the last vessels from England,” he reminded potential customers that they were participating in transatlantic consumer culture that linked them to their counterparts in London and the English provinces. That these goods arrived via the “last vessels” also suggested that they were the most current fashions available.

Shee expended the most effort in detailing the assortment of items he stocked, everything from textiles and adornments (comprising more than half the advertisement) to coffee mills to pen knives to gunpowder and shot. Even then, he had not exhausted his inventory. Eighteenth-century readers knew that the “&c. &c.” that concluded his list meant “etc. etc.,” a promise that potential customers could examine an even greater array of goods upon visiting Shee’s shop. By listing dozens and dozens of items, Shee made an appeal to consumer choice. He invited potential customers to imagine acquiring, wearing, admiring, using, displaying, and possessing the goods he sold. He also offered them independence, the ability to make their own decisions about which items to purchase to fit their own tastes or to distinguish themselves from friends and neighbors. Such a lengthy list meant that customers did not have to content themselves with whatever happened to be on the shelves. A nota bene appended to the conclusion even suggested that the shopkeeper was constantly adding new merchandise to the selection he offered for sale.

In terms of the graphic design elements, Shee’s advertisement replicated others in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Short of paying extra for a woodcut to accompany his advertisement, he likely had little control over the layout. Instead, he accepted the standard format adopted by a compositor who squeezed as much content as possible onto the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette. It was not the visual appeal of their advertisements that Shee and many of his counterparts were convinced would sell their goods. Instead, they relied on careful attention to a set of appeals they believed resonated with consumers. In the absence of varied graphic elements, Shee and other shopkeepers expected potential customers to approach their advertisements as active readers.

June 30

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

Jun 30 - 6:30:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 30, 1767_.

“Compleat Assortment of Stationary Ware, consisting of almost every Article in that Branch.”

George Wood, “STATIONER and BOOKBINDER in Elliott-street” in Charleston, adopted many of the marketing appeals most frequently used by merchants and shopkeepers who sold dry goods and housewares in eighteenth-century America. In particular, he emphasized consumer choice when he noted that he stocked “a very large and compleat Assortment of Stationary Ware” and then listed dozens of specific items. His inventory included everything from the basics, like “Writing Paper of all Kinds” and “best London Ink Powder,” to specialty items, like “large Ink Pots for Compting-Houses” and Surveyors Pocket Cases of Instruments.” To guarantee that potential customers did not assume that he sold only the items listed in his advertisement, Wood concluded his list with “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera), allowing readers to conjure up images of other stationery wares that might be in Wood’s shop.

He followed a similar strategy in listing books he had for sale, listing some of the most popular titles before making nods toward general categories, such as “a great Variety of small Picture Books for Children” and “a great Variety of Song Books.” Just in case readers did not notice particular titles they desired, Wood doubled down on his appeal to consumer choice: “He has likewise to dispose of, upwards of One Thousand Volumes of curious Books, consisting of Histories, Voyages, Travels, Lives, Memoirs, Novels, Plays, &c.” The bookseller had something for every taste and interest. Customers just needed to visit his shop and explore the shelves to find the books they wanted.

Wood realized schoolmasters in particular would likely be interested in the variety of titles he stocked, especially spelling and math books. He indicated that some volumes were intended “for the use of Schools.” To encourage instructors to choose from among his selection, Wood offered discounts if they would “take a Quantity” to distribute among their students.

By offering such a “large and compleat Assortment” of stationery, writing supplies, and books, Wood encouraged customers of all sorts to visit his shop. Providing a list of merchandise not only underscored consumer choice but also allowed him to identify specific types of customers with particular interests or specialized needs. His advertisement addressed the general interests of colonial readers, but also marketed certain wares to several occupational groups.