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 5

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

New-York Journal (January 2, 1772).

“A large assortment of Goods.”

Earlier this week, the Adverts 250 Project featured several advertisements from the January 3, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy that made appeals to consumer choice by deploying words and phrases like “great assortment,” “general assortment,” “quantity,” and “all kinds.”  None of those advertisements, however, included lists of goods to demonstrate the range of merchandise available.  Almost simultaneously, merchants and shopkeepers in New York ran advertisements in the New-York Journal that not only promoted “a large Assortment of Goods” but also enumerated scores of items.

Such was the case in an advertisement inserted by Hallett and Hazard for their store on Hanover Square.  In a catalog of their merchandise, they listed everything from “Died pillows” and “Table cloths” to “Mens superfine white and marbled ribb’d worsted hose” and “Womens and childrens white and purple mitts and gloves” to “Candlesticks” and “Brass knobs.”  For some items, they used brackets to draw attention to the many varieties in stock.  For instance, Hallett and Hazard offered “Gold basket[,] Campaign and Death head” buttons and “Silk and cotton romal[,] Bandannoe[,] Mallabar[,] Barcelona[,] Printed[,] Ghenting[,] Scots and Black gauze” handkerchiefs.”  The extensive advertisement filled three-quarters of a column.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Thomas Pearsall placed a similar advertisement that also extended three-quarters of a column.  Both advertisers made their notices easier for prospective customers to navigate by creating two columns with only one or two items on each line and a dividing line running down the center.

Such advertisements certainly cost more than making declarations about “a large Assortment of Goods.”  The colophon for the New-York Journal stated that “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, … and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”  For Hallet and Hazard, that meant that their advertisements cost at least three times as much as they would have paid for a standard square of space.  The merchants presumably considered it worth the additional investment to demonstrate all the choices they offered to consumers.

December 6

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 6, 1771).

“The above Goods will be sold as low as at any other Store in Town.”

When shopkeeper Hugh Henderson moved to a new location in Portsmouth, he placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to notify “HIS CUSTOMERS AND OTHERS.”  He also took the opportunity to promote the “assortment of English Goods” available at his shop, listing several dozen items.  Henderson carried a variety of textiles as well as “Mens and Womens Stockings,” “Trimings for Ladies Cloaks,” lace, ribbons, and “Writing Paper.”  Having enticed prospective customers with that catalog of goods, he also offered a “Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention.”  Like many other shopkeepers in New Hampshire and throughout the colonies, Henderson emphasized consumer choice.

He also made note of his prices, deploying another means of luring prospective customers into his shop.  In the introduction to the list of goods, Henderson pledged to sell them “very cheap.”  He concluded his advertisement with a nota bene that advised readers that “The above Goods will be sold as low as at any other Store in Town.”  He called attention to his competitive prices both before and after listing his wares, helping readers to imagine acquiring them at prices they could afford.  Henderson even hinted at price matching, inviting customers to haggle for the best deals if they did some comparison shopping around town.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Gilliam Butler described his prices for “an Assortment of English GOODS” as “Cheap,” while William Elliot declared that he sold “English and West India GOODS, at a reasonable rate.”  Henderson’s nota bene suggested that he stayed informed about prices in the local market in order to set his own as “cheap” and “reasonable” as those charged by Butler, Elliot, and other shopkeepers.

Henderson depended on two of the most common appeals made to consumers in eighteenth-century newspapers:  choice and price.  He did not, however, make generic appeals.  Instead, he enhanced each with additional commentary, asserting that he carried other items “too tedious to mention” and that he sold his entire inventory “as low as at any other Store in Town.”  For some readers, such promises may have distinguished Henderson’s advertisement from others in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

December 4

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

Pennsylvania Packet (December 2, 1771).

“To be Sold on the cheapest Terms.”

When John Dunlap commenced publication of the Pennsylvania Packet in the fall of 1771, he quickly gained advertisers.  From the very first issue, he distributed two-page supplements because the standard four-page issue could not contain all of the notices submitted to his printing office.  Many merchants and shopkeepers who placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Packet replicated a style more common in newspapers published in Boston and New York rather than those that appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal.  A substantial number of advertisements in Dunlap’s newspaper featured extensive lists, naming dozens or even hundreds of items and occupying a significant amount of space.  Perpendicular lines ran down the center of each, creating two columns within those advertisements.  Rather than dense paragraphs of text, one or two items ran on each line, making it easier for readers to navigate the contents.  Many of these catalogs of merchandise extended half a column or more.  Philip Benezet’s advertisement filled an entire column.

Why did notices with this particular format appear in great numbers in the Pennsylvania Packet in the fall of 1771 but not in other newspapers published in Philadelphia?  Did price play a role?  Dunlap included the costs for subscriptions and advertising in the proposals he distributed prior to launching his newspaper.  “The Price to Subscribers will be Ten Shillings per year,” he stated.  In addition, “Advertisements, of a moderate length, will be inserted at Three Shillings each for one week, and One Shilling for each continuance.”  Benezet’s advertisement certainly was not “a moderate length.”  In such instances, Dunlap asserted that he published “those of greater length at such proportionable prices as may be reasonable.”  David Hall and William Sellers did not include the price for subscriptions or advertisements in the colophon for the Pennsylvania Gazette, but William Bradford and Thomas Bradford indicated that “Persons may be supplied with” the Pennsylvania Packetat Ten Shillings a Year.”  William Goddard also charged ten shilling for an annual subscription to the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  None of the printers, however, included prices for advertising in the colophons of their newspapers.

Dunlap set the same rate for subscriptions as his competitors, but did he attempt to undercut them when it came to advertising?  If so, was that strategy only temporary, intended to come to an end once he felt his newspaper had been firmly established?  His proposals included other savvy marketing strategies.  He listed local agents in more than a dozen towns, from Boston in New England to Charleston in South Carolina, demonstrating that he planned for wide dissemination of the Pennsylvania Packet.  He also distributed the first issue “gratis” in hopes of cultivating interest and leveraging commitments from prospective subscribers.  Dunlap may or may not have charged lower rates for advertising as a means of jumpstarting his newspaper, but doing so was certainly within the realm of possibility in Philadelphia’s competitive media market.

November 17

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

New-York Journal (November 14, 1771).

A large and neat assortment of Dry Goods.”

William Wikoff advertised a “large a neat assortment of Dry Goods, suitable to the season” in the November 14, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal.  He attempted to entice prospective customers to his shop by demonstrating the range of choices he made available to them, listing everything from “Devonshire kerseys” to “Mens and womens, and childrens gloves & mits” to “Wire and mould shirt buttons” to “Table and tea spoons.”  His inventory appeared in two columns with one or two items per line, arranged in two columns, to make it easier to peruse.  It looked quite different than most of the advertisements for imported consumer goods that ran in the Providence Gazette the same week.  Several advertisers in that town declared that they stocked too much merchandise “to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement,” deploying a different strategy for invoking choice as a reason to visit their stores.

Even though he concluded his list by claiming that he has “many other articles, too tedious to mention,” Wikoff decided on a more common means of making an appeal about consumer choice in his advertisement, one that many of his competitors used in their advertisements in the same issue of the New-York Journal.  On the same page as his notice, John Morton, John J. Roosevelt, and George Webster all ran advertisements that listed dozens of items arrayed in two columns.  Henry Remsen and Company and Abeel and Byvanck also listed their wares, though they did not resort to columns but instead published dense paragraphs that required even more active reading on the part of prospective customers.  Elsewhere, John Amiel, Hallett and Hazard, Robert Needham, Thomas Pearsall, Daniel Phoenix, Robert Sinclair, Samuel Tuder, and Kelly, Lott, and Company all inserted lists of goods arranged as columns, while William Neilson and Henry Wilmot opted for paragraphs that took up less space (and cost less since advertisers paid by the amount of space rather than the number of word).  Gerardus Duyckinck placed two advertisements for his “UNIVERSAL STORE,” also known as the “Medley of Goods,” that listed his inventory and deployed unique formats.

In yesterday’s entry, I argued that many merchants and shopkeepers in Providence simultaneously deployed an uncommon strategy for suggesting consumer choice in the fall of 1771.  They proclaimed that they carried “a Variety of well assorted GOODS” but asserted that the choices were so vast that they could not print them in newspaper advertisements.  Today, I offer examples of more common formats that traders in other cities used to catalog their merchandise to demonstrate the choices consumers would encounter in their shops.  In each case, advertisers did more than announce they had goods on hand and expect that was sufficient to attract customers.

February 23

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

Providence Gazette (February 23, 1771).

“Brass candlesticks.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell regularly placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Like many other purveyors of goods, they listed some of the many items in stock at their store, including “Mens silk hose,” “Womens newest fashioned furr’d hats,” “Brass candlesticks,” and “Looking glasses.”  In so doing, they demonstrated to consumers the wide array of choices available to them.  The descriptions of some items further underscored that prospective customers could choose according to their own tastes and desires, such as “SCarlet, claret, tyrean, mixed, drab, cinnamon, green & blue broadcloths” and “Sewing silks of all colours.”  The Russells’ notice in the Providence Gazette constituted a catalog of their merchandise in the format of a newspaper advertisement.

In addition to making an appeal to consumer choice, the Russells also deployed graphic design to draw attention to their advertisement and aid readers in navigating it.  Their notice featured two columns of goods with a line down the center.  Only one or two items appeared on each line, creating white space that made the entire advertisement easier to read.  In contrast, most other items in the Providence Gazette (and other colonial newspapers) ran in dense blocks of text.  News items almost invariably took that form.  Most advertisements did as well, including the majority that enumerated the many items offered for sale.  As a result, the design of the Russells’ advertisement likely caused readers to notice it before they actively set about reading it, encouraging them to look more closely.  When they did read it, they could scan the contents more efficiently than working through a lengthy and dense paragraph.  Primitive by modern standards, the two-column design distinguished the Russells’ advertisement from most other items in the newspaper.

That design cost more money since newspaper printers charged by the amount of space advertisements occupied rather than the number of words.  The Russells apparently considered the additional expense worth the investment if it increased the number of readers who engaged with their advertisement.

February 10

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

New-York Journal (February 7, 1771).

“A great many other articles, suitable for traveling merchants.”

John Watson, a merchant, sold a variety of goods at his store on Cart and Horse Street in New York.  In an advertisement in the February 7, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal, he listed dozens of items ranging from textiles to “Mens and womens shoes” to “Men, women and boys, best silk gloves and mitts” to “Table spoons, and best Holland quills.”  This catalog of goods, arranged in two columns, presented consumers an array of choices that Watson hoped would entice them to visit his store and make selections according to their tastes.  He also promised that they would encounter an even greater assortment of merchandise, “a great many other articles … too tedious to enumerate.”  Many merchants and shopkeepers who emphasized consumer choice with their lengthy litanies of goods doubled down on that appeal by proclaiming that even with as much space as their advertisements occupied in colonial newspapers it still was not enough to do justice to everything in their inventories.

Watson did not address consumers exclusively.  He declared that he sold his wares “wholesale or retail,” supplying shopkeepers, peddlers, and others who purchased to sell again as well as working directly with consumers.  He noted that he stocked goods “suitable for traveling merchants” to carry to smaller towns and into the countryside.  Participating in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century was not a privilege reserved for residents of the largest port cities.  Colonists did not need to live in New York and visit Watson’s store in order to purchase the fabrics, ribbons, buttons, snuff boxes, playing cards, and other items he imported and sold.  Instead, those who lived at a distance made purchases via the post or at local shops or from peddlers and “traveling merchants” who helped in distributing consumer goods beyond the major ports.  Bustling cities like New York, Boston, Charleston, and Philadelphia certainly had higher concentrations of shops, affording ready access to consumer goods to local residents, but those places did not have monopolies when it came to the rituals of consumption.  Watson, like many other merchants, used newspaper advertising for multiple purposes, seeking to incite demand among local customers while simultaneously distributing goods to retailers and peddlers who made them available to even greater numbers of customers.

January 5

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

Providence Gazette (January 5, 1771).

“A variety of other articles too tedious to mention.”

Shopkeepers Ebenezer Thompson and James Arnold placed a lengthy advertisement for a “GOOD assortment of English and India Goods” in the January 5, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The partners deployed a familiar format, a prologue that gave general information about their enterprise followed by an extensive inventory of their merchandise. The prologue listed their names and location, identified which ship had recently delivered their wares, and promised “the very lowest Rates” or prices for their customers.

Some advertisers, like Nicholas Brown and Company, Joseph and William Russell, and Thurber and Cahoon limited their advertisements to the information in the prologue, but Thompson and Arnold reasoned that if they demonstrated the range of choices available to consumers that they would attract more customers.  As a result, their advertisement filled half a column, enumerating dozens of textiles as well as everything from “womens black worsted gloves and mitts” to “horn and ivory combs” to “temple and common spectacles” to “leather bellows.”  Thompson and Arnold focused primarily on garments and trimmings, but also indicated that they stocked housewares and hardware.

After cataloging so many items, the shopkeepers concluded with a note that they carried “a variety of other articles too tedious to mention.”  Like the lengthy list, that was also a marketing strategy frequently employed by advertisers who wished to suggest that they provided such a vast array of choices that it was not possible to name all of them.  This enhanced the invitation for consumers to visit their shops by providing both certainty about some of the merchandise and opportunities for further discovery.  Thompson and Arnold demonstrated that they carried an assortment of goods to satisfy customers, but also allowed for some surprises that could make the experience of shopping even more pleasurable for prospective customers who took the time to examine their wares.

Thompson and Arnold certainly paid more for their advertisement than their competitors did for their notices.  Five that consisted solely of the material from the prologue filled the same amount of space as Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement on its own.  Yet the more extensive advertisement may very well have been worth the investment.  Not only did it give consumers a better sense of the goods that Thompson and Arnold carried, its length made it more visible on the page and suggested the prosperity and competence of the shopkeepers.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:13:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 13, 1770).

“Coopers Bung borers, adzes, howells, compasses, crozes, bitts and rivets.”

In the 1770s, when merchants and shopkeepers enumerated the “general assortment” of goods they offered for sale, their advertisements usually followed one of two formats.  Most listed their merchandise in a dense paragraph of text that extended anywhere from a few lines to half a column or more.  As an alternative, others created more white space and made their advertisements easier to read by including only one item per line or organizing their wares into columns.  Adopting such methods meant that advertisers could name fewer items in the same amount of space as their competitors who chose paragraphs of text with no white space.

Both sorts of advertisements regularly appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but occasionally advertisers (perhaps in consultation with printers and compositors) added variations and innovations.  Such was the case with Thomas Hazard’s advertisement for ironmongery and cutlery in the August 13, 1770, edition.  Hazard began with a dense paragraph that included “H and H-L plain and rais’d joint hinges,” “brass and iron candlesticks,” and “sword blades.”  In addition, he divided a portion of his advertisement into two columns.  Within those columns, he resorted to short paragraphs of text rather than listing only one or two items per line, but those paragraphs were brief and likely easier for eighteenth-century consumers to navigate than the dense paragraph of text that constituted the bulk of the advertisement.  Furthermore, Hazard inserted headers for each of those shorter paragraphs:  “Carpenters,” “Shoemakers,” “Coopers,” “Barbers,” “Watchmakers,” and “Silversmiths and Jewellers.”  Each paragraph listed tools used in a particular trade.  In this manner, Hazard targeted specific consumers and aided artisans in finding the items of greatest interest to them.

Prior to the American Revolution, merchants and shopkeepers published undifferentiated lists of goods in their advertisements, but occasionally some attempted to impose more order and make their notices easier for prospective customers to navigate.  Thomas Hazard did so by grouping together tools used by various sorts of artisans, setting them apart in columns, and using headers to draw attention to them.  Carpenters or watchmakers who might have overlooked items when skimming dense paragraphs of text instead had a beacon that called their attention to the tolls of their trades.

July 27

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

Jul 27 - 7:27:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 27, 1770).

“TEA … West-India and New-England RUM … handsome colour’d WILTONS.”

Thomas Martin advertised an assortment of goods available at his store in Portsmouth in the July 27, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He listed everything from coffee, tea, and sugar to hammers, nails, and files to handkerchiefs, stockings, and shoes.  His inventory was so extensive that his advertisement filled half a column and still concluded with “&c. &c.” to indicate that he did not have space to include everything consumers could find at his store.  (Colonists used “&c.” as an abbreviation for et cetera.)

Like many other advertisements of the era, Martin’s notice looked like a dense block of text.  To modern readers, this has little visual appeal, but Martin likely focused on other aspects of the advertisement in his efforts to market his wares.  In particular, he may have expected the length to attract the attention of prospective customers.  Few advertisements for consumer goods and services in the New-Hampshire Gazette occupied so much space.  Martin borrowed a strategy from advertisers in larger port cities where newspapers much more often ran such lengthy advertisements for consumer goods.  The long list of goods communicated the variety and consumer choice that Martin offered his customers.  They could acquire all sorts of grocery items, hardware, housewares, clothing, and accessories during a single visit to Martin’s store, combining choice and convenience.

Despite the density of the prose, Martin did deploy a couple of visual elements to aid readers in navigating his advertisement.  At various points he inserted lengthy dashes to break what otherwise would have been an undifferentiated paragraph into smaller pieces.  He also capitalized two words to draw attention to those products:  “West-India and New-England RUM” and “handsome colour’d WILTONS,” a popular kind of carpet.  (“TEA” was also capitalized, but that was standard for the first item listed in advertisements of this sort.)  While Martin did not make elaborate use of typography to lend visual appeal to his advertisement, he did not overlook using it entirely.  His advertisement incorporated more variation than the news articles that appeared elsewhere in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The effectiveness of Martin’s advertisement should be considered in relation to other items, both advertisements and news items, that it ran alongside.