March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 19, 1768).

“Their assortment is very large.”

In their efforts to convince prospective customers of the many choices available at their shop at “the Sign of the GOLDEN EAGLE,” Joseph Russell and William Russell placed an advertisement exceptional for its length in the March 19, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Unlike most advertisements in colonial newspapers, their list of goods extended more than a column, dominating the third page of the issue. In it, the Russells named everything from “Beautiful black figured sattin” to “Paper hangings for rooms” to “Pewter dishes and plates” to “The best Scotch snuff.” In effect, they presented a catalog of their merchandise to the public.

Yet the Russells did not merely list their extensive inventory. They also provided descriptions that further developed their marketing strategy. For instance, rather than listing “Irish linens” they instead proclaimed that they stocked “A Large and neat assortment of Irish Linens, of all widths and prices.” They emphasized variety for other types of goods as well, including “A neat and genteel assortment of dark ground calicoes and chintz,” “a neat assortment of brass candlesticks,” “A large assortment of saddlers ware, Compleat assortment of shoemakers tools, A large assortment of files,” “A beautiful assortment of china cups and saucers,” and “A variety of new fashioned stuffs.”

In addition, the Russells promoted the selection of colors available for many of their textiles and adornments, such as “Single and double damask of all colours,” “Sewing silk of all colours, Silk knee straps of all colours,” and “German serges of all colours.” For other items they emphasized variations in price, including “Black Barcelona handkerchiefs of all prices,” “Shaloons, tammies and durants, of all prices,” “Mens common worsted [silk hose] of al prices,” and “Ivory and horn combs of all prices.” They combined those appeals when describing “Broadcloths of all colours and prices,” encouraging potential customers to imagine all the possible varieties.

When it came to housewares and tools, the Russells highlighted variations in sizes and types, suggesting consumers could find items that fit their tastes, needs, and desires. These included “Brass kettles of all sizes,” “Snuff boxes of all sorts,” “Looking glasses of all sizes,” “Blankets of all widths,” “Gimblets of all sizes,” “Brads and tacks of all sorts,” and “Hinges, locks and latches of all sorts and sizes.” They provided even more detail about “THE very best hemp cordage, of all sizes, from a ratline to a 4 and an half inch rope.”

In their brief remarks that followed this list of goods the Russells even more explicitly made an appeal to consumer choice: “As their assortment is very large, customers will have the advantage of a fine choice.” In so doing, they confirmed the strategies they had adopted concerning the space the advertisement occupied on the page and the reiteration of words that emphasized a wide selection of goods throughout the notice.

March 15

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

Mar 15 - 3:15:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 15, 1768).

“A fresh assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, pease, beans and flower-roots.”

James McCall stocked and sold a variety of imported merchandise “at his store in Tradd-street” in Charleston. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he attempted to incited demand for his wares by placing an advertisement that listed many of them in a dense paragraph, everything from “neat Wilton carpeting” to “shot of all sizes” to “coffee and chocolate.” His inventory included groceries, clothing, housewares, and much more.

For the most part McCall did not make special efforts to promote any particular items, with one exception. Deploying typography strategically, he did draw attention to his “fresh assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, pease, beans and flower-roots.” Very few words in his advertisement appeared in all capital letters; most of those that did were names: his own name that served as a headline, the name of the ship and captain that transported the goods, and the name of the English port of departure. In the main body of the advertisement, the list of items for sale, the first word appeared in all capitals, as was the convention for all advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Otherwise, the words “GARDEN SEEDS” about midway through the list of goods were the only words in all capitals in the body of McCall’s notice.

Although advertisers usually wrote copy and left it to compositors to determine the graphic design elements of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, deviations from the standard appearance of notices within particular publications suggest that advertisers could and did sometimes request specific typography for certain aspects of their notices. Such appears to have been the case for McCall’s advertisement since the compositor would have had little reason to randomly set “GARDEN SEEDS” in all capitals. On the other hand, McCall had particular interest in drawing attention to such seasonal merchandise. In other advertisements, he developed a habit for singling out a specific item to promote to prospective customers. For instance, the previous August he included “CHOICE DOUBLE GLOSTER CHEESE” in a list-style advertisement that did not feature any other items in all capitals.

McCall could have chosen to highlight these items by listing them first or writing a separate nota bene to append to his advertisements. Instead, he opted to experiment with variations in typography to accentuate his “GARDEN SEEDS” and “CHOICE DOUBLE GLOSTER CHEESE.” Although rudimentary compared to modern understandings of graphic design, his choices indicate some level of understanding that the appearance on the page could be just as effective as the copy when it came to delivering advertising content to consumers.

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).