September 4

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 4, 1772).

“A Considerable variety of GOODS.”

Thomas Martin made an investment in informing the public of the “considerable variety of GOODS” he imported “in the last Ships from England” and added to his “former Assortment” of merchandise at his shop in Portsmouth in the summer of 1772.  To demonstrate the choices he offered consumers, he listed scores of items in an advertisement in the September 4 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He stocked everything from “silk, kid, and lamb gloves & mitts” and “mantua silks” to “ivory handle and common knives & forks” and “brass furniture for desks and chests of drawers” to “brass and iron chimney hooks” and “mouse & rat traps.”  Two strings of “&c. &c. &c.” suggested an even greater array of goods than Martin could catalog in his newspaper advertisement.

That advertisement accounted for a considerable portion of the content of that issue of the New-Hampshire Gazettedelivered to subscribers and other readers.  Like most American newspapers published prior to the Revolution, a standard issue of the weekly New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  The New-Hampshire Gazette featured three columns per page, for a total of twelve columns of news, editorial, advertisements, and other content in each issue.  Martin’s advertisement extended an entire column, occupying one-twelfth of the space in the September 4 edition.  The printers did use smaller type for news from Rome, London, Williamsburg, Philadelphia, Newport, Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth than for advertisements, delivering as much news as possible to subscribers while still generating revenues from advertisers.

The size of the font, however, did not matter to Martin when it came to the cost of advertising in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Colonial printers did not charge by the word but instead by the amount of space required to publish advertisements.  That meant a substantial investment for Martin when he ran a notice that filled an entire column, not the first time he ran an extensive advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Even with the larger font compared to news items, the amount of space likely helped to communicate the shopkeeper’s message about consumer choice to prospective customers.

August 1

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

Providence Gazette (August 1, 1772).

“At the very lowest Rates that any Merchants sell for in America.”

John Brown, a prominent merchant who made a portion of his fortune through participation in the transatlantic slave trade, wanted it both ways in an advertisement for “English and India GOODS” he placed in the August 1, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  He declared that it “would be needless to particularize every Article in a News-Paper,” but them provided an extensive list of items that customers would find “among the great Variety” of items he imported from London.  Extending two-thirds of a column, the catalog of goods included “a neat assortment of looking glasses,” “a compleat assortment of hard ware, consisting of almost every article ever imported,” “beads and necklaces,” “boys furred caps,” and “ivory and horn combs.”  Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Brown listed dozens of textiles. Despite considering it “needless to particularize every Article,” Brown published the longest advertisement, by far, in that issue of the Providence Gazette.

In addition to demonstrating the range of choices available at his store, Brown sought to distinguish his advertisement by promising low prices to merchants and shopkeepers who made wholesale purchases.  He promised the “very lowest Rates that any Merchants sell for in America,” making a bold claim that extended far beyond his competitors in Providence.  Brown claimed that his prices matched or beat those set by merchants in Newport, the other major port in the colony, as well as merchants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.  Retailers in Providence and other towns in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts did not need to acquire their merchandise from merchants in Boston or New York in hopes of getting the best deals.  Instead, they could streamline the supply chain by working directly with Brown.  Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes claimed they offered the lowest prices in town or in the colony or region.  Just as he “went big” with his list of imported goods, Brown attempted to awe and entice prospective customers with hyperbolic declarations about offering the best prices anywhere in the colonies.

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.

May 30

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

Providence Gazette (May 30, 1772).

“Determined not to be undersold.”

To compete with other shopkeepers and merchants in Providence, Jones and Allen emphasized both low prices and extensive choices in their advertisement in the May 30, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The headline for their notice, “The GREATEST PENNYWORTHS Of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS,” immediately alerted prospective customers to the bargains they would encounter at the Sign of the Golden Ball.  They elaborated on their low prices in the conclusion to their advertisement.  “Said JONES and ALLEN,” the partners confided, “think it needless to say any thing more urgent to the public, than that they deal for ready money, and are determined not to be undersold by any retailer in Providence.”  Although they did not make any explicit promises, Jones and Allen hinted that they would match the prices if customers found better deals in other shops.  They also made a special appeal concerning the prices for tea, sugar, and spices, pledging to part with them “on the lowest terms.”

To demonstrate that they made choices available to consumers, Jones and Allen listed dozens of items from among their inventory of textiles, garments, accessories, and housewares.  In many instances, they deployed language that suggested even more choices, such as “shaloons, tammies and calimancoes, of all colours,” “a large assortment of light and dark patches,” “an assortment of hemp, thread, cotton, worsted, and silk and worsted hose,” “an elegant assortment of ribbons,” and “An assortment of broaches, hair sprigs, ear rings, &c.”  The et cetera (abbreviated “&c.”) implied even more choices.  Jones and Allen also inserted “&c. &c.” and “&c. &c. &c.” to underscore that they stocked an even greater array of merchandise.  In addition, they did not list any of the items from among their “good assortment of hard-ware.”  Instead, they claimed those items were “too tedious to enumerate in an advertisement,” though readers may have suspected that Jones and Allen did not want to incur the additional expense.  After all, the advertisement already filled two-thirds of a column.

Other advertisers claimed to offer “the lowest Prices” in Providence, but did not exert the same effort in making that claim.  Similarly, others declared that they carried a “compleat Assortment of English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS,” but did not list any of their wares.  Jones and Allen adapted popular marketing strategies, making their advertisement more distinctive than many others that ran in the same issue of the Providence Gazette.

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.