What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A neat and elegant Assortment of MERCERY, HABERDASHERY, and WOOLEN GOODS.”
Daniel Fowle, the printer of the New-Hampshire Gazette, apparently experienced some sort of disruption in his paper supply in the fall of 1773. For several weeks, he issued a broadsheet newspaper with four columns on each side rather than the usual standard edition that consisted of three columns on each of four pages. That meant that he delivered eight columns of news, advertising, and other contents rather than twelve. It was not the first time in recent years that Fowle made some sort of substitution when he did not have access to sheets of the usual size.
In this instance, that meant Thomas Achincloss’s lengthy advertisement in the October 22 edition accounted for an even greater proportion of the space on the broadsheet than if it had appeared in a standard issue at some other time. It filled half a column. Achincloss advised readers that he recently imported and offered for sale a “neat and elegant Assortment of MERCERY, HABERDASHERY, and WOOLEN GOODS,” though most of the advertisement consisted of an extensive list of his wares. He stocked “Calicoes, newest Patterns,” a “Genteel Assortment of Chintzes,” and “Laces, Knee Straps, [and] Necklaces, different qualities, newest and most fashionable,” along with a variety of other textiles and accessories enumerated in his notice. Achincloss supplemented that merchandise with a “neat Assortment of Hardware,” an “assortment of Bibles and Testaments, also of various Books and Stationary Ware,” and “Men’s Saddles” and “Riding Whips.” He presented a multitude of choices to consumers in Portsmouth and nearby towns.
Achincloss realized that promoting this selection may not have been enough to draw prospective customers to his shop. To incite demand, he made appeals to price before and after describing his inventory. He initially stated that he sold his goods “at a very low advance” (or only a small markup), but went into more detail in a nota bene at the end of the advertisement. “The Public may depend, and be assured,” Achincloss declared, “that the Goods being from first Hands and Manufacturers, will be afforded upon as low terms, as any in the place can.” In other words, Achincloss claimed that he acquired these goods directly from the producers rather than middlemen merchants. That kept his costs low, allowing him to pass along the savings to his customers. In turn, he set competitive prices that matched the best deals available in Portsmouth.
The amount of space that Achincloss’s advertisement occupied may have attracted attention. Once readers perused it, they encountered an array of choices, especially among the dozens of textiles that the shopkeeper listed, as well as assurances of low prices. In crafting this notice, Achincloss deployed some of the most common marketing strategies in use throughout the colonies.