May 1

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 1, 1771).

“Lower Terms than can be at any Shop or Store in the Province.”

Although “Sadler and Jockey Cap-Maker” Richard Sharwin signed his entire name at the end of his advertisement in the April 29, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, he deployed the mononym “SHARWIN” as a headline to draw attention.  The mononym suggested that consumers should already be familiar with his reputation, but he also declared that he was “From LONDON” to further underscore his importance for readers who were not familiar with his work.  Sharwin proclaimed that he made a variety of items, “the several Materials and Workmanship the best of their Kind.”  From “hunting Sadles with Hogskin seat” to “Pelm and Snaffle Bridles with Silver plated Bits” to “Velvet Jockey Caps,” the items he produced in his shop were “as Neat as can be Imported.”  Sharwin assured prospective customers that when they shopped locally, they still acquired goods of the same quality as those that arrived from London.

Sharwin also tended to price in his advertisement, pledging that he sold his wares “upon lower Terms than can be at any Shop or Store in the Province.”  Advertisers commonly asserted their low prices, but not nearly as often did they encourage consumers to compare their prices to those of their competitors.  Sharwin not only did so but also listed prices for welted saddles (“from 8 to 10 Dollars”) and plain saddles (“from 6 to 8 Dollars”), allowing readers to do some comparison shopping without even visiting his shop on King Street.  They could judge for themselves whether he offered bargains.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans provided prices in their advertisements only occasionally, making Sharwin’s invitation to compare prices all the more notable.  Prospective customers could use the prices for welted saddles and plain saddles as a barometer for how much he charged for the dozens of other items listed in his advertisement since Sharwin set prices for “every Article in proportion.”

All in all, Sharwin incorporated several standard elements of eighteenth-century advertising into his own advertisement while also experimenting with less common marketing strategies.  Like many other advertisers, he emphasized consumer choice by listing an assortment of goods, touted his connections to London, and underscored quality and price.  He enhanced his advertisement with a mononym for a headline, stating the prices for some items, and trumpeting that his competitors could not beat those prices.  Sharwin crafted an advertisement that was not merely a rote recitation of the usual appeals made to consumers.

December 14

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 14, 1770).

“Mrs. Winter, makes and sells, silk Purses.”

William Winter offered his services as a notary in an advertisement in the December 14, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He declared that he drew up various kinds of legal documents “with Fidelity and Dispatch” and “at a reasonable price.”  In addition, he was “also a Public AUCTIONEER.”  Although William’s name appeared as the headline for the advertisement, in a font larger than any on that page, he was not the only member of the Winter household who contributed to the family’s income.  The advertisement included a nota bene that outlined Mrs. Winter’s entrepreneurial activities.

William asked readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to take note that “Mrs. Winter, makes and sells, silk Purses, Ladies silk, worsted, and thread Mitts.”  In addition, she also made “silk and thread Cauls for Wigs, as neat and good as any made in England.”  Furthermore, she sold them “cheaper for the Cash, than they can be bought in the Government.”  Did Mrs. Winter compose that portion of the advertisement?  Did William?  Did they collaborate on it?  Whoever was responsible for the content incorporated marketing strategies that did more than merely announce that Mrs. Winter made and sold purses, mitts, and linings for wigs.

Appeals to quality were common in eighteenth-century advertisements for goods and services.  In the era of the American Revolution, producers of goods made in the colonies and retailers who sold them increasingly compared the quality of those goods to imported alternatives.  In the wake of nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, comparing the quality of “domestic manufactures,” good made in the colonies, to imported items had a political valence.  Such appeals underscored to consumers that their choices in the marketplace had consequences in the dispute with Parliament.

Appeals to price were also common in advertisements of the period.  The Winters did not make generic statements about Mrs. Winter’s prices.  As they had done with the appeal to quality, they also embellished this appeal by proclaiming that she charged the lowest prices that could be found “in the Government” or in the entire colony.  In the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, James Haslett and Matthew Haslett, leather dressers who made and sold breeches and gloves, asserted that they set prices as low “as any in New England.”  Most advertisers usually were not so bold when comparing their prices to their competitors.  In these instances, the Winters and the Hasletts made significant claims about their prices in order to distinguish their goods from others.

Mrs. Winter’s portion of the advertisement did not benefit from the same prominence on the page as the segment in which William offered his services as notary and auctioneer.  It did not, however, lack substance.  The Winters devised a sophisticated advertisement that did more than rely on common marketing strategies.  When it came to both quality and price, they enhanced the standard appeals that appeared in other advertisements.