November 23

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (November 23, 1770).

“Any Gentleman Practitioner may be served … by Letter as well as if present.”

Joseph Tilton advertised a “compleat and general Assortment of the best Drugs and Medicines” in the November 23, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Now available at his shop in Exeter, these nostrums had recently been imported from London.  Tilton listed a variety of popular patent medicines, including Stoughton’s Elixir, Lockyer’s Pills, and Walker’s Jesuit Drops, as well as grocery items often incorporated into homemade remedies.  For instance, he stocked cloves, mace, nutmeg, and ginger.  He supplemented these wares with medical equipment, including lancets and “Surgeons Needles,” and other merchandise, not unlike modern retail pharmacies that carry over-the-counter medications, home health care supplies, and food and convenience items.  For some of his merchandise, Tilton offered bargains, stating that he sold them “cheaper than can be bought in this Government.”  In other words, consumers would not find better deals anywhere in the colony.

To expand his clientele, Tilton did not require customers to visit his shop in Exeter.  In a nota bene, he advised that “Any Gentleman Practitioner, may be served with Dispatch, and their Medicines well secured, by Letter as well as if present.”  Tilton provided mail order service to physicians who desired it, an accommodation apparently worth the effort if it enticed them to choose him to supply their medicines and equipment.  He promised that such orders would not languish in his shop; instead, he would fill them and send them as quickly as possible.  Visiting Tilton’s shop in person would not achieve faster service, nor would it result in better packaging for transporting medicines.  Prospective customers did not need to worry that they would not be able to oversee how the bottles, boxes, and packets were bundled.  Tilton pledged they would be “well secured” and arrive intact.

Tilton incorporated convenience into his business model.  He advertised an array of merchandise, from patent medicines to medical supplies to groceries, for consumers to acquire at one location.  He also provided mail order service as an alternative to shopping in person.  Eighteenth-century advertisements have sometimes been depicted as mere lists of goods, little more than announcements.  Many, however, contained marketing efforts intended to convince consumers to make purchases and choose the advertiser over competitors.

August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:20:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 20, 1770).

“Doctor’s Boxes … are carefully prepared.”

Peter Roberts advertised “An Assortment of the best DRUGS and MEDICINES” as well as other medical supplies, including “Surgeons Instruments,” “Iron and Marble Mortars and Pestles,” and “a great Variety of Smelling Bottles” in the August 20, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  In addition to listing his wares, he adopted two other marketing strategies commonly deployed by apothecaries and others who sold medicines.  In both, he emphasized convenience as an important part of the customer service he provided.

Roberts informed prospective customers that “Doctor’s Boxes of various Prices, with proper Directions, are carefully prepared and put up for Ships or private Families.”  He produced an eighteenth-century version of a first aid kit, packaging together several useful items that buyers did not need at the moment but would likely find useful when need did arise.  Even if the purchasers never used some of those items but merely had them on hand out of caution, Roberts still generated revenue for each item included in those “Doctor’s Boxes.”  At the same time, he sold a sense of security to those who felt better prepared for illnesses, injuries, and emergencies because they had a variety of medical supplies on hand.  To enhance that sense of security, Roberts included “proper Directions” in each box he prepared.  Buyers benefited from the convenience of having medicines, medical supplies, and directions easily accessible in those “Doctor’s Boxes.”

Roberts also offered medical professionals the convenience of placing their orders through the post or messenger rather than visiting his shop “opposite the West Door of the Town-House, BOSTON.”  He advised that “Practitioners in Town and Country may depend on being as well used by Letter as if present themselves.”  Roberts likely hoped to increase his share of the market by assuring prospective customers who could not come to his shop because they were too busy or because they resided too far away that he would not provide second-rate service.  He underscored that their business was important to him.

Roberts made clear in his advertisement that he did more than merely dispense drugs and sell medical equipment.  He aimed to provide a level of service and convenience that added value to the merchandise he offered for sale.  He intended that such marketing strategies would attract customers choosing among the many purveyors of patent medicines and other medical supplies in colonial Boston.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 8:31:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (August 31, 1769).

“Orders from the country will be punctually answered.”

When William Wilson placed an advertisement about “a fresh Assortment of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” in the August 31, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, he listed dozens of the items in his inventory. Wilson stocked everything from “Womens black Silk Gloves and Mitts” to “Steel Coffee-Mills” to “Coopers and Carpenters Adzes.” In addition to the merchandise that he named, he also carried “several other Articles, too tedious to enumerate.” As they contemplated their participation in the consumer revolution that was taking place throughout the British Atlantic world, Wilson invited colonists to imagine the vast array of goods he made available to them. He encouraged them to savor the choices.

Although Wilson addressed “his Friends and Customers,” his advertisement made clear that those “Friends and Customers” did not need to do their shopping in person at his store on Broad Street in Charleston. For those who lived some distance from the busy port, he pledged that “Orders from the Country will be punctually answered.” Customers who placed such orders could depend on the same level of service bestowed on patrons who visited Wilson’s shop. As a convenience to his customers, he offered a precursor to mail order or internet shopping.

That service made the extensive list of goods in Wilson’s advertisement even more imperative to operating his business. His notice in the South-Carolina Gazette doubled as a catalog for much of his merchandise, advising prospective customers “from the Country” which items they could order from afar. Wilson did not merely name items like “playing Cards” and “Womens and Girls Velvet Masks” to impress readers with the variety of goods in stock; instead, he provided a list that ranged from common items to unexpected novelties so customers placing orders became aware of the many possibilities. Wilson’s advertisement included clothing and textiles, accessories, housewares, hardware and tools, and groceries, signaling to those who could not examine the “several other Articles, too tedious to enumerate” that they had a good chance of a favorable response when submitting special requests not listed in his catalog of goods. This shopkeeper’s lengthy list was more than a conspicuous display of consumer goods; it was a critical element of a service he offered for those who wished to place “Orders from the Country.”

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:27:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 27, 1769).

Practitioners, and others, in the Country, on sending a Line, may depend on being well used.”

Jabez Bowen, Jr., advertised “A large and general Assortment of the most valuable Drugs and Medicines” in the May 27, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. His inventory included familiar patent medicines, such as “Turlington’s Balsam of Life,” “Godfry’s Cordial,” “Bateman’s and Stoughton’s Drops,” and “Daffy’s Elixir.” In addition, he stocked several spices sometimes compounded into remedies. He testified to the authenticity of the various remedies and also made an appeal to price.

Bowen invited potential customers to visit his shop “fronting the Great Bridge” in Providence, but he did not confine his clientele only to those who resided in town. In a note at the end of his advertisement, he advised that “Practitioners, and others, in the Country, on sending a Line, may depend on being well used.” In other words, he offered the eighteenth-century equivalent of ordering through the mail. Bowen provided a service that advertisers often promoted, though apothecaries tended to do so more often than those who followed other occupations. They usually identified two sorts of clients, colleagues who practiced medicine in one capacity or another and the general public. Cultivating relationships with the former had the potential to generate significant additional sales if country doctors, apothecaries, and others decided to purchase large quantities in order to avoid running short on supplies. Customer service was an important aspect of first attracting and then maintaining relationships with any and all correspondents. To that end, Bowen did not merely state that he accepted orders from the country. Instead, he pledged that customers who sent their orders “may depend on being well used.” Others sometimes added the phrase “as if present” to underscore that they devoted the same care and attention to customers who submitted orders via the post or messenger as they did to those they served in person in the shop. Such reassurances may have helped some clients feel more comfortable placing orders from afar, more willing to give that method a chance to decide themselves if the quality of the service matched the convenience.

October 13

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

Oct 13 - 10:13:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (October 13, 1768).
“All Persons shall be as well served by Letter as if present.”

In the late 1760s Joshua Blanchard operated a “Wine-Cellar near the Market” in Boston. He sold “Choice Sterling Madeira … and all other Sorts of Wine” in a variety of quantities, “by the Pipe, Quarter-Cask, or in Bottles by the Groce or Dozen” or any other measure “as may suit the Buyer.” In addition, he also sold “West India and New-England Rum.” Transporting, repackaging, and selling wine and spirits required special skills and attention compared to textiles, housewares, hardware, and many other imported goods frequently promoted in newspaper advertisements. To that end, Blanchard informed prospective customers of the care exhibited in distributing his wine in the marketplace.

Blanchard envisioned several sorts of customers. He addressed “Gentlemen of the Town, Masters of Vessels, and all Persons going abroad,” promising them that he offered the “best Kinds” of wine. He also assured prospective customers about the packaging, noting that they “may depend on having their Wine put up in the best Manner.” There was no need to worry about spilling or spoiling that resulted from the work undertaken at Blanchard’s wine cellar to transfer wine from its original casks to new bottles or barrels of various sizes. Blanchard’s emphasis on quality extended beyond the product itself; it included his efforts in distributing the wine.

In addition to serving customers in the busy port, Blanchard invited “Gentlemen in the Country, Inn-keepers, and all other Persons” to send orders to his wine cellar. Transactions did not need to take place face to face. Instead, customers “shall be as well served by Letter as if present.” In other words, Blanchard provided a form of mail order service. That made his attention to quality an even more important marketing appeal. He first needed to assure prospective customers that his wine and rum would survive transport without incident before presenting the option of delivering it in response to orders placed in letters. Blanchard underscored “Care & Fidelity” in the second half of his advertisement, in relation to his work as a broker, but that phrase also applied to treatment of the products that passed through his wine cellar as well.

February 11

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

Feb 11 - 2:11:1768 Massacusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 11, 1768).

*** Country Customers may be supplied as well by Letter as if present.”

When his partner passed away, Nicholas Bowes placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette. In it, he issued an invitation for “all Persons that have Accounts open with said Company to come and settle them.” Yet he also wanted current, former, and prospective customers to know that he continued to sell books and stationery “at the same Shop.” Bowes devoted about half of the space in his advertisement to a nota bene that announced the continuation of the business that he had previously operated with Wharton.

To that end, Bowes advanced several marketing appeals. Like many merchants and shopkeepers, he promised consumers that he offered a variety of choices among his “large and compleat Assortment” of books and stationery. Customers could select items that matched their own needs and tastes. Bowes also sold his wares “at the lowest Rates,” attempting to draw visitors to his shop with competitive prices. In making those appeals, Bowes resorted to two of the most common marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. He saved his most innovative appeal for last: “*** Country Customers may be supplied as well by Letter as if present.” He even used distinctive typography – the asterisks and italics – as a visual means of attracting notice to that particular effort to market his merchandise. For the convenience of those who lived outside the busy port and faraway from his shop he made available all of the same benefits enjoyed by his local patrons. In proclaiming that distant customers “may be supplied as well by Letter as if present,” he pledged not to show any preferences or to take advantage of those who submitted their orders through the mail.

Retailers did not invent mail order shopping in the late nineteenth century, despite the proliferation and popularity of catalog shopping during the period. Nor did Bowes pioneer the strategy in the mid eighteenth century … but Bowes did offer a service that was not yet a standard practice promoted to potential customers via advertising. Merchants and shopkeepers sporadically made note that they served customers via the post in their newspaper notices, suggesting that the practice was fairly common even if it had not yet been codified as one of the standard marketing strategies that appeared in print. By inserting it into his advertisement, Bowes confirmed that he did provide this service, expanding his potential market to the hinterlands beyond Boston.

December 29

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

Dec 29 - 12:29:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 29, 1767).

“Fechtman undertakes to make stays and negligees, gowns and slips, without trying, for any lady in the country.”

Christopher Fechtman, a “STAY and MANTUA-MAKER from LONDON,” promoted his services in an advertisement in the supplement to the December 29, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. After noting his change of address, he launched several appeals intended to incite demand for his services and instill a preference for obtaining stays, mantuas, and other items from him rather than his competitors.

Fechtman offered a guarantee of sorts, pledging to “give entire satisfaction to those who favour him” with their patronage. He did so with confidence, underscoring his own “knowledge of the business.” Yet Fechtman did not labor alone in his shop. He also employed “some experienced hands, who understand their business to the utmost dexterity.” Artisans commonly noted their skill and expertise in eighteenth-century advertisements. Fechtman assured potential customers that his subordinates who might have a hand in producing their garments were well qualified for the task. He staked his own reputation on that promise.

The staymaker also proclaimed that he would “work at a lower rate than any heretofore,” hoping to entice prospective clients with lower prices. High quality garments produced by skilled workers did not necessarily have to be exorbitantly expensive. Quite the opposite: Fechtman indicated that his prices beat any his competitors had ever charged.

Finally, Fechtman offered his services to women who resided in Charleston’s hinterland, widening his market beyond those who could easily visit his shop on Union Street while they ran other errands around town. To that end, he played up the convenience of procuring his services, noting that he could “make stays and negligees, gowns and slips, without trying, for any lady in the country.” His female clients did not need to visit his shop for a fitting. Presumably they forwarded their measurements when submitting their orders from a distance; tailors and others who made garments sometimes included instructions to send measurements with orders in their advertisements.

Fechtman competed with other stay- and mantua-makers in Charleston, a busy port city. To distinguish his garments and services from the competition, he resorted to several marketing strategies in his advertisement. He emphasized skill and expertise, both his own and that of the “experienced hands” who labored in his shop. He also offered low prices as well as convenience to clients unable to visit his shop for fittings. In the process, he encouraged prospective clients to imagine acquiring “stays and negligees, gowns and slips” from him, stoking demand and desire for his wares.

November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 28, 1767).

“Practitioners, and others, in the country, on sending a line, may depend on being as well used as by any apothecary in New-England.”

Jabez Bowen, Jr., inserted an advertisement promoting his “LARGE and general assortment of the most valuable DRUGS and MEDICINES, both chymical and galenical,” in the November 28, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. In it, he listed a variety of popular patent medicines as well as medical equipment, all of it stocked “At his SHOP, fronting the Great Bridge, in PROVIDENCE.” Realizing that the Providence Gazette circulated far beyond that port, Bowen included a note to “Practitioners, and others, in the country” who might not be able to visit his shop themselves. He offered a mail order service, promising that “on sending a line, [they] may depend on being as well used as by any apothecary in New-England, the pay being adequate.”

Bowen knew that he faced competition from other apothecaries, not only those from Providence but also others from Boston, a much larger city. Those competitors distributed their advertisements throughout New England and beyond via four newspapers, giving them another advantage over Bowen. Although shopkeepers sometimes advertised that they served customers “in the country” when they sent orders by mail, apothecaries most regularly incorporated this marketing strategy into their advertisements. In his attempts to operate a prosperous business, Bowen also participated in this practice, proclaiming that he would not be overshadowed by competitors from Providence, Boston, or anywhere else. His customers could “depend on being as well used as by any apothecary in New-England.” In making this claim, Bowen offered both service and value to prospective customers.

Yet he also made clear that he aimed to establish commercial relationships mutually beneficial to both parties. He qualified his pledge that customers would be “as well used as by any apothecary” with the caveat of “the pay being adequate.” He was not so desperate for business that he would allow customers to take advantage of him. Bowen sold his medicines and supplies “on the most reasonable terms,” but expected clients to acknowledge the value of his wares and the service he provided in packaging orders and dispatching them to “the country.” In so doing, he indicated that he was as professional and as competent as his counterparts in Boston, capable of delivering on the promises he made in his advertisements.

February 27

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

feb-27-2271767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 27, 1767).

“LONDON, New-York, and other MADEIRA WINE, by the Pipe, Hogshead, Quarter Cask, or Dozen.”

Colonial Americans drank alcoholic beverages all the time and at any time they wanted. According to Ed Crews, colonists commonly had a drink for breakfast, brunch, lunch, pre-dinner snacking, during supper, and right before bed. Colonists enjoyed drinking at social events, work, and, even during studies at colleges. In fact, Crews reports, in 1639 Nathaniel Eaton, the President at Harvard College at the time, “lost his job” when he did not provide enough beer for students and staff. Alcohol was a wonder drink believed to have many beneficial properties ranging from warming the body, making people stronger, aiding the sick, and generally causing people to have a good time.

Today’s notice advertised the sale of a variety of wines and spirits imported from across the Atlantic, including Madeira, Port, Burgundy, Claret, and Brandy, as well as Jamaican Rum from the Caribbean. Colonists had a variety of different drinks they preferred, including mixers called Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle, Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip, and just as many names for being drunk.

Wine, rum, and whiskey were favored drinks among the colonists, with rum being king amongst the common man. Elites imported wine, especially Jefferson who loved French wine and attempted to produce wine in America, a failed endeavor. George Washington, on the other hand, owned and operated a private whiskey distillery on his property at Mt. Vernon.

American colonists consumed a large variety of alcoholic beverages for various occasions and at times throughout the day, with wine, rum, and whiskey being especially favorite drinks.

For more on “Drinking in Colonial America,” see Ed Crews’ article on the Colonial Williamsburg website.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Cunningham and Sands, purveyors of all sorts of alcohol, emphasized quality and service in their advertisement. Whether customers purchased any of a dozen different varieties of wine or instead opted for rum from Jamaica and other locales in the West Indies, all were “warranted to be excellent in Quality.” This was possible because Cunningham and Sands took “the greatest Care” in choosing which wines and rum to import and sell, implying a certain level of expertise on their part. They also took great care in “the Management” of the wines they stocked, suggesting that they were shipped and stored under the best conditions in order to avoid any sort of contamination or turning. Cunningham and Sands implied that they knew wine as well as artisans knew their trades.

In terms of service, the partners offered several options to potential customers interested in obtaining their products. Consumers could visit Cunningham and Sands at one of two locations in Charleston, either “at their Counting-House fronting the Bay, on Mr. Burn’s new Wharf, or at their Store in Union-street.” Realizing that not all readers of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette – and prospective customers – resided in the Charleston or had easy access to either of their two locations, Cunningham and Sands also announced that “All Orders from the Country will be punctually complied with.” In effect, they offered mail order service! They apparently believed this convenience would attract customers. Not only did they include it in their advertisements, they also drew special attention to it by inserting it as a separate nota bene rather than including it in the paragraph of dense text that detailed the other aspects of quality and service they provided. (Whether Cunningham and Sands or the printer decided that the nota bene should be printed in italics is much more difficult to determine. Advertisers generally wrote their own copy and printers generally made decisions about layout, but occasionally advertisers exercised some influence over format.)

Sam notes that Americans consumed a fair amount of alcohol and enjoyed various sorts of wines and spirits. Today’s advertisement reveals some of the options available to them as well as part of the process involved in shopping for these items.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 25, 1766).

“All Customers … may depend upon being as well served by Letter as if present.”

In an age of online shopping, modern consumers are accustomed to the convenience of purchasing goods to be delivered directly to their homes without visiting stores to examine the products they are buying. In the evolution of shopping, this seems like a natural progression from catalog shopping, which has been a popular means of distributing merchandise to consumers for more than a century.

Both means of acquiring goods have been considered simultaneously disruptive and revolutionary, but such narratives obscure continuities with consumer culture in earlier eras. Consider, for instance, this brief advertisement for “All Sorts of West-India Goods, and Grocery” placed by John Jenkins. He informed “All Customers, in Town and Country” that they “may depend upon being as well served by Letter as if present.” In effect, Jenkins offered an early variation of mail order delivery. Customers wrote to inform him which items they wished to purchase. In turn, he had the items delivered to them. While such an arrangement was not a standard business practice mentioned in most advertisements, it was common enough in the 1760s that customers would have readily recognized this service.

Jenkins’s advertisement does differ in one significant way from others by merchants and shopkeepers who solicited orders through the post: its brevity. Most such advertisements included much more extensive lists of the goods that had been imported and were available for sale. Jenkins, on the other hand, did not specify any particulars. He did not name any specific merchandise. Why not? Could he not afford a lengthier advertisement? How effective was such a truncated advertisement? Did potential customers write to him in hopes he stocked the items they desired? Jenkins certainly offered a convenience to his customers, but it may have been negated by not providing enough information about his wares to guide customers in making their choices.