April 4

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 4, 1771).

“Too many Articles to be enumerated.”

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently published extensive advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Those advertisements served as catalogs of their inventory, listing all sorts of goods they offered for sale.  Both the length and the number of entries communicated the array of choices available to consumers.  In the April 4, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, Joshua Gardner inserted an advertisement that filled half a column.  In a dense paragraph, he enumerated scores of “ENGLISH GOODS,” everything from textiles and trimmings to housewares and hardware.  Like many of his peers, he concluded with a promise of “sundry other articles” that would not fit in his advertisement.

Other advertisers did not describe the scope of their wares in such detail.  Some, like Ebenezer Storer, merely stated that they had on hand an “Assortment of GOODS” and invited prospective customers to visit their shops to see for themselves.  Others provided a preview of their merchandise, but dismissed the long lists published by competitors.  Margaret Newman and Robert Hall both took that approach.  Newman promoted her “neat Assortment of English & India GOODS” as well as an “Assortment of Paper Hangings, Felt Hats, Cutlery Ware,” and textiles.  Reiterating “Assortment” underscored choices for consumers, so many choices that a newspaper advertisement could not contain all of them.  Newman proclaimed that she could not even attempt to list her goods because they “Consist[ed] of too many Articles to be enumerated.”  In his advertisement for a “fresh Parcel of Garden Seeds” and a “Collection of the Best Kind of Fruit-Trees,” Hall insisted that he had “too many Sorts to be inserted in an Advertisement.”  Most of his competitors who placed advertisements in the same issue listed dozens of seeds or trees.

Both Newman and Hall suggested that they carried the same variety of goods as their competitors who published long lists of merchandise.  Their insistence that they had “too many Articles to be enumerated” even implied that they might offer more choices than their competitors who provided extensive accounts of their inventory, such a vast array that they could not select only some to appear in their advertisements.  Publishing shorter advertisements may have been motivated by financial concerns, but advertisers like Newman and Hall devised ways of making the length work to their advantage.