May 10

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

Pennsylvania Journal (May 7, 1772).

“JUST IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt. Falconer from London.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Journal and other colonial newspapers did not have to rely solely on the list of vessels “Entered In” that appeared in the shipping news from the customs house to learn which ships recently arrived in port.  Advertisements often carried that information as well.  Consider, for instance, the first advertisement in the May 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  It included a standard introduction that named the ship that transported the goods offered for sale before naming the purveyor of those goods or listing the merchandise.  Richard Bache began his advertisement for an assortment of textiles with “JUST IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt, Falconer from London.” His notice appeared on the first page, two pages before the shipping news.

Even if readers skipped over that advertisement, it would have been difficult for them to miss every reference to the arrival of the Britannia from London.  Several other advertisements included introductions nearly identical to the one in Bache’s notice.  George Fullerton began his advertisement (on the third page, one column to the right of the shipping news) with “IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt. Falconer, from London.”  The fourth and final page featured four more advertisements that mentioned the Britannia.  Mark Freeman and Townsend Speakman both opened their advertisements with that introduction, while John White and the partnership of Duffield and Delany listed their names first and then credited “the Britannia, Captain Falconer, from London” for delivering their “FRESH” merchandise.  On the first page, Daniel Roberdeau hawked “A COMPLEAT EDITION of the GENUINE LETTERS of the Late Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD … Received from his Executors, per Capt. Falconer.”  He did not need to provide more information since other advertisements provided context about Falconer.

Prospective customers likely found such notes helpful as they perused newspaper advertisements, especially when merchants and shopkeepers ran advertisements for weeks or even months.  Noting which vessel transported the merchandise in an advertisement helped readers determine if it was still “FRESH” or if other shops carried textiles, garments, housewares, and other goods that arrived more recently and, as a result, might include more recent fashions and styles.  This standard introduction to so many advertisements thus yielded its greatest advantage for advertisers when their notices first appeared in the public prints, but contained to provide useful context for consumers throughout the entire run of those advertisements.

December 28

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

Providence Gazette (December 28, 1771).

“As compleat an Assortment in their Store as any in New-England.”

Nicholas Brown and Company promoted a vast array of imported merchandise in an advertisement in the December 28, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Unlike some merchants and shopkeepers, they did not list their inventory, though they did name a few items that they stocked specifically for “the Whale and Cod Fishery.”  Still, they made an appeal to consumer choice.  Instead of publishing an extensive catalog of goods, they attempted to convince prospective customers that if they did not carry something that no other store or shop in the region stocked it either.

To make that point, they informed readers which ships and captains transported their goods across the Atlantic, advising them that the company had “imported in the Boston-Packet an additional Assortment” of goods to add to “the Variety imported in the Tristram, Capt. Shand, and the Providence, Capt. Gilbert.”  As a result, that “Assortment” and “Variety” amounted to “as compleat an Assortment in their Store as any in New-England.”  That was a bold claim.  The choices that Brown and Company offered to consumers rivaled not only those available from other merchants and shopkeepers in Providence but also those in Newport, Portsmouth, Salem, and even Boston.

Brown and Company expected that naming those ships and their captains would resonate with prospective customers.  Many of them would have been aware of when the vessels arrived in port from the shipping news in the Providence Gazette, word of mouth, and other advertisements.  Merchants and shopkeepers frequently indicated which ships transported their goods so consumers could confirm that they carried new merchandise as well as compare what they read and heard elsewhere about the cargo of each vessel.  In this case, Brown and Company anticipated that the public already had some idea about the types of goods that arrived on the Boston Packet, Tristram, and Providence, so further elaboration may not have been necessary … or as effective as making a grand statement about offering “as compleat an Assortment in their Store as any in New-England.”

July 13

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

Providence Gazette (July 13, 1771).

“Just arrived in the Tristram, Captain Shand, from London, a fine Assortment of Hard Ware and other GOODS.”

In the summer of 1771, the partnership of Nicholas, Joseph, and Moses Brown informed retailers in Providence and surrounding towns that they carried “a fine Assortment of Hard Ware and other GOODS, which they will sell on the lowest Terms, by Wholesale.”  The merchants also indicated that they imported their inventory from London aboard the Tristram, a ship that recently arrived in port.  In so doing, they followed a custom adopted by many other purveyors of goods who placed newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century.

The two advertisements immediately above the Browns’ notice in the July 13, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazettealso made reference to the Tristram.  Edward Thurber proclaimed that he sold “A Good Assortment of HARD WARE and PIECE GOODS” imported from London “in the Snow Tristram, Captain Shand.”  Similarly, Joseph Russell and William Russell had in stock “A VERY large and neat Assortment of English Goods, Ironmongery, Brasiery, Cutlery, Haberdashery, [and] Stationary” that they received from London “in the Ship Providence, and in the Snow Tristram.”

In their advertisement, Lovett and Greene promoted “A NEAT Assortment of English, East and West India GOODS.”  They also declared that they “Just imported” their merchandise, but they did not list the vessels that transported the goods across the Atlantic.  Neither did Robert Nesbitt, who asserted that he sold “an Assortment of Goods … immediately imported from Ireland.”  Most advertisements ran for several weeks and some for several months, making it more difficult for prospective customers to assess what “Just imported” or “immediately imported” meant when not stated in connection with vessels that arrived from other ports.  Thurber, the Russells, and the “COMPANY” formed by the Browns, on the other hand, provided valuable information that readers could compare to either the shipping news that ran elsewhere in the newspaper or general knowledge about when vessels arrived in port.  A detail that may seem quaint by modern standards revealed important context for prospective customers in the eighteenth century.