May 24

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

May 24 - 5:24:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 24, 1768).

“A CARGO of DRY GOODS … never yet exposed to SALE.”

In the spring of 1768 Samuel Prioleau, Jr., and Company placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that announced their plans to auction “A CARGO of DRY GOODS” just imported from Liverpool. They provided a short list highlighting some of the merchandise, including “cotton and silk hollands,” “Scotch osnaburgs,” and “Drogheda linen,” but also promised “sundry other articles” too numerous to name in their notice.

Prioleau and Company proclaimed that their wares had “never yet been exposed to SALE.” In so doing, they assured potential buyers – retailers and end-use consumers alike – that this was not merely a cargo of castoffs that merchants and shopkeepers on the other side of the Atlantic had been unable to sell and then attempted to pawn off on distant colonists who did not have easy access to the newest and most fashionable goods. Colonial consumers sometimes complained that they were expected to be content with just such merchandise, which explains why so many eighteenth-century advertisers made a point of stressing that they stocked the newest fashions. This was not necessary for the “Irish linen” or “Scotch osnaburgs,” a coarse fabric often used to clothe slaves, but likely made a difference for “men and boys hats” and some of the higher end textiles that Prioleau and Company listed. They also indicated that this cargo had been “Just imported in the Ship Nanny, David Perry, Master, from Liverpool,” signaling to prospective customers that the textiles had not first been offered for sale in local warehouses or shops. According to the shipping news in the South-Carolina Gazette published the previous day, the Nanny was still in port. To underscore that these goods had “never yet been exposed to SALE,” the advertisers concluded by stating that they were “all bought at the manufactory.” Coming directly from the place of production, these items had not previously sat on shelves where they had been pawed and passed over by other prospective customers. Instead, colonists in Charleston had first shot at acquiring this assortment of fabrics.

January 30

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

Jan 30 - 1:30:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 30, 1768).

“JUST OPENED, and to be Sold by Nathl. Greene.”

To modern readers it may appear that Nathaniel Greene had just launched a new venture when he placed his advertisement in the January 30, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. After all, the first line announced in capital letters that he had “JUST OPENED” his shop at “the West End of the Great Bridge.” Residents of Providence in the late 1760s, however, would have understood this advertisement rather differently. Even if they had never visited, a great many would have been aware of his shop already. Readers of the Providence Gazette would have been exposed to Greene’s advertisements fairly regularly for more than a year. For instance, in August 1766 he had placed an advertisement that included the same location for “his Shop, on the West Side of the Great Bridge, Providence.”

So what did Greene mean when he proclaimed that he had “JUST OPENED” in late January 1768? This phrase described his merchandise rather than his location. His advertisement informed potential customers that he had updated his inventory and now offered a “neat Assortment of English and India GOODS, of all Kinds” that he had not previously made available. He attempted to entice consumers to examine his wares by presenting those goods as new rather than leftovers that had been lingering on the shelves.

That appeal may have lost some of its initial power to persuade by the end of January. Greene’s advertisement first ran in the January 2 issue, the promise of new merchandise coinciding with the new year. It then ran in five consecutive weekly issues, becoming as familiar to readers as the location of Greene’s shop, before being discontinued in the first issue published in February.

When it first appeared, however, the headline “JUST OPENED” distinguished Greene’s goods from those carried by his competitors – Joseph and William Russell, John Mathewson, Benoni Pearce, Thompson and Arnold, Jonathan Russell, and Darius Sessions – who had been advertising in late December and continued in January. Many of those competitors composed longer advertisements and purchased more space in the Providence Gazette. Only one, however, utilized a headline that promoted some aspect of their goods: Thompson and Arnold underscored they set “Very CHEAP” prices. In response, Greene chose an alternate appeal to emphasize in his headline. In the body of his notice he did pledge “to sell as low as any that are sold in this Town,” but only after demanding prospective customers’ attention with his “JUST OPENED” headline.