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.