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.”

October 19

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

Providence Gazette (October 19, 1771).

“To enumerate the Articles, would exceed the Limits of an Advertisement in a News-Paper.”

Nicholas Brown and Company took a very different approach to advertising their wares than Edward Thurber did in his advertisement in the October 19, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Both advertisers emphasized the choices they made available to consumers.  Brown and Company promoted a “general and compleat Assortment of GOODS,” while Thurber used similar language in marketing a “Very compleat Assortment of Goods.”  To help prospective customers imagine the choices, he included a list of everything from “Mantua silks” to “Dutch looking glasses” to “Frying and warming pans.”  For several categories of goods, he further underscored consumer choice, including a “compleat assortment of broadcloths,” a “fine assortment of womens cloth shoes,” and “All sorts of nails and brads.”  His catalog of goods lacked only an “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) at the end to suggest even more choices.

Brown and Company, on the other hand, did not attempt to impress consumers with lengthy lists or to overwhelm readers with the amount of space their advertisement occupied on the page.  Instead, the partners declared, “To enumerate the Articles, would exceed the Limits of an Advertisement in a News-Paper; but among them are a Number not usually imported into this Town.”  That proclamation may have suggested to some readers that Thurber’s list of goods was too brief and too limited in comparison.  Extending half a column, it was finite and not at all “compleat.”  Brown and Company’s notice filled only half as much space, but only because the partners deemed it impossible to “enumerate” the contents of their store and, as a result, did not attempt to provide even a truncated list.  Brown and Company relied on curiosity to propel consumers to their store, curiosity about what the “general and compleat Assortment” included and curiosity about what kinds of goods might have been among those “not usually imported into this Town.”  Surprises awaited anyone who ventured to Brown and Company’s store.

Although these notices do not reveal which strategy was more effective, they demonstrate that advertisers experimented with how to represent consumer choice to prospective customers.  Neither Thurber nor Brown and Company merely proclaimed that they recently imported goods and expected that would have been sufficient to draw customers to their stores.  Instead, they devised different means of elaborating on choice to make their inventory more attractive to readers of the Providence Gazette.