December 13

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

Dec 13 - 12:10:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 10, 1767).

“As the most certain method to have goods from England on the best terms, said Wilson applies immediately to the manufactories and importers there, for his.”

In December 1767, Philip Wilson placed a list-style advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette to promote an assortment of imported goods “for Sale at his Store in Front-street, at the Chinese Balcony” in Philadelphia. Although his inventory consisted primarily of textiles and garments, he also carried housewares and other items, hinting at an even more extensive variety with “&c. &c. &c.” (etc. etc. etc.) at the conclusion of the list.

Yet Wilson’s advertisement did not end there. Instead, he appended a nota bene that instructed readers about his means of obtaining imported merchandise and why his particular business practices benefited his customers. “As the most certain method to have goods from England on the best terms,” the shopkeeper proclaimed, “said Wilson applies immediately to the manufactories and importers there, for his; which he will sell on the lowest terms.”

Some of Wilson’s competitors who also advertised in the December 10 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette and its supplement made appeals to price. Neave and Harman stated that they sold their wares “on the most reasonable Terms.” Magdalen Devine sold her “large and general Assortment of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS … on the lowest terms.” Neither Devine nor Neave and Harman, however, commented on how they had acquired the goods they imported and sold. Wilson, in contrast, made it clear that he kept prices low by removing the middlemen, dealt directly with the producers of English goods rather than merchants who charged commissions or otherwise increased wholesale prices eventually passed along to retail customers. When it came to goods not produced in England, such as “EAST-INDIA GOODS” that passed through London before being shipped to the colonies, Wilson purchased his stock directly from the importers before they were exchanged in the English market. In so doing, he kept prices low by cutting out of the process those merchants who aimed to earn profits by immediately exporting such goods at higher rates to colonial retailers.

Wilson sought to attract customers by demonstrating that his supply chain had as few links as possible. With fewer exchanges and fewer intermediaries attempting to earn profits during each exchange, he could “sell on the lowest terms” to colonial consumers. Thanks to his shrewd arrangements with “the manufactories and importers” in England, Wilson assured potential customers that they paid only what was necessary rather than contributing to the wealth of faraway merchants.

July 2

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

Jul 2 - 7:2:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 2, 1767).

“A Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”

In an advertisement in the July 2, 1767, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Philip Wilson announced that he sold “A NEAT assortment of Merchandize” at his store on Front Street, just three doors down from “the Tea-pot, at Chestnut-street Corner.” He listed more than a dozen specific items, but also indicated that he carried “a Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”

This note near the end of the Wilson’s advertisement suggests how he imagined colonial consumers interacted with advertisement in their local newspapers. Most likely he did not expect readers to remember the particulars of his advertisements published two months earlier, not given that during that time the Pennsylvania Gazette regularly included a four-page supplement devoted exclusively to advertising in addition to all of the advertising in each standard issue. In addition, residents of Philadelphia were also exposed to advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal. The proliferation of newspaper advertising that occurred in Philadelphia by the 1760s made it unlikely that readers would remember Wilson’s original notice unless it included especially noteworthy or innovative appeals to distinguish it from others. (It did not.)

Jul 2 - 5:14:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette.jpg
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 14, 1767).

Instead, Wilson assumed that his potential customers were active readers – very active readers – who had access to issues of the Pennsylvania Gazette published and distributed weeks earlier. In mentioning that he had previously advertised and listed a greater assortment of merchandise, he offered directions for locating a more complete accounting of his wares, anticipating that at least some readers would take the time and make the effort to do so. In turn, Wilson’s reference to his advertisements in previous issues suggests that some subscribers held onto their newspapers for some time before discarding them. Some of those subscribers may have included proprietors of coffeehouses, establishments known for providing newspapers among the many amenities offered to patrons.

Wilson was not alone in making assumptions that readers would look for advertisement inserted in previous issues.  Samuel Nightingale, Jr., deployed a similar technique in the Providence Gazette the previous November, though he directed readers to specific issues by number.

The masthead of the Pennsylvania Gazette proclaimed that it “Contain[ed] the Freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic,” but some subscribers and coffeehouses likely created small archives of what was becoming old news (and advertisements), at least going back a few months, for perusal and reference. Philip Wilson assumed potential customers had some way to access a list of the “Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”