September 22

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

Essex Gazette (September 22, 1772).

“Mr. SPARHAWK Presents his Compliments to his Female Customers of the Town and Country.”

Although editorials elsewhere in colonial newspapers frequently criticized women for indulging in consumer culture too eagerly, most advertisements for goods and services did not single out female consumers are their intended audience.  Instead, shopkeepers usually presented their wares to all prospective customers, realizing that men participated in the consumer revolution and kept up with news fashions just as enthusiastically as women.

On occasion, however, some advertisers did make special appeals to women.  Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., pursued both strategies.  In most instances, he did not target consumers of either sex, but in an advertisement in the September 22, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette he “Presents his Compliments to his Female Customers of the Town and Country” and “acquaints them he has a most beautiful Assortment of almost every Kind of SILKS for Capuchins [or hooded cloaks], that are of the newest Fashion.”  Sparhawk presented shopping as a pleasure for women, though he did not depict it as an excessive or luxurious vice like critics in the editorials.  He asserted that he “doubts not he shall be able to please almost every Fancy, if the Ladies will be so obliging … just to call and take a View of them.”  He mentioned his location “nearly opposite the Printing-Office,” suggesting that “the Ladies” could visit as they were walking through town and “passing his Store.”  Sparhawk portrayed shopping as an experience, recognizing that each trip to his shop would not necessarily result in a sale.  “Should he be so unhappy as to fail of pleasing any who may call upon him,” he stated, “he shall hold himself much indebted for the Visit.”  Good customer service cultivated and strengthened relationships even when “the Ladies” did not make purchases.

To further entice female customers (and their male counterparts as well), Sparhawk declared that “At the same Store may be seen as great a Variety of English and India GOODS as any in Salem.”  He set low prices for cash or “short Credit,” pledging “not to be undersold by any.”  In addition, he announced that he had just received word of the “arrival of his Fall Goods at Boston.”  Within the next week, he would have new inventory for all of his customers to examine.  The first portion of his advertisement made clear that he wanted women to browse his wares, yet he shifted to more general appeals to engage all prospective customers, both men and women, in the second half of his advertisement.  Sparhawk apparently believed that targeting female customers exclusively had its limits.

August 18

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

Essex Gazette (August 18, 1772).

“His utmost Abilities will be exerted to give Satisfaction to his Customers.”

In August 1772, George Deblois alerted readers of the Essex Gazette that he “has received, in the last Ships from LONDON, and has now for SALE … A Good and general Assortment of Hard-Ware and ENGLISH GOODS” at his shop in Salem.  The merchant boasted that he purchased this merchandise “in England on the best Terms.”  As a result, he “is enabled, and is determined to sell them, by Wholesale and Retail, at the very lowest Advance.”  Deblois hoped to hook “his Customers and others” with lots of choices and low prices.

He did not, however, catalog his inventory in an attempt to demonstrate the many choices he made available to consumers, a popular strategy among eighteenth-century advertisers.  Instead, he suggested that doing so “would be only tedious” because “his Assortment consists of a great Variety.”  Rather than publish a dense list of his wares, he encouraged prospective customers to visit his shop, browse his merchandise, and see for themselves that they would “find almost every Article usually enquired for, and on as low terms as can be purchased in the Province.”  He pledged that “those who please to call and look” at his imported goods would not be disappointed.  Deblois also emphasized customer service in his efforts to encourage colonizers into his shop, declaring that “His utmost Abilities will be exerted to give Satisfaction to his Customers, and to use them in such a Manner as to encourage them to call again, or to recommend any of their Friends.”  In addition, he added a nota bene to underscore that “Constant Attendance will be given, and the Favours of his Customers gratefully acknowledged.”

Many merchants and shopkeepers focused primarily on their merchandise when they advertised in colonial newspapers.  Deblois took a different approach, treating shopping as an experience to be enjoyed by consumers in Salem and nearby towns.  He invited colonizers to browse in his shop, encountering items they wanted or needed on their own instead of finding them in a list in the public prints.  That experience included customer service as well as the “Hard-Ware and ENGLISH GOODS” offered for sale.  Deblois seemed to understand that cultivating relationships with “his Customers and others” who had not yet visited his shop would likely yield subsequent sales over time.  Accordingly, he emphasized more than moving merchandise in his advertisement.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 29, 1767).

“He desires all Persons who want to lay their Money out to Advantage, to come and see for Love.”

John Mathewson opened a new shop “on the West Side of the Great Bridge” in Providence during the summer of 1767. To attract customers, he regularly inserted advertisements in the Providence Gazette in July and throughout August, deploying some of the most common marketing appeals yet also giving some of them his own twist in an effort to distinguish him form his competitors.

Prospective customers would have recognized Mathewson’s appeals to current styles and consumer choice within a transatlantic marketplace centered in Britain. To that end, he included formulaic language that could have been drawn from advertisements that appeared in any newspaper throughout the colonies: “a very fashionable and neat Assortment of English Goods.” He also made a standard appeal to price, following a recent trend among shopkeepers who advertised in the Providence Gazette to compare their own prices to others in the port city, colony, or region. Many local shopkeepers had moved away from merely stating that customers could acquire their merchandise at low costs in favor of making bolder pronouncements. Mathewson, for instance, asserted that he would “sell as cheap as are sold in New-England,” suggesting that prospective customers did not need to do any comparison shopping because he already offered the best bargains.

Yet Mathewson did not simply reiterate the language of standard marketing appeals or recent trendy updates. He infused his advertisement with some of his own personality as well. He extended a special invitation to potential customers: “He desires all Persons who want to lay their Money out to Advantage to come and see for Love, and buy for Money.” Mathewson did not depict just a commercial transaction, an exchange of money for goods. Instead, he encouraged readers to imagine the pleasures of shopping, the joys of sorting through the “neat Assortment” he made available to them. More explicitly than most of his competitors, Mathewson depicted a visit to his shop as an experience in and of itself, a pleasant outing that included being “genteely served” while selecting among the many options presented for their consideration. That they would “come and see for love” suggested the delights of window shopping even if customers did not ultimately purchase every item that caught their fancy. In addition, an invitation to “come and see for love” addressed critiques of excessive luxury that accompanied the consumer revolution. Mathewson signaled to potential customers that it was acceptable to entertain their desires without being deemed frivolous or irresponsible, especially since his low prices meant they could “lay their Money out to Advantage.”