July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (July 9, 1770).

All which he will sell as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston.”

In the summer of 1770, Nathaniel Tucker advertised a “large Assortment of DRUGS & MEDECINES, Chymical & Galenical,” for sale at his shop across the street from the Old South Meeting House in Boston.  His notice in the Boston Evening-Post listed several popular patent medicines, including Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Squire’s Original Grand Elixir, Fraunces’s Female Strengthening Elixir, and Dr. Bateman’s Golden Spirits.  These nostrums were so familiar to colonial consumers that Tucker did not elaborate on their efficacy.

He did, however, promote his low prices.  Tucker concluded his advertisement with a proclamation that he sold all of these items “as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston.”  He did not name any prices, but he did suggest to prospective customers that they would not find better bargains anywhere in the bustling port city.  Like the readers of the Boston Evening-Post, Tucker realized that consumers had many options for purchasing Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Dr. Walker’s Jesuit’s Drops, and the rest.  Apothecaries stocked them, but such specialists were not alone in making them available. Shopkeepers who sold all sorts of goods also carried patent medicines.  Even printers and booksellers frequently advertised that they sold patent medicines in addition to books, pamphlets, and stationery, a side hustle that supplemented revenues from activities more often associated with their trade.

In addition to offering low prices, Tucker implied that he would adjust those prices to reflect the local market.  Although he did not explicitly state that he matched the prices of his competitors, his assertion that he “will sell as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston” suggested that his prices were flexible rather than fixed.  In addition to not having to worry about being overcharged, prospective customers likely had opportunities to haggle with Tucker; such encounters were opportunities for him as well, opportunities to make sales that might otherwise have gone to other purveyors of patent medicines.  Rather than simply listing the medicines at his shop, Tucker deployed price as the primary means of inciting demand for his wares.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 23, 1770).

“Supplied with genuine Medicines, very cheap.”

In the summer of 1770, Amos Throop sold a “compleat Assortment of MEDICINES” at his shop in Providence, appropriately identified by “the Sign of the Golden Pestle and Mortar.”  His inventory included a variety of popular patent medicines imported from London, including “Hooper’s, Lockyer’s, and Anderson’s genuine Pills,” “Stoughton’s Elixir,” and “Hill’s Balsam of Honey.”

In an advertisement in the Providence Gazette, the apothecary addressed different sorts of prospective customers.  He informed “Country Practitioners” that he could fill their orders “as cheap as they can be served in Boston, or elsewhere.”  Throop competed in a regional market; druggists in other port towns also imported medicines from London.  Prospective customers could send away to Boston, Newport, or even New York if they anticipated bargain prices, but Throop sought to assure them that they did not need to do so.  Throop may have anticipated particular benefits from cultivating this clientele.  “Country Practitioners” were more likely than others to purchase by volume.  Their patronage indirectly testified to the efficacy of Throop’s medicines and his standing as a trusted apothecary.

Those factors may have helped him attract other customers who did not practice medicine.  Throop also invited “Families in Town and Country” to shop at the Golden Pestle and Mortar.  He promised them low prices, but he also emphasized customer service, stating that they “may depend on being used in the best Manner.”  In addition, he also attempted to allay concerns about purchasing counterfeit remedies.  Throop pledged to supply his customers “with genuine Medicines,” putting his own reputation on the line as a bulwark against bogus elixirs and nostrums.  When it came to patent medicines, the fear of forgeries merited reiterating that his inventory was “genuine” when he listed the choices available at his shop.

The neighborhood pharmacy is ubiquitous in the twenty-first century, but that was not the kind of business that Throop operated in Providence in the eighteenth century.  Instead, he served both local residents and “Country Practitioners” and “Families in Town and Country,” competing with apothecaries in Boston and other towns.  To do so effectively, he had to depict the many advantages of choosing the Golden Pestle and Mortar, from low prices to authentic medicines to good customer service.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1770 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (June 4, 1770).

The following BOOKS.”

Lathrop and Smith made a significant investment in their advertisement that ran in the June 4, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Divided into four narrow columns, it filled the space usually devoted to two of the three columns on the final page of the newspaper.  Overall, it comprised one-sixth of the content (two out of twelve columns) delivered to readers.  Listing just over 250 individual titles, it was a book catalog distribute via alternate means.  Lathrop and Smith could have just as easily arranged for handbills or broadsides to inform prospective customers of the assortment of books they sold at their store in Hartford.

That they stocked these books in a relatively small town did not mean, however, that their customers should expect to pay higher prices.  Lathrop and Smith proclaimed that they sold their books “at as low a rate as they are usually sold inBoston or New-York,” the major urban ports in the region.  Furthermore, they encouraged readers to spot special bargains, asking them to take note that “Those articles marked thus [*] are to be Sold for very little more than the Prime Cost.”  In other words, the local booksellers charged only a small markup on several volumes, including Van Swieten’s Commentaries on Boerhaave’s Aphorisms, Winslow’s Anatomy, Moral Tales, and Vicar of Wakefield.

Lathrop and Smith also aided prospective customers in finding titles of interest by separating them according to genre and inserting headers, such as “DIVINITY,” “LAW,” “PHYSIC, SURGERY, &c.,” “SCHOOL BOOKS,” “HISTORY,” and ‘MISCELLANY.”  Within each category, the books were alphabetized by author or title, with the exception of four titles appended to the books on divinity (though they were also alphabetized).  When it came to writing copy, Lathrop and Smith attempted to make their catalog accessible and easy to navigate.

In general, their advertisement was just as sophisticated as those published by their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  The Connecticut Courant ran much less advertising than newspapers in those port cities, but that did not necessarily mean that advertisers did not adopt the same methods and strategies for appealing to consumers.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 7, 1770).

“Mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city.”

Upon the occasion of moving to a new location, jeweler and goldsmith James Bennet placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He informed former and prospective customers that he no longer ran a shop on Maiden Lane.  Instead, the “public in general” could find him at his new shop at “the house next to Mr. Peter Goelet’s, the sign of the Golden Key, near the Old-Slip Market, Hanover-Square.”  In an era before standardized street numbers, Bennett provided plenty of landmarks to help customers find his new location.

He opened his advertisement by expressing appreciation for “those ladies and gentlemen who have been so kind as to favour him with their custom.”  He hoped that they would continue as customers.  Acknowledging their prior support for his business also alerted prospective new customers that even though he set up shop at a new location this was not a new endeavor.  Bennett already had experience pursuing his trade in New York.  In thanking former customers, he also sought to demonstrate demand for his services among readers who had not yet visited his shop at any location.

To further capture their interest, he briefly described his services, stating that he continued “to make, mend, [and] sell … all sorts of jewellery and goldsmith’s work.”  He embellished that rather plain overview with a much more enticing offer, claiming that he “makes mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city, and with the greatest expedition.” An advertisement for a jeweler and goldsmith moving from one location to another was pretty standard fare among the notices that ran in colonial newspapers.  A declaration about the lowest prices possible for a popular piece of jewelry, on the other hand, challenged consumers to visit his shop to see for themselves.  If that managed to get customers through the door, it gave Bennett opportunities to secure other sales.  Even if readers were skeptical of his claim, they could not know for certain unless they investigated on their own.  Rather than merely announce that he moved to a new location, Bennett enticed prospective customers with a bold claim intended to grab their attention.

April 15

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

Apr 15 - 4:12:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 15, 1770).

“Chisels … superior in Quality to those imported from Great Britain.”

Abeel and Byvanck sold ironmongery and cutlery in New York in the early 1770s.  They listed an array of merchandise in their newspaper notices, but they did not merely inform prospective customers of the goods they offered for sale.  In an advertisement in the April 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, Abeel and Byvanck noted the various ways that their business bolstered the nonimportation agreement adopted to protest duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts.

For instance, their inventory included chisels “superior in Quality to those imported from Great Britain, and at a less Price.”  The partners did not explicitly state that the chisels were produced in the colonies, but the implication was clear.  In presenting the chisels for consideration, Abeel and Byvanck made appeals commonly advanced by others who marketed “domestic manufactures” as alternative to imported goods.  They assured consumers that they did not have to sacrifice quality for political principles.  While some artisans and shopkeepers declared their merchandise produced in the colonies equal to any imported, Abeel and Byvanck made an even bolder statement when they asserted their chisels were “superior.”  Yet customers did not have to pay a premium for that quality.  Instead, they could acquire chisels produced in the colonies for lower prices than imported ones.  Everything about these chisels seemed to work to the advantage of both consumers and the American cause.

Those chisels may have come from “the Manufactory in this Province.”  Abeel and Byvanck noted that they would soon stock “a large Parcel of Sithes [Scythes]” currently under production there.  Like the chisels, those scythes were “superior in Quality to those imported.”  The partners did not comment on the price, but they had previously framed their entire advertisement in terms that favorably compared the prices they charged in April 1770 to what they charged prior to the nonimportation agreement going into effect.  They declared that they set prices “Upon as reasonable Terms, as they sold before the Agreement for not importing Goods from Great Britain.”  In other words, Abeel and Byvanck did not engage in price gouging after merchants and shopkeepers ceased replenishing their inventories with imported goods.

Nonimportation agreements ratified in New York and other colonies were the subject of press coverage in the 1760s and 1770s, but that coverage was not confined to news items and editorials.  Instead, advertisements for consumer goods and services also endorsed and promoted nonimportation agreements, encouraging colonists to understand the connections between consumption and politics.

March 2

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

Mar 2 - 3:2:1770 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 2, 1770).

“For SALE at William Neilson’s Store.”

In addition to advertising his wares in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, and the New-York Journal, William Neilson also inserted a notice in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  Yesterday I examined the iteration of the advertisement that appeared in the March 1, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, focusing on the nota bene about his prices remaining the same as before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  The version that ran in the Connecticut Journal listed many of the same goods, but did not deploy copy identical to the advertisement in the New-York Journal.  Most significantly, it did not include the nota bene about prices.  Why not?

After further investigation, I discovered that the nota bene was not part of the advertisement when it first appeared in any of newspapers printed in New York.  It first ran in the February 22, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal without the additional note offering assurances that Neilson did not take advantage of the nonimportation agreement to engage in price gouging.  The advertisement did not appear in the new issues of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, published four days later.  Instead, it made its next appearance in the March 1 edition of the New-York Journal, now with the nota bene.  On March 5 the advertisement – identical copy, including the nota bene – did appear in the other two New York newspapers.  The staggered appearance of the advertisements and the addition of the nota bene suggest that Neilson felt some urgency to inform prospective customers and the rest of the community that he did not jack up his prices.  Perhaps he had heard rumors or been confronted directly, prompting him to advertise more widely than he originally intended.  By the time he made that determination, it may have been too late to update the copy he sent to the Connecticut Journal.

Rather than merely noting a benefit to his customers, the nota bene that eventually appeared at the conclusion of Neilson’s advertisements may very well have been an exercise in reputation management.  Rarely did merchants and shopkeepers update their advertisements in the 1760s and 1770s.  They usually submitted copy that ran for weeks or even months.  Yet Neilson made an addition to his advertisement and then published the revised version in its entirety in two more newspapers, increasing the funds he expended on advertising.  If his reputation was at stake, he may have considered doing so a necessity well worth the additional expense.

September 15

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

Sep 15 - 9:15:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 15, 1769).

Some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.”

As summer turned to fall in 1769, Christopher Smieller took to the pages of New-London Gazette to defend his reputation and mitigate damage already done to his business. The baker had become aware of a vicious rumor about his bread. In a lengthy nota bene at the conclusion of even lengthier advertisement, he expressed his outrage that “some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.” Smellier could not let this slander pass unremarked. Instead, he offered “a Reward of Two Dollars to any Person who will inform me of such Defamers that they may be prosecuted according to law.” In order to rehabilitate his standing in the community, he also made provision for witnesses to observe him as he went about his business: “I will permit any two or three honest Men to stay with me 24 Hours, who may inspect every Article put into my Bread.”

Combatting gossip circulating about unsavory additions to his bread may have prompted Smieller to insert other aspects of his lengthy advertisement. It opened like many other advertisements for consumer goods, listing his wares. Smieller also advanced an appeal to price, stating that he sold loaf and ship bread, gingerbread, cakes, and pies “as cheap as in any of the neighbouring Governments.” In other words, his prices in New London were as good as prospective customers could find in Massachusetts, New York, or Rhode Island. He doubled down on this assertion later in the advertisement, proclaiming the he baked ship bread “as good and as cheap as in any Part of America.”

Smieller tied the prices he charged for bread to the prevailing prices for flour. He made allusion to “sundry Persons who call themselves Bakers” who had been overcharging the residents of New London and making it unaffordable for them to buy bread. To demonstrate that he charged fair prices, Smieller specified how much a loaf of bread weighed and the corresponding price at the current price for flour. He explained that he would adjust the price per loaf as his own costs for flour fluctuated, but that he would hold his profit consistent. He hoped current and prospective customers would patronize his business out of appreciation for his commitment to keeping prices low by earning “so very small” profits on his bread. Smieller might not otherwise have outlined the expenditures and profits for his business, but defending himself against the rumor that he put soap and potash in his bread may have motivated him to devise other methods of convincing the people of New London to purchase from him.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (June 19, 1769).

“Elegant PICTURES, Framed and glazed in AMERICA.”

Late in the spring of 1769, bookseller Garrat Noel placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy to promote a “GREAT Variety of the most elegant PICTURES” available at his shop next door to the Merchant’s Coffeehouse. Like many other booksellers, he supplemented his revenues by peddling items other than books, magazines, and pamphlets. Booksellers sometimes included prints in their advertisements, yet Noel placed special emphasis on them when he placed a notice exclusively about them.

As part of his marketing effort, Noel tapped into discourses about politics and implicitly tied his prints to the nonimportation agreement currently in effect in response to the duties enacted by the Townshend Acts. He proclaimed that his prints were “Framed and glazed in AMERICA.” The success of nonimportation depended in part on encouraging “domestic manufactures” or local production of consumer goods. Yet Noel assured prospective customers that purchasing items produced in the colonies did not mean that they had to settle for inferior craftsmanship. He stressed that “in Neatness of Worksmanship” the frames that encased his prints were “equal [to] any imported from England.” Similarly, they had been glazed (the glass fitted into the frame) in the colonies by an artisan who demonstrated as much skill as any counterpart in England, though the glass itself may have been imported. Furthermore, his customers did not have to pay a premium when they considered politics in their decisions about which goods to purchase. Not only were the frames the same quality as those imported, Noel pledged to sell them “at a much lower Price.” The bookseller may have even hoped that the combination of price, quality, and patriotic politics would prompt consumers who had not already been in the market for prints to consider making a purchase as a means of demonstrating their support for domestic production and the nonimportation agreement.

Notably, Noel did not indicate that the prints or glass had not been imported, only that the frames had been produced and the glass fitted in the colonies. Drawing attention to the fact that they had been “FRAMED and glazed in AMERICA” provided a distraction from the origins of the prints and possibly the glass as well. Especially if the glass had been imported since the Townshend Acts went into effect, Noel attempted to tread a difficult path since glass was among the goods indirectly taxed. Still, this strategy allowed him to suggest that he did his part to support “domestic manufacturers” and provide opportunities for colonists to put their principles into practice by choosing to consume items produced, at least in part, in the colonies.

**********

Many thanks to Cortney Skinner for the clarification concerning glazing in the comments. I have updated this entry accordingly.

June 3

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

Jun 3 - 6:3:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 3, 1769).

“He will engage to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence.”

When he advertised “ European and East-India GOODS” in the Providence Gazette in early June 1769, Thomas Greene resorted to two of the most popular marketing strategies of the eighteenth century: an appeal to consumer choice and an appeal to price.

He did not elaborate much on the choices he made available to prospective customers, but he did promise a “General and compleat Assortment” to anyone who visited his shop “near the Great Bridge.” Other advertisers sometimes provided extensive lists of their inventory, but many settled for “General and compleat Assortment” or some variation as a means of signaling choice to consumers. Elsewhere in the same issue Jonathan Russell promoted a “compleat Assortment,” Clark and Nightingale described a “new and compleat Assortment,” and Thurber and Cahoon hawked a “large and general Assortment” of imported goods. Greene’s choice of “General and compleat Assortment” did not much distinguish his advertisement from others, but it did demonstrate his awareness that customers expected some sort of assurances about choice or else they were unlikely to patronize his shop.

Greene put more effort into distinguishing his low prices from those of his competitors. Each deployed some form of standardized language to make the point to readers. For Russell, it was “the very cheapest Rate,” while Clark and Nightingale opted for “the lowest rate” and Thurber and Cahoon edged them out with “the very lowest Rates.” In contrast to these general statements, Greene made a firmer commitment to win over prospective customers. He pledged “to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence,” assuring readers that they would not find better deals anywhere else. In effect, Greene offered the eighteenth-century version of a price match guarantee. Prospective customers could do some comparison shopping around town, but in the end Greene vowed that he would match any deals when readers chose to make their purchases from him. In so doing, he stood to increase his share of the market while luring customers away from his competitors.

Greene’s appeal to choice may have been generic, but his appeal to price was not. It was an innovative and crafty way of setting his advertisement apart from others that ran simultaneously in the Providence Gazette.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:4:1769 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 4, 1769).
“Best HARD SOAP at 6d. by the box.”

In the spring of 1769, Freer Armston,, a chandler and soap boiler in Norfolk, Virginia, attempted to enlarge his market by expanding his operations into Williamsburg. He placed an advertisement in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette to inform prospective customers that he had opened a new shop where he sold “TALLOW CANDLES as good as any on the continent.” With such a bold statement, Armston favorably compared his wares to any others that consumers could acquire.

To make his candles even more attractive, he took the unusual step of naming their price in his advertisement: “by the box 11 d. paying freight from Norfolk.” Advertisers rarely listed prices in eighteenth-century newspapers, though many often made general appeals to low or reasonable prices. Readers likely knew what to expect to pay for a box of tallow candles from other chandlers and shopkeepers in Williamsburg. As a newcomer, Armston attempted to stimulate interest in his merchandise by allowing prospective customers to assess on their own whether he offered a deal. He did the same for his “Best HARD SOAP at 6d. by the box, or 7d. halfpenny [sic] small quantities.” He was not as verbose about the quality of his soap, simply describing it as “Best,” and instead emphasized the price and potential savings by buying in bulk. Customers saved twenty percent when they purchased an entire box of hard soap.

Armston also sought to establish that he was a careful and responsible entrepreneur. In addition to selling candles and soap, he asked readers to provide him with supplies, especially “good WOOD ASHES” used in the production of soap, for which he offered “goods or money.” He was vigilant when it came to accepting ashes from Black men and women, assuming that some did not acquire them by legitimate means. Armston instructed that “all persons that send by or give their ashes to Negroes” must also send a note specifying that they had done so or else he would not accept them. The chandler and soap boiler was not about to give “goods or money” to Black people who could not demonstrate how they came into possession of ashes they delivered to his shop. In addition to offering quality goods at low prices, Armston depicted himself as a good neighbor who attended to maintaining proper order in his business dealings.