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.

December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:3:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 3, 1767).

“Sundry other Goods … will be sold great Bargains.”

Throughout the eighteenth century, newspaper advertisers most commonly deployed a handful of marketing strategies: appeals to price, quality, gentility, and consumer choice. Many advertisers incorporated several of these appeals into their commercial notices, while others crafted advertisements that emphasized a particular appeal.

Benjamin Booth adopted the latter strategy in his advertisement for several goods he imported from London that appeared in the New-York Journal in the late fall of 1767. He made nods toward quality (“BEST English sail-Cloth”) and consumer choice (a list of merchandise followed with a promise of “sundry other Goods”), but he reiterated appeals to price four times in his advertisement. Like many other advertisements placed by colonial shopkeepers, Booth’s notice included a header and a conclusion with a list of goods between them. Many advertisers inserted an appeal to price in either the header or the conclusion, but Booth attempted to incite demand for his wares by underscoring price in all three segments of his advertisement. He relied on formulaic language used by shopkeepers throughout the colonies in the header, proclaiming that his merchandise “will be sold exceeding cheap.” In the list of his inventory, he singled out “Scotch Carpeting” as “very cheap,” indicating an especially good deal among his already low prices. In the course of a single sentence in the conclusion, Booth promoted his prices twice. He stated that his assortment of goods was “laid in upon very low Terms, and will be sold great Bargains.” Here Booth once again inserted formulaic language that appeared in other advertisements: “very low Terms.” However, he concluded with a relatively novel appeal: “great Bargains.” Although shopkeepers regularly marketed low prices in the 1760s, few invoked the word “bargain” to describe the benefits to consumers. In this regard, Booth took an innovative approach, even as the format and stock phrases for the rest of the advertisement replicated other commercial notices. He borrowed heavily from existing marketing methods, but also added his own modification to attract the attention of prospective customers.

November 21

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

Nov 21 - 11:21:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 21, 1767).

“At as low a Rate as he ever yet sold, and as cheap as can be bought at any Store in New-England, by Retail.”

Throughout the eighteenth century shopkeepers and merchants consistently made appeals to price as they attempted to incite demand for their wares. Almost every advertisement for consumer goods and services in the November 21, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, made some sort of reference to low prices. While some advertisers resorted to formulaic language, others devised increasingly innovative and elaborate ways of promoting bargain prices to potential customers. These appeals ranged from simple to bold.

Joseph and William Russell characterized their prices as “very cheap.” Similarly, Jonathan Russell offered an array of imported merchandise “at the very cheapest rate,” allowing the typography to provide additional emphasis. In terms of standardized language, advertisers frequently used both “cheap” and “reasonable” to describe their prices. Archibald Stewart and Robert Taylor promised to sell their goods “at the most reasonable rates.” Edward Thurber pledged to “sell on the most reasonable Terms” at his shop at the Sign of the Brazen Lion. Jabez Bowen, Jr., used the same phrase, one encountered in newspaper advertisements throughout the colonies.

Rather than merely claim that they set low prices, some advertisers favorably compared their prices to what consumers could expect to pay elsewhere. Samuel Nightingale, Jr., asserted that he “will sell as cheap as any Person in Town.” Nathaniel Greene made a similar claim, stating the he was “determined to sell [his goods] as low as any are sold in this Town.” Not to be outdone, Samuel Black and James Brown proclaimed that they “will sell as cheap as are sold in New-England by Retail.” Samuel Young also raised the stakes, trumpeting that he sold his merchandise “at as low a Rate as he ever yet sold, and as cheap as can be bought at any Store in New-England, by Retail.” While not quite as verbose, Benjamin Thurber and Daniel Cahoon professed “to sell … as cheap as any Person in this Town, or elsewhere.” Potential customers did not need to look to Boston or New York for better deals!

Gideon Young inserted perhaps the most novel appeal to price, assuring readers “of having the full Worth of their Money,” but he followed that with formulaic language about “the very lowest rates.” Regardless of how they described their prices, retailers regularly noted them as a means of enticing prospective customers to visit their shops. Their advertisements were not mere announcements about goods for sale that relied on incipient consumer demand; instead, eighteenth-century shopkeepers promised bargains as a means of marketing their merchandise to customers who sometimes needed to be convinced to make purchases.

October 20

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

Oct 20 - 10:20:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 20, 1767).

“If the linen is not liked, it will be taken back again, if not abused, and the money returned.”

In the fall of 1767 John McDonnell advertised “A Parcel of choice IRISH LINENS” in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. To entice potential buyers he resorted to several marketing appeals. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he underscored price. Indeed, he mentioned low prices even before naming the merchandise, first stating that customers could acquire his wares “at as low an advance as can be bought for in London” and only then revealing that he sold linens. Even though they had been transported across the Atlantic that did not raise the cost he charged for Irish linens in Charleston; local buyers enjoyed the same prices as their counterparts in faraway London. In addition, McDonnell pledged that he would not be undercut by any of his competitors, vowing to sell his linens “as cheaper than any in town.”

McDonnell also offered another opportunity for a potential customer to enjoy a discount, provided they had a willingness to purchase in bulk. “[A]ny merchant inclinable to purchase the whole,” he proclaimed, “will meet with a bargain.” McDonnell understood that he stood to generate greater revenues by selling his entire inventory at a reduced price than gradually selling smaller lots and perhaps ending up with surplus linens that never sold. (He was also willing to barter with customers who bought in bulk, accepting rice rather than cash.)

Yet emphasizing the low price was not the only marketing strategy McDonnell advanced in his advertisement. He also offered a money-back guarantee: “If the linen is not liked, it will be taken back again, if not abused, and the money returned.” He did stipulate one condition, that he would only accept returns and pay refunds if unsatisfied customers returned the merchandise in the same condition they purchased it. He needed to protect his own interests even as he proposed an arrangement that worked in potential customers’ favor.

Relying exclusively on text without images, McDonnell constructed a vibrant advertisement to convince readers to purchase his imported Irish linens. He made nods toward quality and customer service, but repeatedly emphasized low prices and bargains for consumers. If that was not enough to attract buyers, he also provided additional assurances about quality via an innovative money-back guarantee. Readers had nothing to lose if they gave McDonnell and his linens a chance.

September 2

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

Sep 2 - 9:2:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 2, 1767).

“EXCEEDING GOOD OLD BARBADOS RUM, by the hogshead, quarter-cask, or small quantity.”

Horton and Moore placed a fairly simple advertisement in the September 2, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. In it, they announced that they sold a small number of items: rum, sugar, vinegar, and Delftware (a popular blue and white pottery made in the Netherlands and exported to locales throughout the Atlantic world). Compared to the list-style advertisements that crowded the pages of many eighteenth-century newspapers, their notice was relatively short. Yet the simplicity and the length did not mean that Horton and Moore neglected to advance marketing messages in their advertisement. For each item, they offered some sort of commentary intended to entice potential customers to visit Horton and Moore’s wharf to make their purchases.

The partners resorted to some of the most common appeals made to consumers throughout the eighteenth century. They emphasized quality, explicitly and implicitly, to promote both rum and sugar. They described the former as “EXCEEDING GOOD” and the latter as “of an extraordinary good quality.” In noting the places of origin – “BARBADOS RUM” and “JAMAICA SUGAR” – they further testified to quality since those locations were widely recognized for producing the finest examples of their respective commodities.

When it mattered, Horton and Moore made an appeal to consumer choice: they carried a ‘COMPLETE ASSORTMENT” of Delftware. This implied a variety of (fashionable) patterns as well as an array of items, from plates and bowls to canisters and sugar dishes to tiles and tureens for household use and decoration. Horton and Moore invited customers to examine all the possibilities, promising that they would not be forced to choose from a tiny selection. A “COMPLETE ASSORTMENT” meant the freedom to express themselves by identifying their favorites and choosing items that distinguished them from their friends and relations.

Horton and Moore also marketed convenience when they offered to sell their commodities in various quantities. Customers could purchase rum “by the hogshead, quarter-cask, or small quantity,” sugar “by the hogshead, barrel, or small quantity,” and vinegar “in any quantity.” Presumably shoppers were also welcome to select as many or as few pieces of Delftware as they desired.

Finally, the partners made an appeal to price, stating they sold all of their merchandise “on the most reasonable terms.” Combined with the other appeals, this made their wares even more attractive to prospective customers.

Horton and Moore’s advertisement demonstrates that commercial notices aimed at consumers did not need to be elaborate or lengthy to incorporate marketing appeals. In the space of half a dozen lines, the merchants deployed messages about quality, choice, convenience, and price as they attempted to incite demand among customers in Savannah and its hinterland.

August 2

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

Aug 2 - 7:30:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 30, 1767).

“The following Goods, which will to be sold … by JOHN SHEE.”

Consisting of a block of densely formatted text with little white space and almost no variation in font size, John Shee’s advertisement certainly would not have been considered flashy, but that did not necessarily mean that it was ineffective by eighteenth-century standards.

Shee observed many of the conventions of the day. He made an appeal to price (“sold on the most moderate terms”) and offered more than one option for payment (“cash, or the usual credit”). In noting that his merchandise had been “Imported in the last vessels from England,” he reminded potential customers that they were participating in transatlantic consumer culture that linked them to their counterparts in London and the English provinces. That these goods arrived via the “last vessels” also suggested that they were the most current fashions available.

Shee expended the most effort in detailing the assortment of items he stocked, everything from textiles and adornments (comprising more than half the advertisement) to coffee mills to pen knives to gunpowder and shot. Even then, he had not exhausted his inventory. Eighteenth-century readers knew that the “&c. &c.” that concluded his list meant “etc. etc.,” a promise that potential customers could examine an even greater array of goods upon visiting Shee’s shop. By listing dozens and dozens of items, Shee made an appeal to consumer choice. He invited potential customers to imagine acquiring, wearing, admiring, using, displaying, and possessing the goods he sold. He also offered them independence, the ability to make their own decisions about which items to purchase to fit their own tastes or to distinguish themselves from friends and neighbors. Such a lengthy list meant that customers did not have to content themselves with whatever happened to be on the shelves. A nota bene appended to the conclusion even suggested that the shopkeeper was constantly adding new merchandise to the selection he offered for sale.

In terms of the graphic design elements, Shee’s advertisement replicated others in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Short of paying extra for a woodcut to accompany his advertisement, he likely had little control over the layout. Instead, he accepted the standard format adopted by a compositor who squeezed as much content as possible onto the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette. It was not the visual appeal of their advertisements that Shee and many of his counterparts were convinced would sell their goods. Instead, they relied on careful attention to a set of appeals they believed resonated with consumers. In the absence of varied graphic elements, Shee and other shopkeepers expected potential customers to approach their advertisements as active readers.

July 18

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

Jul 18 - 7:18:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 18, 1767).

“He will sell as Cheap as the Messrs. Thurbers.”

Philip Potter placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to announce that “he has just opened a Shop, and received a great Variety of fashionable English and India Goods.” In the process of promoting his own wares, Potter made reference to other shopkeepers in the city.

To help potential customers find his shop, Potter indicated that it was located “AT THE WEST END OF THE GREAT BRIDGE, AND NEAR Messrs. BLACK and STEWART.” While this may have called attention to a competitor (who happened to advertise on the following page of the same issue), the public’s familiarity with Black and Stewart and where they kept shop may have outweighed any risk of giving them free publicity. After all, Potter’s new shop would fail if customers could not find it, making it necessary to refer to prominent landmarks in an era before standardized street numbers.

Potter also mentioned two shopkeepers in North Providence, proclaiming that “he will sell as Cheap as the Messrs. Thurbers, or any other Person in this Town.” Merchants and shopkeepers commonly promised potential customers that they offered the best prices, but rarely did they single out specific competitors for special notice. For their part, Benjamin and Edward Thurber had previously advertised that their prices were “as low as any Person in this or the neighboring Towns, or in North-America.” They made a bold claim to the lowest prices on the continent, but they did not name any of their competitors. Did Potter refer to them because they had indeed established a reputation among consumers for particularly low prices? In promoting his own shop, did he also acknowledge the Thurbers as the shopkeepers most likely to offer great deals for shoppers? Did Potter give voice to a general sentiment among Providence residents? If the Thurbers were indeed known to offer the lowest prices, then Potter used their reputation to his own advantage, provided that he actually matched their prices when customers visited his shop.

Most local readers of the Providence Gazette would have been familiar with the commercial landscape of their city. Rather than pretend that his competitors did not exist, Potter mobilized general knowledge about their businesses to attract customers to his own shop.