February 4

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

Providence Gazette (February 4, 1769).

“They CAN, DO, and WILL, sell as cheap for Cash as any Merchant or Shop-keeper in New-England.”

In their advertisement in the February 4, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Ebenezer Thompson and Company deployed two of the most popular advertising appeals of the eighteenth century. They promoted price and consumer choice.

The partners informed prospective customers, especially their “COUNTRY FRIENDS” who might not spend enough time in Providence to go from store to store comparison shopping, that “their Goods are always laid in on the very best Terms.” That prompted Thompson and Company to make an extraordinary claim: “they CAN, DO, and WILL, sell as cheap for Cash as any Merchant or Shop-keeper in New-England.” If that was indeed the case, then there was no need to do any comparison shopping! Advertisers usually wrote the copy but left it to compositors to determine the format of their advertisements, but the assertion that Thompson and Company “CAN, DO, and WILL” sell their goods for prices as low as any to be found in New England suggests that they may have provided some instructions about the appearance of their notice.

In addition to price, Thompson and Company also promised an array of choices for their customers. They stocked a “COMPLEAT and UNIVERSAL Assortment of European and East-India GOODS.” Many advertisers would have considered such language sufficient, but Thompson and Company further elaborated. Their inventory consisted of “a GREAT VARIETY of Articles,” so many that they were “too numerous to be comprized within the Limits of an Advertisement.” That was a clever approach, especially considering that many advertisers did attempt to list as many items as possible in their newspaper advertisements. Some notices included dozens, scores, or even hundreds of items, extending as much as an entire column or, in some cases, filling an entire page. Readers certainly would have been familiar with such advertisements, making it all the more compelling that Thompson and Company proclaimed that even making such an attempt was futile.

Although Thompson and Company selected two of the most common advertising appeals of the era, they added an innovative touch to both. They did not merely reiterate the standard language of price and choice found in so many advertisements in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Instead, they started with strategies that advertisers already considered effective and reworked them to make them even more enticing for prospective customers.

January 28

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

Providence Gazette (January 28, 1769).

“He determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.”

Thomas Greene’s advertisement for “A fresh Assortment of DRY-GOODS” ran in the Providence Gazette for the first time on January 28, 1769. In it, he listed twenty different kinds of textiles, including “kerseys, serges, cotton velvets, Scotch plaid, Irish linens, garlix, dowlas and checks.” He also carried stockings, handkerchiefs, and shoes as well as “a great number of other articles in the dry-good way.” Greene supplemented this merchandise with imported grocery items, including “tea, chocolate, raisins, … rum, sugar and melasses.” While not as extensive as other advertisements that sometimes appeared in the Providence Gazette, Greene’s notice enumerated sufficient items to suggest to customers that they could choose from among an array of merchandise at his store “just below the Great Bridge.”

In addition to consumer choice, Greene also made an appeal to price. When he concluded his list of wares, he proclaimed that “he determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.” In so doing, he indicated his willingness to participate in a price war with other purveyors of dry goods located in the city. Although not unknown, such forceful language was not as common as more general invocations of low prices. Samuel Chace’s advertisement for “A NEW and general Assortment of English and Indi GOODS” in the same issue, for instance, stated that he would “sell cheap,” but did not make any implicit comparisons to the prices charged by any of his competitors. Samuel Chace’s advertisement had been running in the Providence Gazette for three months; William Chace, on the other hand, had inserted a new advertisement the previous week. In it, he declared that “he is determined to sell” his “good Assortment of DRY GOODS” for prices “as cheap, if not cheaper, than any of their Kind are to be sold in Providence.” Furthermore, he assured prospective customers that he “doubts not but they may lay out their Money to their Satisfaction” as his shop, also located “Just below the Great Bridge.”

Greene and Chace were nearby neighbors and competitors. Only a week after Chace launched an advertisement that made exceptional claims about the prices he charged, Greene published his own advertisement to inform prospective customers that they were just as likely to enjoy the same bargains at his store. Their notices appeared in the same column, with two short advertisements appearing between them, making it easy for readers to compare their appeals and place them in conversation with each other. Savvy consumers already sought out the best prices, but these competing advertisements further encouraged comparison shopping.

January 17

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

Essex Gazette (January 17, 1769).

“Will be sold greatly under the usual Prices, to clear off his Stock.”

CLEARANCE SALE!!! Robert Alcock did not deploy a striking headline when he placed an advertisement in the January 17, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette, but his marketing strategy did indeed amount to throwing a clearance sale. He announced that his inventory included “AN Assortment of Checks” (or textiles woven with a checked pattern) in various widths as well as “Breeches Patterns, and Hose of all Prices, with a Variety of other Articles.” Yet the abundant choices he made available to consumers was not the primary focus of his advertisement. Instead, he made the sale he was sponsoring the centerpiece of his marketing efforts.

John Appleton advertised in the same issue of the Essex Gazette. His comment on price was typical of advertisers who mentioned how much prospective customers could expect to pay for their merchandise. Appleton asserted that he was “determined to sell very low,” but in doing so may not have garnered particular attention from readers. He adopted such formulaic language that it likely communicated to prospective customers that his prices were competitive rather than inflated but perhaps not bargains that could not be found in other shops.

Alcock’s appeal to price, on the other hand, deviated significantly from the standard language that appeared in newspaper advertisements throughout the colonies. He proclaimed that he offered his wares “greatly under the usual Prices, to clear off his Stock.” Unlike Appleton’s “determined to sell low,” this vocabulary stood out. It did promise better deals than consumers would encounter in other shops around town. Politics may have played a role in shaping Alcock’s advertising. If he had stockpiled imported goods in advance of nonimportation agreements enacted to protest the Townshend Act going into effect, he may have found himself in a position that he needed to devise an innovative marketing strategy. Whatever the reason, Alcock determined that his inventory was too large and that he needed to drastically reduce it. His efforts to “clear off his Stock” by selling it “greatly under the usual Prices” was an eighteenth-century clearance sale that lacked much of the hoopla that later accompanied such sales as part of modern marketing campaigns.

December 24

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

Providence Gazette (December 24, 1768).

“PATRICK MACKEY … has opened a Skinner’s Shop.”

When Patrick Mackey arrived in Providence from Philadelphia, he set about establishing himself in a new town and building a clientele for his business by placing an advertisement in the December 24, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. He announced that “he has opened a Skinner’s Shop near the Hay-Ward, on the East Side of the Great Bridge, between Mr. Godfry’s and the Sign of the Bull,” offering familiar landmarks to aid customers in navigating to his location. Realizing that prospective customers were unfamiliar with his work, Mackey underscored that “he has worked in the principal Parts of Europe and America.” As a result, he “doubts not of gaining the Approbation of his Customers” once they gave him the opportunity to provide his services. He offered further assurances that his leather and skins were “dressed in the best Manner.” In case skill and quality were not sufficient to draw clients to the newcomer’s shop, Mackey also promoted his prices, proclaiming that he sold his wares “as cheap as any in Town.” In his first introduction to Providence in the public prints, Mackey deployed several of the most common advertising appeals used by artisans in eighteenth-century America.

Yet Mackey went beyond the expected methods of encouraging prospective customers to patronize his business. He also invoked his collaboration with colleagues who enhanced the services available at his shop. In addition to selling materials, he also had a “Breeches-maker, who learned his Business in Europe” on staff to transform his leathers and skins into garments for “Any Gentlemen who may please to employ him.” In addition, Mackey reported in a nota bene that Benjamin Coates, a cordwainer, “carries on his Business at the same Place.” Clients interested in Mackey’s services could also “be suited in the best Manner with all Kinds of Boots, Spatterdashes, Shoes, Slippers, &c.” at the same location. In his efforts to build his customer base, Mackey offered convenience in addition to quality and low prices. His clients did not need to visit other artisans at other locations after acquiring materials at his shop. Instead, they could consult directly with a cordwainer and a breechesmaker on the premises. All three artisans stood to benefit from such an arrangement. Increased patronage for one of them likely yielded additional business for the others.

December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:6:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 6, 1768).

“A List of the Person’s Names may be seen affixed to the Directions.”

According to their advertisements, eighteenth-century printers and booksellers often carried at least some merchandise not related to the book trades. Throughout much of 1768 Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, attempted to supplement the revenues gained from subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing by also selling a patent medicine he imported from Long Island, New York, “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous GREAT American BALSAM.” He placed lengthy advertisements about this patent medicine in the summer; as winter arrived, he inserted shorter notices to remind readers that they could purchase this elixir “at his Printing Office in Elliott-street.”

In case prospective customers suspected that Crouch sought to clear out leftovers that had been sitting on the shelves for several months, he proclaimed that he had “A FRESH SUPPLY.” That was only the first of several appeals he made in the abbreviated version of his advertisement. He also offered a bargain, pledging that customers could acquire the nostrum for “Five Shillings cheaper than any yet sold here.”

The price did not matter, however, if the patent medicine was not effective. Crouch assured consumers that “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous GREAT American BALSAM” was “superior by Trial, for its Use and Efficacy, to any imported from Europe.” Readers did not even need to consider any of those more familiar remedies produced in London and other places on the far side of the Atlantic, not when they had access to a product produced in the colonies that was even better. Crouch did not expect prospective customers to simply take his word that others had found the potion “superior by Trial.” Instead, he reported on “surprising Cures” in both New York and South Carolina, stating that “a List of the Person’s Names may be seen affixed to the Directions.” Even if local customers did not recognize the names of any of the patients cured in New York, they were likely to be familiar with colonists from South Carolina who had benefited from “this very famous BALSAM.” In providing directions that also listed satisfied customers, Crouch deployed printed materials beyond newspaper advertising to market this patent medicine to consumers.

November 27

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

Nov 27 - 11:24:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 24, 1768).

He does not Doubt but their Cheapness will be sufficient Recommendation to Traders and Shop Keepers to become his Customers.”

Like many other advertisements in the New-York Journal and other newspapers published throughout the colonies, John Thurman’s notice listed “a large Assortment of Goods” that he imported and offered for sale. Shopkeepers who dealt directly with end-use consumers placed many of those advertisements, but merchants who sold wholesale placed similar notices. Advertisers sometimes made it clear whether they parted with their wares wholesale, retail, or both, but not always. Abeel and Vynack, for instance, explicitly stated that they sold “wholesale and retale,” but Edward Laight did not mention which methods he practiced. Laight was not alone. Many eighteenth-century newspaper notices did not indicate what types of buyers the advertisers sought, though that may have been considered unnecessary since many readers already would have been familiar enough with local merchants and shopkeepers to distinguish between them when perusing their advertisements.

Even under those circumstances, some advertisers did address particular sorts of customers, especially in the process of advancing other appeals intended to make their merchandise more attractive. Thurman, for instance, believed that the low prices he set for his goods “will be sufficient Recommendation to Traders and Shop Keepers to become his Customers.” He explained that he sold textiles, adornments, and other wares “at the lowest Rates.” He was able to do so because “he purchased the Goods himself from the Manufactories.” In other words, he bypassed English merchants, the middlemen notorious for passing along higher prices to colonial consumers. By dealing directly with the producers, Thurman kept prices down for both retailers and, ultimately, their customers.

Given the distribution of the New-York Journal and other colonial newspapers, advertisers like Thurman addressed “Traders and Shop Keepers” in towns and villages as well as retailers in busy port cities. Those who did not live in the vicinity of Thurman’s “Store in Wall-Street” in New York may not have been as familiar with his status as a wholesale rather than retailer. Making it clear that he sought customers who wished to buy in volume for resale may not have been necessary as far as his neighbors were concerned, but essential in cultivating a wider market for his merchandise. Explaining that he kept prices low by eliminating English merchants from the distribution chain may have made his wares more attractive to country “Traders and Shop Keepers” looking to acquire inventory from merchants in the city. Thurman certainly made more effort to entice them with his explanation of his supply chain than Abeel and Vynack did when they simply stated that “they prose selling reasonably, wholesale and retale.”

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:25:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 25, 1768).

“A large Assortment of … GOODS.”

Frederick William Geyer advertised regularly in several of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. The shopkeeper deployed a variety of strategies to promote his wares, including appeals to price and consumer choice. Both appeared in a notice he placed in the July 25, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, he announced that he had just imported a “large Assortment of English, India and Scotch Peice [sic] GOODS.” Not only did he proclaim that he offered low prices, he also asserted that he was “determined to sell … as cheap as can be bought in Parts of America.”

Geyer devoted more effort – and space – to developing an appeal to consumer choice. In addition to introducing his merchandise as a “large Assortment,” he reiterated the word “assortment” several times to describe particular kinds of items he sold: “A large assortment of Irish linens,” “An assortment of superfine, middling and low pric’d Broad Cloths,” “An assortment of Ribbons,” “A large assortment of plain and painted Ebony Fans,” “a very pretty assortment of black and coloured paddlestick Fans,” “A pretty assortment of plain & flower’d Lawns,” “A large assortment of white Threads,” “a large and neat Assortment of Mettle Buttons immediately from the Makers,” and “a large Assortment of Glass Necklaces.” These descriptions appeared among an extensive list that included hundreds of items in his inventory, indicating to prospective customers that he carried wares to suit practically any taste or budget.

The space that Geyer’s advertisement occupied on the page also played a role in communicating that message to consumers. It more than filled an entire column on the front page of the July 25 issue, spilling over into a second column. A competitor, William Gale, advertised his own “General Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” in a notice that appeared on the same page, but it looked paltry printed next to Geyer’s advertisement. Indeed, Gale’s entire notice was similar in length to the portion of Geyer’s advertisement that required an additional column. They may have carried similar merchandise, but the space on the page consumed by Geyer’s notice suggested that customers would encounter so much more when they visited his shop on Union Street. Twice the length of any other advertisement in the same issue, Geyer’s notice dominated the page, part of a strategy of overwhelming his competitors by vividly presenting prospective customers with the many choices he made available to them.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:14:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (July 14, 1768).
“He will sell without Exception, as cheap as can bough at any Shop or Store in Town.”

Consumers in Boston had many choices when it came to shopping in the busy port city in the late 1760s. Numerous merchants and shopkeepers regularly advertised in the several newspapers published in Boston. Many others ran shops without promoting their wares in the public prints. This multitude of retailers presented colonists with opportunities to engage in comparison shopping in order to find the best deals on the merchandise they wished to purchase.

William Gale attempted to streamline the process for readers of the Massachusetts Gazette. When he advertised his “general Assortment of English and India Goods” he made a bold proclamation about his prices. Gale declared that “he will sell without Exception, as cheap as can be bought at any Shop or Store in Town.” The shopkeeper likely did not expect prospective customers merely to accept his claim; he probably expected that most would visit other shops to confirm that he did indeed offer the best deals or, at the very least, competitive prices. Expecting readers to be skeptical, he intended for them to consider his shop and the potential bargains when making their decisions about which retailers to visit.

In addition to promoting low prices, Gale may have also offered price matching for customers who found better values elsewhere. If he wished to honor the promises he made in print then he would have had to lower his prices if shoppers informed him of better deals offered by his competitors. Shopkeepers and customers expected to haggle with each other, so Gale may have anticipated price matching in order to “sell without Exception, as cheap as can be bought at any Shop or Store in Town” as part of the negotiations.

Retailers and other advertisers commonly made appeals to price throughout the eighteenth century. Some simply mentioned low prices, but others, including Gale, made other claims intended to further distinguish their prices from those of others who sold similar merchandise.

July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (July 7, 1768).

“A fresh and complete assortment of the following goods, in the greatest variety and newest patterns.”

“WILLIAMS’s STORE, In Broad-Street, New-York, near the Exchange, facing the house of his Excellency Gen. GAGE” was so well know, or so the proprietor hoped to assert, that he did not need to list his full name in an advertisement that appeared in the supplement that accompanied the July 7, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Confident that readers already knew something of “WILLIAMS’s STORE” by reputation, the proprietor focused his efforts on enticing potential customers to visit his establishment.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Williams devoted much of his advertisement to tantalizing consumers with a list of items from among his “fresh and complete assortment” or goods. He specialized in textiles, everything from “printed cottons and chintz for gowns and furnitures” to “Irish linens of all breadths and prices” to “Manchester velvets” to “Scotch oznaburghs.” Yet Williams did more than present a list of fabrics to capture the imagination. He also provided guidance for prospective customers before they even began navigating the list of textiles available at his store. He prompted them to associate terms like “greatest variety” and “newest patterns” with his merchandise. Even as readers imagined some aspects of his inventory, they could not do it justice since that “greatest variety” of “newest patterns” had arrived in New York “in the last ships.” This “fresh and complete assortment” required examination in person.

Williams further extended this invitation with a challenge to prospective customers to assess his prices. He declared that he charged “such prices as will, on inspection, convince all who understand goods, of his ability, and inclination not to be undersold.” He offered such bargains that his prices could not be beat by any of his competitors, but potential customers needed to visit his shop to confirm this themselves. He confidently proclaimed that their inspection of both his prices and his merchandise would satisfy customers.

Williams did not rely solely on an impressive list of imported textiles to coax consumers to visit his store. He presented the list to spark their imaginations, but he also sought to guide their musings with implicit instructions about how to read the list. He primed prospective customers to think about how they could acquire the “newest patterns” at the lowest prices. In the process, he invited readers to visit his store so they could experience even more pleasures – examine more patterns – than their imaginations could conjure.

July 6

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

Jul 6 - 7:6:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 6, 1768).

“EVANS, TAYLOR, HABIT and CLOAK-MAKER, from LONDON.”

Except for the mononym, this advertisement by Evans in the July 6, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette was not flashy. Nor was it particularly lengthy. Yet despite the economy of prose, Evans, a “TAYLOR, HABIT and CLOAK-MAKER,” managed to work several appeals into his short advertisement. In that regard, he met the standards for advertising established by many of his contemporaries throughout the colonies.

Like many other artisans, especially those in the garments trades, he first informed prospective clients of his origins. Evans was “from LONDON,” though he did not indicate how long it had been since he had lived there or how long he had pursued his trade in that city. Still, establishing a connection to the cosmopolitan center of the empire likely afforded him some cachet among the residents of Savannah and its environs.

Asserting that connection also provided a foundation for one of his other appeals. He promised potential customers that “he makes every article in the above branches after the newest fashion.” It went without saying that he meant the newest fashion in London. The tailor played on colonists’ anxieties that they lived in a provincial backwater, one separated from the metropole not only by distance but also by taste and style. Evans assured them that when they wore his clothing that they donned the current trends not only in the largest and most sophisticated urban ports on this side of the Atlantic but also the fashions in London. Yet it was not prohibitively expensive to rival the styles in those places. Evans pledged that he charged “the most reasonable rates” for the garments he made.

The tailor incorporated a brief employment advertisement at the end of his notice: “Wanted, Several Men and Women who can sew neatly.” Doing so communicated to readers that his services were in such demand that he needed more help in his shop, not just a single assistant but instead several to handle the volume of clients he served. Just as prospective clients desired to keep up with “the newest fashion” they also derived status from having their apparel made by a popular tailor.

Evans’s advertisement may seem sparse at first glance, but the savvy tailor inserted several appeals that recommended his services to customers. Without going into great detail, he played on several currents in consumer culture already quite familiar to eighteenth-century readers.