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.

July 1

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

Jul 1 - 7:1:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (July 1, 1768).

The Medicines are the best in their Kind.”

Like many other eighteenth-century printers, publishers, and booksellers, Timothy Green supplemented the income he generated via newspaper subscriptions, advertising fees, job printing, and book and stationery sales by selling other items not specifically related to the book trades. In the July 1, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, he placed an advertisement announcing that he sold “An Assortment of Patent Medicines.” He then listed several remedies that would have been very familiar to colonists: “Dr. Hill’s pectoral balsam of Honey,” “Elixer Bardana,” “Anderson’s or Scotch Pills; Turlington’s genuine Balsam of Life; Bateman’s Drops; Locker’s Pills; Godfry’s Cordial; [and] Stoughton’s Stomach Elixer.” He concluded with a bouble “&c.” – the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera – to indicate that he stocked many more medicines. Green anticipated that these nostrums were so familiar to his readers and prospective customers that he did not need to explain which symptoms they cured, though he did briefly note that those who experienced rheumatism or gout should invest in in “Elixer Bardana.” He gave a slightly longer pitch for Dr. Hill’s balsam, promoting it as “a very useful Medicine in Consumptions and all Coughs and Complaints of the Breast, from whatever Cause.”

These patent medicines were brand names in England and its American colonies in the eighteenth century. They were widely available from apothecaries who specialized in compounding and selling medicines, merchants and shopkeepers who sold assortments of general merchandise, and those who followed other occupations (including printers) who sought to supplement their income. Shopkeepers and, especially, apothecaries regularly advertised that they filled orders for patent medicines that they received through the mail, making Bateman’s Drops and Godfrey’s Cordial and the rest even more widely available to colonial consumers. Realizing that he faced local and regional competition, Green offered incentives for customers to purchase their patent medicines from him. In a nota bene, he proclaimed, “The Medicines are the best in their Kind, and will be sold as low as in any retailing Store in America.” In an era of counterfeits, Green promised quality. He also addressed readers skeptical that he could match the prices of shopkeepers who sold patent medicines are part of their usual inventory or apothecaries who specialized in dispensing drugs. He prices were not merely reasonable; they were “as low as in any retailing Store in America.” Although he was a printer by trade, Green offered justifications for colonists to purchase patent medicines from him rather than others more versed in eighteenth-century medicines.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 28, 1768).

“No Purchaser will fail of being pleased with their Prices.”

When John Innes Clark and Joseph Nightingale opened a new shop at “the Sign of the FISH and FRYING-PAN” in Providence, they placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to encourage readers to buy their wares. They assured prospective customers that they would enjoy the many choices available to them among their “large Assortment of English and India Piece Goods” as well as stationery and hardware.

The partners also proclaimed that consumers would also appreciate their prices. They explained that they “bought at the cheapest rate” and imported their wares directly from London, reducing the shipping costs in comparison to goods that first passed through Boston, New York, or Newport. Clark and Nightingale passed along the saving to their customers, pledging that their merchandise “will be sold cheap.” They were so certain of the bargains they offered that “they flatter themselves no Purchaser will fail of being pleased with their Prices.” Realizing, however, that skeptical readers knew that advertisements contained all kinds of hyperbole, the partners invited potential customers to “call and examine” in order to confirm for themselves that Clark and Nightingale offered good deals for the money. The partners aimed to get potential customers through the door to increase the possibility of making sales. Once they had entered the shop, customers were met with “Constant and courteous Attendance.” Eighteenth-century shopkeepers were in the process of transforming shopping into an experience rather than a chore.

At a glance, Clark and Nightingale’s advertisement might appear to be little more than dense text, especially to readers accustomed to twenty-first-century marketing methods. On closer examination, however, this advertisement – like so many others in eighteenth-century newspapers – reveals that merchants and shopkeepers did more than merely announce the availability of goods to meet the incipient demand of consumers. Instead, they crafted appeals intended to convince colonists to make purchases and to buy from particular retailers for specific reasons. Many eighteenth-century advertisements do make generic appeals to price, but others devote significant effort to explaining how the sellers could offer low prices. Clark and Nightingale included an additional innovation: they challenged customers to examine their prices, compare to their competitors, and determine for themselves that they did indeed encounter bargains when they shopped at “the Sign of the FISH and FRYING-PAN.”

March 7

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

Mar 7 - 3:7:1768 Boston Post-Boy Supplement
Supplement to the Boston Post-Boy (March 7, 1768).

“(Being a Stranger) in order to establish an Acquaintance, he proposes to sell them for a very small Profit.”

William Scott was new to Boston. On account of “being a Stranger” he had not yet established any sort of personal or commercial reputation among local residents. Readers of the Boston Post-Boy were unfamiliar with him and his business practices, even if the goods he offered for sale seemed familiar enough. Realizing that this worked to his disadvantage in a crowded marketplace where prospective customers had existing relationships with other wholesalers and retailers, Scott determined that he needed to introduce himself to the community and entice them to the shop he kept “in the House wherein Mr. Copeland the Taylor, and Mr. Adams the Barber keep their Work-Shops, next Door to the Sign of General Wolfe, on Dock-Square.”

To that end, Scott promised low prices, pledging to sell his wares “for a very small Profit.” He invited prospective customers to give him a chance, proclaiming that “such as please to make Tryal will find it much to their Advantage in dealing with him.” In addition, “such as buy in the Wholesale Way to sell again, shall have proper Encouragement.” Whether they wished to make purchases for household use or to stock their own shops, Scott offered bargains to all who read his advertisement. Although he did not use the terminology, the strategy he deployed paralleled what eventually became known as a “grand opening sale.” Scott had just set up his business and to get customers through the door he trumpeted the deals they would enjoy in his shop. He aimed “to establish an Acquaintance” with Bostonians who could become regular customers once they knew him and had opportunities to examine his merchandise.

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently made appeals to price in newspaper advertisements published throughout the eighteenth century, but Scott managed to give that strategy an innovative twist. Rather than mention that he sold “on the most reasonable Terms” in passing, he instead constructed his advertisement around his plan to introduce himself to consumers by offering bargain prices. For all intents and purposes, he launched his business with a sale to attract attention.