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.

March 5

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

Mar 5 - 3:5:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 5, 1768).

“All persons … will not repent coming so far down town.”

Location! Location!! Location!!! Today many businesses promote the convenience associated with their location, but an awareness of the potential effect of location on the success of a business goes back to the colonial era. James Brown and Benoni Pearce, for instance, promoted their shops “On the West Side of the Great-Bridge” in Providence by advising that “their Customers coming from the Westward, may save both Time and Shoe-Leather” by visiting their establishments rather than crossing to the other side of the river to browse the wares sold by merchants and shopkeepers there.

Other entrepreneurs, however, admitted that their location might present certain disadvantages if potential customers considered them too far out of the way. In his advertisement in the March 5, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, Nicholas Cooke announced that he sold “a Quantity of Dry Goods” at his shop “At the lower End of the Town.” Cooke realized that being situated at the outskirts of town was not an ideal location. Attracting customers required making alternate marketing appeals, such as emphasizing consumer choice. In addition to highlighting his “Quantity of Dry Goods,” Cooke also deployed the word “assortment” to describe certain categories of merchandise: “An assortment of Irish linen, checks and stripes” and “a large and neat assortment of glass, stone and earthen ware.” He had so many of those housewares that he proclaimed his inventory was “too large to enumerate.” In addition, he also stocked “many other articles” sure to delight shoppers.

To further justify making the trip to “the lower End of the Town,” Cooke also explained that he offered prices that his competitors could not beat. He stated that because he “imported the above goods directly from England” that he “can afford them as cheap as can be sold by any in this place.” He promised customers a bargain, assuring them that they “will not repent coming so far down town.” Brown and Pearce also attempted to convince certain prospective customers to venture beyond the nearest shops. Those who resided “on the other Side” of the Great Bridge would not “save both Time and Shoe-Leather” by visiting their shops, but they would be “well paid for crossing the Pavements, and be kindly received and well used.”

Eighteenth-century shopkeepers sometimes promoted their location when doing so worked to their advantage, but they did not neglect to acknowledge when they were located in a spot that consumers might not consider ideal. In such instances, they attempted to convince prospective customers that a variety of other benefits outweighed the inconvenience of traveling farther to their shops.

February 24

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

Feb 24 - 2:24:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 24, 1768).

“GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.”

Although brief, Jacob Polock’s advertisement on the front page of the February 24, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette incorporated several appeals intended to incite demand among prospective customers. Polock promoted only three items – tea, mustard, and kettles – but he associated a specific marketing strategy with each, rather than merely announcing that he offered those goods for sale.

First, Polock highlighted his “EXCELLENT GREEN TEA, at 15s. per lb.” Here Polock succinctly made two appeals, first emphasizing the quality of the tea and then providing a price. Most merchants and shopkeepers did not indicate prices for their merchandise in their newspaper advertisements; Polock, on the other hand, let readers know what they could expect to pay in advance of visiting his shop. Tea was such a popular commodity that most prospective customers likely already had a sense of what constituted a good deal, allowing them to assess whether Polock offered a bargain.

By publishing a price, Polock set the maximum amount he would charge for a pound of tea, but that did not preclude him from giving discounts at the time of sale, especially for customers who bought in volume or purchased other items. Any time Polock lowered the price when interacting directly with customers he cultivated a good impression for having extended a better deal than the prices published in the newspaper.

Polock also sold “GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.” Here he offered consumers the ability to make choices. In choosing among the “different qualities” of mustard customers could make selections based on both cost and personal preferences, not unlike modern shoppers picking the type of mustard they most enjoy from a condiments shelf stocked with all kinds of variations.

Finally, Polock carried “IRON TEA KETTLES of Rhode Island manufacture.” In response to deteriorating relations with Britain that resulted from a trade deficit and the imposition of new taxes via the Townshend Act, many colonists resolved to purchase fewer imported goods while simultaneously encouraging domestic manufactures. Merchants and shopkeepers frequently advertised teapots and other accessories imported from England, but Polock instead participated in a rudimentary “Buy American” campaign when he noted that his tea kettles had been produced in the colonies. He challenged consumers to consider the political ramifications associated with the goods they chose to purchase.

Polock’s advertisement might appear rather simple at a glance, but careful consideration reveals that he inserted several appeals intended to resonate with readers and encourage colonists to consume his merchandise.

January 19

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

Jan 19 - 1:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

“A WELL assorted stock of Goods, consisting of most articles imported into this province.”

In their advertisement in the January 19, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Nowell and Lord incorporated many of the most common marketing strategies deployed by merchants and shopkeepers in eighteenth-century America. The format of their advertisement, like the appeals, would have been familiar to readers. Like many of their competitors in Charleston and throughout the colonies, Nowell and Lord composed a list-style advertisement that revealed the range of goods they stocked, from “Irish and Kentish sheeting” to “leather caps” to “blue and white earthen ware.”

In and of itself, this format demonstrated the veracity of one of their appeals to potential customers: consumer choice. The partners reiterated that their patrons could choose the items that matched their needs, desires, tastes, and budgets throughout their advertisement. First, they described their inventory as “A WELL assorted stock of Goods,” proclaiming that it included “most articles imported into this province.” In other words, customers were unlikely to find merchandise in other shops that Nowell and Lord did not also carry. To underscore the variety they offered, the partners promoted their “choice assortment of cutlery” midway through the advertisement. They also made a point of noting that the list they printed in the newspaper was not exhaustive; instead, they also carried “many other articles too tedious to enumerate.” Customers would delight in the number of choices available to them when they visited Nowell and Lord’s shop.

In addition to consumer choice, the shopkeepers also made appeals to price and fashion. For instance, they stressed that they sold their merchandise “remarkably low.” To make their wares even more affordable, they offered “credit to the first of December 1768.” When it came to textiles for making garments, they informed readers that they imported “the newest patterns,” allowing customers to impress their friends and acquaintances by keeping up with current fashions in other parts of the empire.

Nowell and Lord deployed consumer choice as the central marketing strategy in their advertisement, but they supplemented that appeal with assurances about price and fashion. To sell their merchandise, they replicated methods used by countless other advertisers throughout the colonies. That so many merchants and shopkeepers consistently relied on the same strategies testifies to the power they believed those strategies possessed to entice and influence colonial consumers.

January 10

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

Jan 10 - 1:7:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 7, 1768).

“He is determined to sell as cheap as can be bought in any Part of America.”

Frederick William Geyer, a frequent advertiser in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s, advanced one of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century: he promoted his low prices. He did not, however, resort to any of the stock phrases or formulaic language often deployed by shopkeepers and merchants in newspaper advertisements throughout the colonies. Instead, he made hyperbolic claims about the bargains prospective customers could expect to encounter upon visiting his shop. Geyer proclaimed that he was “determined to sell as cheap as can be bought in any Part of America, either by Wholesale or Retail.” Some advertisers compared their prices to others in the same city or the same region, but virtually none made such sweeping statements about prices throughout the colonies.

While readers certainly would have been skeptical of such a claim, Geyer won the advantage of forcing consumers to grapple with it. He planted the idea, challenging them to learn his prices and assess them on their own. At the very least, such language set his advertisement apart from others, making it memorable for its bold assertion. It also set the stage for negotiations between buyer and seller. Although Geyer did not promise to match the prices of his competitors, expressing his determination to offer the lowest prices “in any Part of America” suggested his willingness to make a deal in order to satisfy customers that he delivered on his rhetoric.

Eighteenth-century advertisers promoted their prices, not unlike advertisers today. Many relied on standardized language to make the most basic sort of appeal to potential customers, but the language of price was not static. Others, like Geyer, experimented with increasingly audacious descriptions of their prices to overshadow their competition and attract the attention of consumers. Even if readers did not immediately make purchases from Geyer, his advertisement contributed to a reputation that could convince consumers to visit his shop and check out his prices at some point in the future.

January 2

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

Jan 2 - 1:2:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 2, 1767).

“Very CHEAP.”

The typography of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement in the January 2, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette deviated from the standard format for notices placed by merchants and shopkeepers throughout the rest of the issue. Each advertisement had a headline of sorts, but in most instances the headline announced the name of the advertiser. In fonts several sizes larger than the text for the rest of the advertisement, those headlines marked notices inserted by Samuel Carew, Nathl. Greene, J. Mathewson, Benoni Pearce, Jonathan Russell, J. & Wm. Russell, and Darius Sessions. Some of them abbreviated their names in order to fit on a single line.

Thompson and Arnold’s notice, on the other hand, included their names in larger font than most of the advertisement yet reserved the largest font for a marketing appeal that appeared first, preceding their names and all other information included in the advertisement. “Very CHEAP” proclaimed their headline, immediately signaling to prospective customers what kinds of prices they could expect to pay if they decided “to call at [Thompson and Arnold’s] Store, near the Great Bridge.” Each of the other advertisers included an appeal to price somewhere in their notices. Some deployed elaborate language to convince consumers that they sold their wares “cheaper than any Person or Persons in Providence” or “at the very cheapest rate.” Yet readers had to at least skim the notices places by J. Mathewson, Jonathan Russell, and their counterparts to encounter those appeals to price. Associating low prices with Thompson and Arnold required nothing more than a quick glance at their advertisement.

Perhaps the deployment of this typography was merely circumstantial in this case. After all, the name of their partnership contained more characters than the much shorter Samuel Carew or Darius Sessions and could not be abbreviated conveniently like Nathl. Greene or J. & Wm. Russell. Neither situation, however, prevented advertisers and the compositor devising other solutions that still gave primacy to the name of the advertiser in other advertisements elsewhere in the same issue. Nicholas Brown and Company, for instance, listed Brown’s name in large font on the first line, followed by “and COMPANY” in middling-sized font (but strategic capitals) on the next line. “THURBER AND CAHOON” used fonts as large as those in any other advertisement for their names, inserting one word on each of the first three lines of their advertisement.

Thompson and Arnold could have adopted a similar strategy. Doing so would have adhered to custom when it came to the standard format for advertisements in the Providence Gazette and other newspapers throughout the colonies in the 1760s. Finding themselves in the same position as their competitors – making an appeal to price – the partners innovatively wrote their copy in such a way that made their marketing strategy double as the headline for their advertisement. As a result, the typography of their advertisement promoted their business in a manner unique among the paid notices that appeared throughout the same issue.

December 29

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

Dec 29 - 12:29:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 29, 1767).

“Fechtman undertakes to make stays and negligees, gowns and slips, without trying, for any lady in the country.”

Christopher Fechtman, a “STAY and MANTUA-MAKER from LONDON,” promoted his services in an advertisement in the supplement to the December 29, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. After noting his change of address, he launched several appeals intended to incite demand for his services and instill a preference for obtaining stays, mantuas, and other items from him rather than his competitors.

Fechtman offered a guarantee of sorts, pledging to “give entire satisfaction to those who favour him” with their patronage. He did so with confidence, underscoring his own “knowledge of the business.” Yet Fechtman did not labor alone in his shop. He also employed “some experienced hands, who understand their business to the utmost dexterity.” Artisans commonly noted their skill and expertise in eighteenth-century advertisements. Fechtman assured potential customers that his subordinates who might have a hand in producing their garments were well qualified for the task. He staked his own reputation on that promise.

The staymaker also proclaimed that he would “work at a lower rate than any heretofore,” hoping to entice prospective clients with lower prices. High quality garments produced by skilled workers did not necessarily have to be exorbitantly expensive. Quite the opposite: Fechtman indicated that his prices beat any his competitors had ever charged.

Finally, Fechtman offered his services to women who resided in Charleston’s hinterland, widening his market beyond those who could easily visit his shop on Union Street while they ran other errands around town. To that end, he played up the convenience of procuring his services, noting that he could “make stays and negligees, gowns and slips, without trying, for any lady in the country.” His female clients did not need to visit his shop for a fitting. Presumably they forwarded their measurements when submitting their orders from a distance; tailors and others who made garments sometimes included instructions to send measurements with orders in their advertisements.

Fechtman competed with other stay- and mantua-makers in Charleston, a busy port city. To distinguish his garments and services from the competition, he resorted to several marketing strategies in his advertisement. He emphasized skill and expertise, both his own and that of the “experienced hands” who labored in his shop. He also offered low prices as well as convenience to clients unable to visit his shop for fittings. In the process, he encouraged prospective clients to imagine acquiring “stays and negligees, gowns and slips” from him, stoking demand and desire for his wares.