July 31

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (July 29, 1771).

“Now Selling very Cheap.”

In the decades prior to the American Revolution, purveyors of goods and services regularly incorporated appeals to price into their advertisements.  They did so often enough, in fact, that many delivered appeals to price in standardized or formulaic language in their newspaper notices.  In the July 29, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, Joseph Gardener informed prospective customers that he sold a variety of textiles “at the very lowest Rates” and “upon the most reasonable Terms.”  Those phrases frequently appeared in the introductions and conclusions to advertisements, before and after lists of goods that demonstrated the choices available to consumers.

Some advertisers, on the other hand, experimented with other means of enticing customers with low prices.  The proprietors of the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse in King-Street” stocked a “General Assortment of Ironmongery, Braziery and Cutlery Ware.”  To attract attention, they made their appeal to price the headline for the entire advertisement: “Now Selling very Cheap.”  Near the end of the advertisement, the proprietors also stated that their inventory “will be Sold much lower than those Articles are usually Sold in this place.”

The headline appeared in the largest font and preceded everything else in the advertisement.  Other headlines tended to focus on the advertiser or the merchandise.  For instance, “Joshua Gardner” appeared in the largest font in that advertisement, as did “Richard Clarke & Son” in an advertisement for tea, spices, and other groceries.  Another advertisement bore a headline proclaiming “IRISH LINNENS” for sale at Bethune and Prince’s store.  On the same page, the headline for Joseph Mann’s advertisement drew attention to the “CHOCOLATE” he ground and sold.  Another advertisement for a stolen anchor demanded inspection with a headline that promised “Eight Dollars Reward.”

The proprietors of the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse recognized an opportunity to deviate from the usual practices concerning headlines in newspaper advertisements.  They made low prices the focal point of their notice with a headline, attempting to hook readers with that appeal and encourage them to examine the rest of the advertisement in greater detail.  Even when advertisements consisted entirely of text without images, advertisers and printers experimented with graphic design to deliver messages to consumers.

June 15

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

Providence Gazette (June 15, 1771).

“He will sell as cheap … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.”

Purveyors of goods and services frequently made appeals to price to entice prospective customers, but some made much bolder claims than others.  Consider how advertisers sought to leverage price to their advantage in the June 15, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.

William Eliot stocked a variety of textiles “to be sold cheap.”  Similarly, John Fitton sold flour, pork, and peas by the barrel, “all cheap for Cash” (or in trade for “good Melasses”).  In addition to promising low prices, other advertisers insisted that they set the lowest prices for their wares.  The partnership of Nicholas, Joseph, and Moses Brown, for instance, carried “a fine Assortment of Hard Ware and other GOODS, which they will sell on the lowest Terms.”  Coy and Waterman specialized in painting supplies, having “furnished themselves with a compleat Assortment of Painters Colours, which they will sell at the lowest Prices.”

Other advertisers made even more colorful proclamations about prices.  At his shop at the Sign of the Turk’s Head, Paul Allen supposedly offered some of the best bargains anywhere in the colonies.  He trumpeted that “he will sell on as low Terms … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.”  Allen informed prospective customers that his prices matched the best deals available in Boston, Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, and other towns and cities.  Joseph Nash made the same comparison, declaring that he sold his “neat Assortment of GOODS … as cheap … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.”  Allen and Nash echoed an appeal John Morton and James Morton made in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy the previous day.  The Mortons promised prospective customers that they could acquire their merchandise “as cheap as in New York or Boston.”

The vast majority of merchants and shopkeepers mentioned low prices in their newspaper advertisements, though some were more creative than others in doing so.  Advertisers like Allen and Nash attempted to attract customers with reassurances that they had the best deals anywhere, not just prices that were low enough to compete in the local marketplace.  In the process, they prompted readers to imagine themselves participating in a consumer revolution taking place throughout the colonies and beyond.  Acquiring goods connected readers of the Providence Gazette to colonists in faraway places, giving them common experiences through their experiences in the marketplace.

June 12

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (June 10, 1771).

“Sold as low as at any Store or Shop in Town.”

Advertisements for consumer goods in eighteenth-century newspapers frequently included appeals to price.  In the June 10, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, William Bant informed his “Friends and Customers” that he sold a “General Assortment of English and India GOODS … at the very lowest Rates.”  Similarly, Lewis Deblois sold cutlery, hardware, and other goods “at the very lowest Price.”  Joshua Isaacs set “reasonable Terms” for the imported goods he sold.  In many instances, advertisers made only brief reference to the price of their merchandise, but some, like Joshua Gardner, underscored price in their attempts to entice customers.

Gardner stocked a “fine Assortment of English Goods” that he acquired from London, Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, and other towns.  After listing several items, he declared that “the above-mention’d Goods are purchased upon the best Ter[m]s.”  In turn, he passed along the savings to his customers, pledging that everything in his inventory “shall be Sold as low as at any Store or Shop in Town.”  Prospective customers, he proclaimed, would not find better bargains anywhere in Boston.

In addition, Gardner inserted a special “NOTE” to retailers, informing “THOSE Persons who purchase to Sell again” that they “may be supply’d by the Piece, Half-piece or Quarter-piece, Dozen, Half-dozen or Quarter-dozen, at the same advance as if they bought large Quantities.”  Many wholesalers promoted discounts for purchasing in volume in their advertisements, but Gardner went beyond that deal.  He offered retailers an opportunity to purchase in smaller quantities at the same rates as if they placed larger orders.  Such an offer distinguished him among wholesalers who advertised in Boston, perhaps making his wares more attractive to shopkeepers in the city and surrounding towns.

Although many advertisers resorted to formulaic language when making appeals to price, others experimented with both the rates they charged and how they described prices to prospective customers.  Gardner devoted as much space in his advertisement to discussing his prices as he did to listing his goods, making his notice unique among those inserted by Bant, Deblois, Isaacs, and many other merchants and shopkeepers.

June 7

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 7, 1771).

“As neat, as good, as handsome, as cheap, as ever was, or can be fabricated in New England.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, James Haslett and Matthew Haslett occasionally placed advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Originally from Boston, the Hasletts relocated to Portsmouth.  They set up shop as leather dressers, making breeches, jackets, gloves, and other garments.  They also sometimes stocked tea, coffee, and other grocery items, their efforts as shopkeepers supplementing the revenues they generated as artisans.  Some of their advertisements were quite notable for featuring woodcuts depicting the “Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE.”  Other advertisements were more modest in appearance, though not in content.

Such was the case for an advertisement that ran in the June 7, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It extended only five lines, taking up much less space than some of the Hasletts’ more elaborate advertisements, but its brevity did not mean that it lacked appeals intended to entice consumers to hire the Hasletts to make breeches and other leather items.  The Hasletts proclaimed that they made and sold their wares “As neat, as good, as handsome, as cheap, as ever was, or can be fabricated in New England.”  The unique cadence of their message to prospective customers may have caught the attention of readers.  In just a few words, they made several claims about the price, quality, and appearance of their breeches and other leather goods.  They also envisioned a regional marketplace rather than a local one, declaring that consumers would not acquire superior goods or better bargains in Boston or any other town in New England.

Visually, the Hasletts’ advertisement, like so many others in eighteenth-century newspapers, may seem unremarkable, especially compared to modern graphic design standards.  The copy, however, advanced multiple appeals intended to engage consumers.  The Hasletts did not merely announce that they made and sold leather breeches and other items.  Instead, they made a series of assertions about why prospective customers should select them to provide their services, incorporating many of the most popular appeals made in advertisements of the period.

May 21

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

Essex Gazette (May 21, 1771).

“All as cheap as they can be bought in Boston.”

From New Hampshire to Georgia, purveyors of consumer goods frequently made appeals to price in their newspaper advertisements.  They often made general statements, like Francis Grant did in an advertisement in the May 21, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  He described his prices for a “good Assortment of English and West-India GOODS” as “cheap.”  Similarly, John Appleton declared that he sold his merchandise “on the most reasonable Terms.”  John Appleton made a stronger case for his prices, asserting that he sold imported foods “At the very lowest Rates.”  Even so, he deployed rather generic language.

Other advertisers, however, attempted to attract customers by making bolder and more specific promises about their prices.  William Vans advertised a “Beautiful Assortment of Paper Hangings” (or wallpaper) as well as a “great Variety of English, West-India and Grocery GOODS.”  He pledged that he set prices “as cheap as any Store in Town.”  Yet merchants and shopkeepers in Salem did not compete for customers only among themselves but also with their counterparts in nearby Boston.  That being the case, Jonathan Nutting sold “Painters Colours” and window glass “as cheap as they can be bought in Boston.”  Nathaniel Sparhawk stocked all sorts of merchandise, listing dozens of items in his advertisement.  Like Nutting, he proclaimed that he was “determined to sell as low as can be bought in Boston.”  George Deblois expressed a similar sentiment in an advertisement enumerating just as many goods.  He trumpeted that his prices were “as cheap … as can be bought in this town, or any other town in the province.”  Consumers did not need to look to Boston or anywhere else for better bargains than they could find in Salem.

Making an appeal to price became a standard part of newspaper advertisements for consumer goods in the eighteenth century.  Almost every advertisement in the May 21, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette included some mention of low prices, suggesting that both advertisers and prospective customers expected such appeals incorporated into marketing efforts.  Yet many advertisers did not merely declare low prices by rote.  Instead, they devised more sophisticated appeals, such as comparing their prices to their competitors in town and beyond.  Those merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged that consumers looked for the best deals.  In turn, they promised their customers would find those deals at their shops, stores, and warehouses.

February 8

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 8, 1771).

“Parents and Masters may depend upon being as well used by sending their Children and Servants, as if present themselves.”

Edward Emerson took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to advertise “ENGLISH and West India GOODS,” tea, coffee, sugar, spices, and tobacco available at his shop “Opposite the Town House in YORK,” a coastal town in the portion of Massachusetts that became Maine half a century later.  In 1771, fewer than thirty newspapers served the colonies that eventually declared independence.  Accordingly, most newspapers operated on a regional scale.  As a result, the New-Hampshire Gazette, printed in Portsmouth, was the local newspaper for Emerson and other residents of York.

Emerson emphasized both price and customer service in his advertisement, proclaiming that he was “determined to sell” his wares “at the lowest Cash price.”  He also anticipated receiving new inventory “which will be Sold as low as possible.”  When it came to customer service, consumers did not need to visit Emerson’s shops themselves.  Instead, they could send representatives, especially children and servants, to do their shopping without concern that Emerson would dismiss them or treat them unfairly.  “Parents and Masters,” the shopkeeper declared, “may depend upon being as well used by sending their Children and Servants, as if present themselves.”  That was a variation on promises that other shopkeepers sometimes made to prospective customers who preferred to place orders via the post.  Shopkeepers often served consumers who lived at a distance, offering assurances in their advertisements that they would be treated as well as if they visited in person.  This presumably applied to receiving both quality merchandise and the best prices.

Few eighteenth-century newspapers advertisements appeared flashy by today’s standards.  Emerson’s advertisement was not even flashy by the standards of the time, but perhaps that was not necessary in order to be effective.  Emerson sought to establish trust with prospective customers.  He offered low prices.  He allowed his clients to choose among a variety of quantities for most of his wares.  He promised to treat both customers and their representatives well rather than taking advantage of them.  If Emerson regularly perused the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette and other newspapers that circulated in the area, he certainly read advertisements with more sophisticated marketing strategies that he could have adapted for his own business.  Yet he did not.  Perhaps Emerson considered the appeals he did advance sufficient for establishing relationships with consumers seeking trustworthy purveyors of goods.

January 27

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 24, 1771).

“All Persons that now choose to encourage American Manufactures.”

On January 24, 1771, Robert Bell continued marketing an American edition of “Robertson’s History of Charles the Fifth” with advertisements in both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In the latter, the flamboyant printer, publisher, bookseller, and auctioneer announced publication of the second volume and promised that the “THIRD VOLUME of this celebrated History is now in the Press, and will soon be finished.”  Bell noted that the second volume was “now ready to be delivered to the Subscribers,” purchasers who reserved copies in advance.  In a nota bene, he advised “SUBSCRIBERS in the Jerseys” to visit Isaac Collins in Burlington or Dunlap Adams in Trenton to retrieve their copies.

Bell also invited those who had not yet subscribed to join the fellowship of their peers who “choose to encourage American Manufactures.”  Both before and, especially, after the American Revolution, Bell was one of the eighteenth-century’s leading proponents of creating a distinctly American literary market in terms of the production of books.  Printers and booksellers imported most of the books they offered for sale, a situation that Bell sought to modify.  In deploying the language of “American Manufactures,” he made this into a political project familiar to both producers and consumers as a result of nonimportation agreements enacted in opposition to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  Yet prospective customers had another reason to choose Bell’s American edition over an imported alternative:  price.  Bell charged one dollar for each volume of Robertson’s history.  In comparison, “the British Edition cannot be imported for less than Four Dollars each Volume.”  Bell’s customers enjoyed significant savings, acquiring the entire set of the American edition for less than a single volume of the British edition.

Bell concluded his advertisement with some of the verbose language that became a hallmark of his marketing efforts over the course of several decades.  Those who wished to become subscribers by sending their names to Bell or other booksellers “may depend upon Ebullitions of Gratitude.”  Bell’s advertisement incorporated several marketing strategies, including the politics of “American Manufactures,” the financial advantages for customers, and his colorful language and personality.

December 14

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 14, 1770).

“Mrs. Winter, makes and sells, silk Purses.”

William Winter offered his services as a notary in an advertisement in the December 14, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He declared that he drew up various kinds of legal documents “with Fidelity and Dispatch” and “at a reasonable price.”  In addition, he was “also a Public AUCTIONEER.”  Although William’s name appeared as the headline for the advertisement, in a font larger than any on that page, he was not the only member of the Winter household who contributed to the family’s income.  The advertisement included a nota bene that outlined Mrs. Winter’s entrepreneurial activities.

William asked readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to take note that “Mrs. Winter, makes and sells, silk Purses, Ladies silk, worsted, and thread Mitts.”  In addition, she also made “silk and thread Cauls for Wigs, as neat and good as any made in England.”  Furthermore, she sold them “cheaper for the Cash, than they can be bought in the Government.”  Did Mrs. Winter compose that portion of the advertisement?  Did William?  Did they collaborate on it?  Whoever was responsible for the content incorporated marketing strategies that did more than merely announce that Mrs. Winter made and sold purses, mitts, and linings for wigs.

Appeals to quality were common in eighteenth-century advertisements for goods and services.  In the era of the American Revolution, producers of goods made in the colonies and retailers who sold them increasingly compared the quality of those goods to imported alternatives.  In the wake of nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, comparing the quality of “domestic manufactures,” good made in the colonies, to imported items had a political valence.  Such appeals underscored to consumers that their choices in the marketplace had consequences in the dispute with Parliament.

Appeals to price were also common in advertisements of the period.  The Winters did not make generic statements about Mrs. Winter’s prices.  As they had done with the appeal to quality, they also embellished this appeal by proclaiming that she charged the lowest prices that could be found “in the Government” or in the entire colony.  In the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, James Haslett and Matthew Haslett, leather dressers who made and sold breeches and gloves, asserted that they set prices as low “as any in New England.”  Most advertisers usually were not so bold when comparing their prices to their competitors.  In these instances, the Winters and the Hasletts made significant claims about their prices in order to distinguish their goods from others.

Mrs. Winter’s portion of the advertisement did not benefit from the same prominence on the page as the segment in which William offered his services as notary and auctioneer.  It did not, however, lack substance.  The Winters devised a sophisticated advertisement that did more than rely on common marketing strategies.  When it came to both quality and price, they enhanced the standard appeals that appeared in other advertisements.

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.