July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:13:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 13, 1770).

“WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR.”

John Simnet’s advertisement in the July 13, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette was uncharacteristically muted compared to others he had recently published.  The brief notice looked much like any other that an eighteenth-century watchmaker would insert in the local newspaper:  “WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR; Clean’d for those who desire them done cheap, for a Pistereen, and Repairs in Proportion.  By J. SIMNET:  Parade.”  Yet it differed in tone significantly from most of Simnet’s advertisements.  He arrived in the Portsmouth area in late 1768 or early 1769.  Over the past year and a half he engaged in a very public feud with Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.  The rival watchmakers both advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette, sometimes making only oblique references to each other but on other occasions leveling accusations of fraud, incompetence, and lack of character.  Most recently, Simnet ran advertisements that compared Griffith to a rat or denigrated his character and skills in verse.  Even after several weeks passed, Griffith did not respond to those attacks, at least not in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Had it not been for this rivalry, I likely would not have selected Simnet’s advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project today.  Uriah Hide of Lyme, Connecticut, placed a notice for “Clothiers Shears” made in the colonies in the New-London Gazette.  In that advertisement, he developed an argument in favor of giving preference to “the Manufactures of the Colony” over imported “European Manufactures.”  I often select advertisements that demonstrate the convergence of politics and consumer culture in the era of the American Revolution, but after spending eighteenth months following the feud between Griffith and Simnet I decided to include the next installment in their story in order to document each volley regardless of whether it was as explosive as the last.  It is also worth noting that Simnet’s advertisement appears deceptively simple, especially when compared to his other notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Although brief, his advertisement included an appeal to price and even listed how much he charged for routine maintenance for a year.  Relatively few eighteenth-century advertisers included specific prices in their notices, making Simnet’s attempt to entice customers with a guaranteed price notable.  Not as lively as most of his advertisements, this one engaged with prospective customers in different ways.

March 6

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

Mar 6 - 3:6:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 6, 1770)

“The best French gloves and mits, free from spots, at 12s6. per pair.”

Like many other shopkeepers in Charleston and throughout the colonies, William Stukes stocked “a neat assortment of millenary GOODS, with many other articles.”  To demonstrate the point, he cataloged much of his inventory in a newspaper advertisement.  He carried “PLAIN and flowered sattins,” “stript thread gauze,” “scented and plain hair powder,” and “different coloured silk gloves and mitts,” along with an array of other items.  In addition, he advised prospective customers of “All sorts of millinary ware made in the newest fashion by Mrs. Stukes.”  His partner received second billing even though she provided an important service that undoubtedly supported his enterprise and supplemented the household income.

Stukes sought to incite demand for his wares by emphasizing both consumer choice and fashion.  In addition, he made appeals to price, proclaiming that he would sell these goods “extraordinary cheap.”  When eighteenth-century advertisers made such claims, they usually did not elaborate.  Stukes, however, listed his prices for several items:

  • “black sattin hats at 30s.”
  • “the newest fashion broad ribbons at 5s. per yard”
  • “the best French gloves and mits, free from spots, at 12s6. per pair”
  • “Hose’s callimanco shoes at 31s. per pair”
  • “fine bohea tea at 20s. per pound”
  • “black pepper at 15s. per pound”
  • “table knives and forks at 20s. per set”
  • “best Oronoko tobacco at 12s6 per pound”

Prospective customers did not have to take Stukes at his word that he offered low prices, only to be disappointed when they visited his shop.  Unlike most other advertisers, he published prices for several items.  That allowed consumers to assess for themselves whether Stukes actually offered bargains.  It also facilitated comparison shopping.  Prospective customers might examine the merchandise in other shops, Stukes may have reasoned, and then decide to give their business to him upon learning that his competitors did not match his prices.

Today, consumers are accustomed to prices being advertised with products.  Indeed, naming a price is a common marketing strategy, an effort to entice customers with bargains.  Most eighteenth-century advertisers did not deploy that method for attracting customers, though a few, like Stukes, did experiment with attaching prices to some of their goods when they promoted their businesses in the public prints.

December 17

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

Dec 17 - 12:14:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (December 14, 1769).

“The lowest Price of Lemmons.”

 

John Crosby’s advertisements were a familiar sight for readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in 1769. Every week he advised prospective customers that he sold “Fresh Lemmons” and other citrus fruit “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons.” Yet he did more than merely invite residents of Boston to purchase his wares. His marketing efforts included listing his prices. While other purveyors of consumer goods and services frequently made appeals to low prices, most rarely advertised specific prices for their wares. Crosby made a point of promising low prices and demonstrating to prospective customers that he did indeed offer bargains. For instance, on December 14, 1769, he advertised lemons for “Two Pistareens per dozen,” stating that was “the lowest I can get them to yet.” In addition, he sold “very fine LIMES at Six Shillings per dozen.”

When it came to his lemons, Crosby set the same price regardless of how many customers purchased, from “large and small Quantities down to the single Dozen.” Some eighteenth-century merchandisers allowed for discounts for buying in volume, but Crosby took the opposite approach. He advised prospective customers that they did not need to buy in bulk to get a good deal. He made his best prices available to all customers, provided that they bought at least a dozen. He reiterated that point in order to underscore it: “any one that buys to the Amount of one Dozen, shall have them as cheap in proportion as tho’ they bought a Box.”

Crosby also provided regular reports on the price of lemons at his shop, his own abbreviated price current restricted to a single commodity. He emphasized that service in his advertisements, noting that there “will be a Weekly Account as usual in this Day’s Paper, of the lowest Price of Lemmons.” In so doing, he made his advertisements a regular feature in the newspaper, a feature that consumers could depend on finding as they perused each new edition. In an era when many advertisers inserted the same notice for three or four weeks and then allowed it to expire without publishing a new advertisement, Crosby constructed an ongoing advertising campaign that required constant maintenance. His advertisements were more than an invitation or appeal to prospective customers; in updating the prices of lemons and other citrus fruit each week, Crosby’s advertisements provided a service to consumers in Boston.

June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:15:1769 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 15, 1769).

Half a Dollar per Dozen, it being the lowest that I can get them to yet.”

Two advertisers offered lemons for sale in the June 15, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. One advertisement simply stated: “JUST IMPORTED, and to be Sold by Jonathan Snelling, At his Store on Treat’s Wharf, A few Boxes of choice Lisbon Lemons.” The other advertisement was more elaborate. Opening with a headline that proclaimed “Fresh Lisbon LEMMONS,” John Crosby then went into detail about the low prices that he managed to finagle for his customers in Boston and its environs.

Even before publishing this advertisement, Crosby was familiar in the local marketplace. He advertised frequently, not only in the Boston Weekly News-Letter (co-published with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) but also in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (co-published with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette). Usually short, his advertisements always advised potential customers to seek him out “At the Basket of Lemmons” (his preferred spelling) in the South End. Between his easily recognizable shop sign and regularly placing advertisements in multiple newspapers, Crosby made sure that residents of the busy port were aware of his citrus venture.

Yet he further enhanced the visibility of his business by emphasizing the prices of his fruit. Shopkeepers and other purveyors of goods infrequently listed prices in their advertisements in the 1760s, making it all the more notable that Crosby set the price for lemons at “Half a Dollar per Dozen.” Underscoring that this was a particular bargain, he informed readers that was “the lowest I can get them to yet.” He also had “Very good China Oranges at 24 Shillings per Dozen.” This was not the extent of his attention to prices. He also pledged to continue inserting “a Weekly Account in this Paper as usual, of the lowest Price I can Sell [lemons] for.” His marketing strategy depended not only on constantly presenting his name and the “Basket of Lemmons” to potential customers but also providing regular updates about prices so consumers could assess deals and bargains for themselves.

Comparing the advertisements for lemons placed by Snelling and Crosby demonstrates that not all eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements for consumer goods were alike. While it might be tempting to dismiss them as mere announcements, their variations testify to the efforts advertisers made to incite demand and the innovations they adopted to distinguish their businesses from their competitors. Although brief, Snelling’s advertisement did make appeals to freshness and quality, noting that his “choice” lemons had been “JUST IMPORTED.” Crosby much more elaborately leveraged price as he endeavored to sell his lemons. He achieved impressive visibility for his business with his weekly account of prices in his advertisements.

October 14

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

Oct 14 - 10:14:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 14, 1768).

“A suit of Broad Cloth, full trim’d.”

By the time he “opened a Taylors Shop” in Portsmouth late in the summer of 1768, Richard Lowden was already familiar to many colonists in New Hampshire. More than a year earlier he had advertised that “the Co-Partnership between him and Robert Patterson … was Dissolved,” but Lowden “still continues to carry on the Taylors Business.” At the time, he had his own shop “near the Town-School in Queen-street.” He apparently changed locations in 1768, through he remained on Queen Street, his shop “almost adjoining to that of Messi’rs Williams and Stanwood, Barbers.” Although in a news shop, he continued to pledge that his clients “may depend on being faithfully and punctually served.”

The format of Lowden’s advertisement made it stand out from others published in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, particularly a table that listed the prices for several of the garments he made. Prospective customers could expect to pay one pound for “A suit of Broad Cloth, full trim’d,” but only eighteen shillings for “A plain suit of Cloaths” and nine shillings for “A Coat only.” These prices set the baseline for children’s apparel. Lowden charged “in the same proportion” for those items.

Relatively few advertisers who offered consumer goods and services published prices in the 1760s, though general appeals to low prices were among he most common marketing strategies throughout the eighteenth century. Sometimes merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans highlighted special prices for particular items, but rarely did they specify how much they charged for everything listed in their advertisements. Taking this approach may have given Lowden an advantage over other tailors in Portsmouth. Publishing his prices served as a guarantee of sorts, a maximum price that prospective clients could expect to pay. This also presented opportunities for Lowden to bestow bargains on some customers, both those who loyally visited his shop and others who negotiated for better deals. Lowden could underscore to both constituencies that they received a deal, though he could also hold the line with the latter by stating that the published price were the final prices.

Advertisers throughout the colonies realized that making appeals to price made their goods and services more attractive to consumers. Lowden further experimented with that concept, inserting the prices for his garments in order to engage potential clients. He transformed vague assertions about price into specific amounts that he charged for the garments made in his shop.

September 28

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

Sep 28 - 9:28:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 28, 1768).

“BOOKS to be sold at the Printing-Office.”

Like other printers throughout colonial America, James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, often used his own publication to promote books, pamphlets, and other printed materials that he sold. Although printers sought to generate additional revenues as a result of running their own advertisements in their newspapers, Johnston frequently had an additional motive. Short advertisements for books or advertisements also served as filler to complete an otherwise short column in the Georgia Gazette. Such was the case for a two-line advertisement at the bottom of the first column on the third page of the September 28, 1768, edition of that newspaper. The notice, which Johnston inserted frequently, read in its entirety: “A FEW COPIES of the ACTS of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY passed last session to be sold by the printer of this paper.” Johnston had another slightly longer advertisement, that one for printed blanks (or forms), which he also inserted regularly. It appears that the type for both remained set so the compositor could simply insert them as necessary when an issue ran short of other content.

Given those circumstances, a lengthier advertisement for “BOOKS to be sold at the Printing-Office” that filled half a column (or one-quarter of a page) departed from the usual format for advertisements placed by the printer of the Georgia Gazette. The advertisement divided the column, creating two narrower columns that listed dozens of books by title. A price, neatly justified to the right, accompanied each title. For instance, “Revolutions in Portugal” sold for three shillings and six pence. “Gullivers travels, 2 vols.” sold for eight shillings. In that regard Johnston’s advertisement differed from those placed by other printers and booksellers. Most merely listed titles; very few informed prospective customers in advance what they could expect to pay. Although Johnston rarely published such an extensive catalog of books he sold, when he chose to do so he made a significant innovation to the standard method deployed by printers and booksellers who advertised in other newspapers published in other colonies. If he had sought only to fill remaining space in an issue that lacked sufficient content, a list of “BOOKS to be sold” would have served the purpose. Including the prices, as well as the format for doing so, required additional time, effort, and creative energy in writing the copy and setting the type.

February 26

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

Feb 26 - 2:26:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 26, 1768).

I will Sell as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.”

Nathaniel Backus, Jr., listed several commodities and their prices in an advertisement he inserted in the February 26, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette. In addition, he offered “a good Assortment of European Goods, which I will Sell as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.” Backus listed his location as Norwich Landing. The New-London Gazette served a region that extended far beyond the port town for which it was named.

Note that Backus did not compare his prices to those in other cities and towns in New England. He confined his comparison to the local marketplace, seeking to assure potential customers that they could not do any better dealing with other local shopkeepers. Few, if any, of his wares – “BEST London Pewter,” “German Serge,” “Barbados Rum,” and “Bohea Tea,” to name just a few of the commodities he listed – had arrived directly at Norwich. Instead, they had likely been shipped first to Boston or New York. Even if they had been transported via a more direct route, this “good Assortment of European Goods” would have passed through the port of New London and its customs house before continuing up the Thames River to Norwich. These additional legs required in shipping the goods to the small town of Norwich likely made them slightly more expensive for retailers to obtain them, affecting the prices Backus and others charged their customers. Shopkeepers in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Providence and Newport, Rhode Island, sometimes favorably compared their prices to those in Boston, New York, or all of New England. Retailers located inland, like Backus in Norwich, however, did not make such appeals at the same rate.

Backus guaranteed the prices he listed in his advertisement: “those that favour me with their Custom, may depend on being served through the Season, at the above Prices.” This allowed for consumers to do some comparison shopping even before visiting his shop. If potential customers considered the prices he listed for select items to be reasonable then they might have been more willing to accept Backus’s assertion that he sold his merchandise “as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.”

February 2

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

Feb 2 - 2:2:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 2, 1768).

“They engage to take back every Article from a Customer, that they can make the least reasonable Objection against.”

David Maull and John Wood, “TAYLORS, from LONDON,” incorporated a variety of marketing appeals into their advertisement in the February 2, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. They included some of the most popular marketing strategies deployed in the eighteenth century, but they also devised several innovative strategies that differentiated their commercial notice from others.

Purveyors of goods and services commonly promoted quality and fashion. Maull and Wood did so when they stated that their work represented “the neatest and newest fashion.” Artisans often underscored their competence. Maull and Wood reported that “they carry on the Taylors Business in all its Branches.” Shopkeepers and artisans both proclaimed their origins or other connections to London to give their goods and services more cachet in the transatlantic marketplace. Maull and Wood announced that they had migrated “from LONDON,” where they had presumably received training and previously worked. Invoking some sort of link to London also bolstered their claim to produce garments in the “newest fashion.” Many advertisers made a nod toward customer service, as Maull and Wood did when they pledged to fulfill orders “with quickest Dispatch.” Maull and Wood used stock language in making these common appeals to customers.

Yet the tailors also attempted to entice clients with a series of other marketing strategies in a nota bene that concluded their advertisement. They provided a money-back guarantee, promising “to take back every Article from a Customer, that they can make the least reasonable Objection against.” They also offered reduced rates to customers who paid in cash, vowing to “discount Five per Cent.” On the other hand, they extended “twelve Months Credit” to other customers during a period that most advertisers either demanded cash or allowed only “short credit.” Consumers regularly made purchases on credit in eighteenth-century America, but it was not a method of payment promoted by most purveyors of goods and services in their advertisements in the late 1760s. Maull and Wood made clear that they were willing to work out payment schedules that fit the needs of their prospective clients. John Ward, another tailor who advertised in the same issue, made no mention of how he expected customers to pay. Finally, Maull and Wood doubled the length of their advertisement by publishing a roster of prices to demonstrate their reasonable prices to prospective clients. This eliminated negotiating over the bill and anxieties that a better deal might have been possible by locking in rates from the start.

Maull and Wood distinguished their advertisement from others published in Charleston’s newspapers by augmenting the most common appeals with innovative marketing strategies. They did not invent any of the methods they used, but they effectively amalgamated multiple popular and novel tactics for attracting customers into a single advertisement to an extent not achieved by most other advertisers of consumer goods and services in the 1760s.

January 1

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

Jan 1 - 1:1:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 1, 1768).

“Such as an Assortment of Goods, as will be most agreable to the People in general here.”

In 1768 Jonathan Moulton began the new year by announcing that he would soon make available “a new and Fresh Assortment of ENGLISH & WEST INDIA GOODS” for customers who visited his shop in Hampton, New Hampshire. Most eighteenth-century merchants and shopkeepers placed advertisements to promote merchandise they had commenced selling, but Moulton did not wait. Instead, he previewed his new inventory, pledging that consumers would be able to make purchases within ten days time. He incited anticipation as a means of cultivating demand in advance.

To whet consumers’ appetites, he also underscored his low prices. Moulton proclaimed that he would “sell as cheap as can be bought at any Shop in this Province, without Exception” or even in nearby Newbury, Massachusetts. To demonstrate the veracity of that claim, Moulton published prices for several popular items, including rum, molasses, sugar, and wool.

As a further means of convincing potential customers to purchase his wares, he cleverly introduced a resolution for them to achieve in the new year: supporting the local economy rather than doing business with merchants and shopkeepers in other colonies. He lamented that “for several Years past, a great part of our CASH has been carried into the other Province.” He attributed this to lower prices available at shops in Massachusetts, but Moulton’s low prices made it attractive for local customers to resolve to keep “the Money in the Province.” Furthermore, that achieved other practical advantages for his customers: purchasing from a local supplier “prevent[ed] the travelling of several Miles, and Cost of Ferriage” in addition to benefiting the local economy.

As colonists in New Hampshire acknowledged the passing of one year and the commencement of another, Moulton challenged them to think about the opportunities they would encounter as consumers in 1768 and how to respond responsibly. He previewed “such an Assortment of Goods, as will be most agreable to the People in general here.” Rather than focus solely on price and selection, he explained why purchasing from him benefited both customers and the general welfare of their local community and colony.

December 8

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

Dec 8 - 12:8:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 8, 1767).

“Twenty per Cent cheaper than goods usually imported.”

In a notice that appeared in the advertising supplement that accompanied the December 8, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, William Gowdey relied on appeals to price to move the merchandise he had recently imported and stocked at his shop in Broad Street in Charleston. Before listing his wares he informed potential customers that they would enjoy special bargains when they visited his shop: he set prices “twenty per Cent cheaper” than his competitors usually charged. To demonstrate that was indeed the case, rather than a false promise designed to get customers through the door, Gowdey indicated the prices of several kinds of textiles. Readers could determine for themselves that the shopkeeper offered good deals on “mens worsted hose at 10s. 20s. and 30s. a pair” or “Osnabrughs at 4s. a yard.”

Even when they made appeals to price, most shopkeepers did not list prices in their newspaper advertisements during the colonial era. For instance, in the same issue William Glen and Son advertised many of the same textiles, but made only a general statement that they “will dispose of [their inventory] at a low advance.” Similarly, Thomas Radcliffe, Jr., promoted “very reasonable terms” but did not specify any prices. As a result, readers could not compare prices from one advertisement with those in another. Gowdey’s strategy depended on consumers already possessing some sense of the typical prices for popular goods and then recognizing good deals when they saw them. His assertion that his prices were “twenty per Cent cheaper” primed potential customers to imagine bargains, prompting them to become active participants in his marketing strategy when they saw the prices and confirmed for themselves that he did indeed sell at discounted rates. Such methods incited demand in the colonial era, just as they do today, when consumers who previously did not realize that they needed “mens worsted hose” or other goods in Gowdey’s advertisement decided that they could not pass up bargains once introduced to them.