What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To enumerate the Articles, would exceed the Limits of an Advertisement in a News-Paper.”
Nicholas Brown and Company took a very different approach to advertising their wares than Edward Thurber did in his advertisement in the October 19, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette. Both advertisers emphasized the choices they made available to consumers. Brown and Company promoted a “general and compleat Assortment of GOODS,” while Thurber used similar language in marketing a “Very compleat Assortment of Goods.” To help prospective customers imagine the choices, he included a list of everything from “Mantua silks” to “Dutch looking glasses” to “Frying and warming pans.” For several categories of goods, he further underscored consumer choice, including a “compleat assortment of broadcloths,” a “fine assortment of womens cloth shoes,” and “All sorts of nails and brads.” His catalog of goods lacked only an “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) at the end to suggest even more choices.
Brown and Company, on the other hand, did not attempt to impress consumers with lengthy lists or to overwhelm readers with the amount of space their advertisement occupied on the page. Instead, the partners declared, “To enumerate the Articles, would exceed the Limits of an Advertisement in a News-Paper; but among them are a Number not usually imported into this Town.” That proclamation may have suggested to some readers that Thurber’s list of goods was too brief and too limited in comparison. Extending half a column, it was finite and not at all “compleat.” Brown and Company’s notice filled only half as much space, but only because the partners deemed it impossible to “enumerate” the contents of their store and, as a result, did not attempt to provide even a truncated list. Brown and Company relied on curiosity to propel consumers to their store, curiosity about what the “general and compleat Assortment” included and curiosity about what kinds of goods might have been among those “not usually imported into this Town.” Surprises awaited anyone who ventured to Brown and Company’s store.
Although these notices do not reveal which strategy was more effective, they demonstrate that advertisers experimented with how to represent consumer choice to prospective customers. Neither Thurber nor Brown and Company merely proclaimed that they recently imported goods and expected that would have been sufficient to draw customers to their stores. Instead, they devised different means of elaborating on choice to make their inventory more attractive to readers of the Providence Gazette.