What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”
In an advertisement in the July 2, 1767, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Philip Wilson announced that he sold “A NEAT assortment of Merchandize” at his store on Front Street, just three doors down from “the Tea-pot, at Chestnut-street Corner.” He listed more than a dozen specific items, but also indicated that he carried “a Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”
This note near the end of the Wilson’s advertisement suggests how he imagined colonial consumers interacted with advertisement in their local newspapers. Most likely he did not expect readers to remember the particulars of his advertisements published two months earlier, not given that during that time the Pennsylvania Gazette regularly included a four-page supplement devoted exclusively to advertising in addition to all of the advertising in each standard issue. In addition, residents of Philadelphia were also exposed to advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal. The proliferation of newspaper advertising that occurred in Philadelphia by the 1760s made it unlikely that readers would remember Wilson’s original notice unless it included especially noteworthy or innovative appeals to distinguish it from others. (It did not.)
Instead, Wilson assumed that his potential customers were active readers – very active readers – who had access to issues of the Pennsylvania Gazette published and distributed weeks earlier. In mentioning that he had previously advertised and listed a greater assortment of merchandise, he offered directions for locating a more complete accounting of his wares, anticipating that at least some readers would take the time and make the effort to do so. In turn, Wilson’s reference to his advertisements in previous issues suggests that some subscribers held onto their newspapers for some time before discarding them. Some of those subscribers may have included proprietors of coffeehouses, establishments known for providing newspapers among the many amenities offered to patrons.
Wilson was not alone in making assumptions that readers would look for advertisement inserted in previous issues. Samuel Nightingale, Jr., deployed a similar technique in the Providence Gazette the previous November, though he directed readers to specific issues by number.
The masthead of the Pennsylvania Gazette proclaimed that it “Contain[ed] the Freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic,” but some subscribers and coffeehouses likely created small archives of what was becoming old news (and advertisements), at least going back a few months, for perusal and reference. Philip Wilson assumed potential customers had some way to access a list of the “Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”