May 2

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

May 2 - 5:2:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 2, 1767).

“They hope to accommodate their Customers with whatever they may want.”

Thompson and Arnold frequently advertised in the Providence Gazette. At a glance, their notices resembled those placed by shopkeepers in newspapers throughout the colonies, but Thompson and Arnold often added at least one additional element to distinguish their marketing from the efforts of their competitors.

Consider today’s advertisement. It made several of the standard appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements for consumer goods and services: price (“at the cheapest Rate”), choice (an “Assortment of English and India Goods”), current fashions (the “Assortment” was “new and fresh”), and connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire (“imported in the last Ships from LONDON”). To underscore the extent of consumer choice, Thompson and Arnold listed dozens of items in a dense paragraph. Like other retailers, they packed a variety of appeals into a relatively short advertisement.

Most of their counterparts incorporated one or more of these strategies but did little to elaborate on them. Thompson and Arnold, on the other hand, supplemented the formulaic format and language of these appeals with an animated nota bene, an entire paragraph that expanded on their low prices and the extensive choices they presented to customers. The shopkeepers boasted that they could “accommodate their Customers with whatever they may want” not only because they stocked so much merchandise but also because their inventory was superior to what could be found anywhere else in Providence. Their customers benefited from the convenience of what has become known as one-stop shopping; Thompson and Arnold had “a greater variety, and a larger quantity of goods than can be found in any one store in this town.” Potential customers did not need to worry about popular or inexpensive items selling out!

Unlike other shopkeepers that mentioned prices once at the beginning of an advertisement or perhaps again at the end, Thompson and Arnold doubled down on their low prices in their nota bene. They beat the prices they charged in the past (“they will now sell their goods much cheaper than they have yet sold”), but they also undersold their competitors (“cheaper than can be bought elsewhere in this town”).

Given that some advertisements lingered in colonial newspapers for weeks or months, Thompson and Arnold also affixed a date (“May 2, 1767,” the date of that issue of the Providence Gazette) so readers and potential customers would be aware of the timeliness of the appeals they made.

On their own, the introduction and list of goods in Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement replicated many other advertisement for consumer goods published in the 1760s, advancing multiple appeals to potential customers but each of them briefly. To garner additional attention and generate more business, Thompson and Arnold inserted an additional paragraph elaborating on two of those appeals, price and choice.

January 25

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

Jan 25 - 1:24:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 24, 1766)

“Crim-¶son Chiney; green & blue ¶ print; cartridge paper; ¶ paste board; Starch by the ¶ cask; Brimstone by the ¶ hundred, or smaller quan ¶ tity; powder and Shot.”

It appears that Joseph Bass liked to advertise.  I’ve previously featured a different advertisement from Bass (on December 6, when Adverts 250 was confined to Twitter exclusively).  Either he or the printer of the New-Hampshire Gazette liked to experiment with breaking his list of merchandise into columns.  Bass may have requested a particular format, but the printer was ultimately responsible for the execution.  From a graphic design perspective, some attempts appear more successful than others.

Dec 6 - 12:6:1765 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 6, 1765)

This particular advertisement drew my eye because the design seems particularly poor.  The pilcrows (¶¶¶) that form the dividing line are distracting and disruptive.  They do not make it easy to read the advertisement.  Many eighteenth-century printers created works of art using ornamental type.  Even in the hurry of setting type for newspapers, their efforts usually yielded better, more attractive results than this.

I am left wondering how eighteenth-century readers would have approached this advertisement.  It looks ugly to my twenty-first-century eyes and the possibilities presented by modern technologies, but would it have been so off-putting to potential customers in 1766?  To what extent would they have acknowledged the differences between today’s advertisement and the one from December?

On the other hand, the design elements of this advertisement got my attention.  I examined it more closely as a result.  In that regard, maybe it was successful.