What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“JUST IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt. Falconer from London.”
Readers of the Pennsylvania Journal and other colonial newspapers did not have to rely solely on the list of vessels “Entered In” that appeared in the shipping news from the customs house to learn which ships recently arrived in port. Advertisements often carried that information as well. Consider, for instance, the first advertisement in the May 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. It included a standard introduction that named the ship that transported the goods offered for sale before naming the purveyor of those goods or listing the merchandise. Richard Bache began his advertisement for an assortment of textiles with “JUST IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt, Falconer from London.” His notice appeared on the first page, two pages before the shipping news.
Even if readers skipped over that advertisement, it would have been difficult for them to miss every reference to the arrival of the Britannia from London. Several other advertisements included introductions nearly identical to the one in Bache’s notice. George Fullerton began his advertisement (on the third page, one column to the right of the shipping news) with “IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt. Falconer, from London.” The fourth and final page featured four more advertisements that mentioned the Britannia. Mark Freeman and Townsend Speakman both opened their advertisements with that introduction, while John White and the partnership of Duffield and Delany listed their names first and then credited “the Britannia, Captain Falconer, from London” for delivering their “FRESH” merchandise. On the first page, Daniel Roberdeau hawked “A COMPLEAT EDITION of the GENUINE LETTERS of the Late Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD … Received from his Executors, per Capt. Falconer.” He did not need to provide more information since other advertisements provided context about Falconer.
Prospective customers likely found such notes helpful as they perused newspaper advertisements, especially when merchants and shopkeepers ran advertisements for weeks or even months. Noting which vessel transported the merchandise in an advertisement helped readers determine if it was still “FRESH” or if other shops carried textiles, garments, housewares, and other goods that arrived more recently and, as a result, might include more recent fashions and styles. This standard introduction to so many advertisements thus yielded its greatest advantage for advertisers when their notices first appeared in the public prints, but contained to provide useful context for consumers throughout the entire run of those advertisements.