June 28

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 28, 1771).

“&c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers frequently published lengthy lists of merchandise, demonstrating the range of choices they made available to consumers.  Even then, they claimed that they did not have enough space in their advertisements to advise prospective customers of all the goods on hand at their stores and shops.  In the June 28, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, for instance, David Cutler and Joseph Cutler proclaimed that they carried a “fresh Assortment of GOODS” and enumerated more than one hundred items.  The Cutlers identified all sorts of textiles as well as various dinnerware, housewares, hardware, and groceries, yet they also promised “many other Articles” that did not appear in their advertisement.

Robert Robertson adopted a similar approach, declaring that he sold “a general Assortment of English and West India GOODS.”  He provided a shorter list than the Cutlers, though it still amounted to dozens of items, and concluded with “&c. &c. &c.”  By repeating the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera, Robertson suggested that his advertisement mentioned only a fraction of his wares.  William Cooper, Jr., refused to be outdone by his competitors.  He composed an even more verbose description of his “neat and genteel Assortment of English and India GOODS” and then listed as many items as the Cutlers did in their notice.  He also ended his advertisement with “&c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c.”  The exaggerated use of “&c.” underscored the vast array of choices awaiting customers at his shop.

Advertisements containing lists of goods with promises of “many other Articles” may have also signaled to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that local merchants and shopkeepers provided them with as many choices in Portsmouth as consumers in Boston and other urban ports enjoyed.  The consumer revolution extended beyond the cities and into towns, villages, and the countryside.  Advertisements like those placed by the Cutlers, Robertson, and Cooper reassured colonists that they had full access to participate in the rituals of consumption.

July 28

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

Jul 28 - 7:28:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 28, 1769)

They will be Sold as cheap as at any Shop in Boston.”

Robert Robertson advertised a “large Assortment of English GOODS” available at his shop in Portsmouth in the July 28, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Samuel Bowles and Stephen Hardy advertised similar wares. All three listed dozens of items; collectively, their advertisements filled almost an entire column in that issue, presenting consumers with many choices. Prospective customers could choose among the merchandise, but they could also choose among the purveyors. To help them make those choices, Bowles and Robertson each described their prices as “very cheap.”

Robertson, however, did more than deploy a standard appeal to price. He concluded his advertisement with a nota bene that underscored the bargains at his shop: “As the above Goods are a Consignment to me, they will be Sold as cheap as at any Shop in Boston.” In making this pronouncement, Robertson acknowledged that he competed not only with Bowles and Hardy and other shopkeepers in Portsmouth but also with all of the merchants and shopkeepers not so far away in the largest and busiest port in New England. Their advertisements filled the pages of the several newspapers printed in that city that certainly found their way to Portsmouth. Robertson revealed that he expected at least some of his prospective customers engaged in comparison shopping, not only in Portsmouth but ranging farther away as well. He also suggested that consumers in New Hampshire had grown accustomed to paying higher prices than their counterparts in Massachusetts.

Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes proclaimed that they matched or beat the prices of their local competitors in the 1760s; only rarely did they address prices throughout an entire region or make comparisons to prices in other cities and towns. Robertson was innovative in that regard, but it may well have been innovation born of necessity if he suspected that he regularly lost business when colonists in New Hampshire visited Boston or sent away for goods supplied by the merchants and shopkeepers who resided there.