February 14

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

Essex Gazette (February 14, 1769).

“Will sell the Remains of Mr. Hamilton’s Goods at the lowest Prices.”

GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!!! Although Arthur Hamilton and Archibald Wilson did not make such a proclamation, this was the marketing strategy they adopted in an advertisement that ran in the February 14, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Wilson placed the advertisement on behalf of Hamilton, explaining that the merchant had “gone out of the Country.” In the wake of his departure, Hamilton had “empowered” Wilson “to settle his Affairs,” including taking legal action against any associates who neglected to pay their debts. In addition, Wilson had taken possession of “the Remains of Mr. Hamilton’s Goods.” He occupied Hamilton’s former shop, where he sold the remaining merchandise “at the lowest Prices, for Cash or short Credit.” Settling Hamilton’s affairs, including liquidating his inventory, merited setting the “lowest prices” to entice prospective customers.

Hamilton and Wilson were not the only advertisers in the Essex Gazette who ran a sale without calling it a sale. Robert Alcock had been advertising for more than a month that he intended “to clear off his Stock.” To that end, he sold textiles and other goods “greatly under the usual Prices.” In other words, he ran a clearance sale. Featuring this marketing strategy in his advertisement may have offered inspiration to Hamilton and Wilson as they considered how to best attract customers. The Essex Gazette, barely six months in publication at the time they placed their notice, contained relatively few advertisements compared to newspapers printed in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Pennsylvania. Most issues had a dozen or fewer paid notices, making each of them that much more visible to readers. Given the circulation of colonial newspapers, Hamilton and Wilson would have had access to publications from Boston and other cities, but for the purposes of advertising to their local market they likely paid the most attention to advertisements in the Essex Gazette. They did not need other merchants and shopkeepers to demonstrate that setting low prices would aid in selling Hamilton’s remaining merchandise, but they may have benefited from Alcock’s example when it came to informing the public that they had adopted this approach. Sales were not a standard element of print marketing in the eighteenth century. Hamilton and Wilson may have adopted a method of addressing prospective customer that they saw Alcock introduce in their community. Given the small number of advertisers in the Essex Gazette, they could have decided that they needed to take a similar approach in order to be competitive.

July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 9, 1767).

“He finds it necessary to reduce the several Prices of his Work one third Part lower than formerly.”

Upholsterer John Mason placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette when he significantly reduced the prices he charged for various services. His method for delivering this information, however, could have used a little refinement. Rather than focus on the deals that benefited prospective customers, Mason offered two other explanations for lowering his fees: “the Stagnation of Business and Scarcity of Cash.” While both of these factors prompted Mason to adjust his prices, neither of them placed customers at the center of Mason’s business model. Overcoming the “Stagnation of Business” was self-serving, hardly a fault for a tradesman trying to make a living but perhaps not the most artful way to frame his motivation fueling the business relationships he hoped to cultivate. He seemed to be saying that current conditions forced him to lower his fees rather than more graciously formulating this as a benefit intended specifically to advantage customers. Acknowledging the “Scarcity of Cash” made a nod toward the concerns of prospective clients. Many may have found themselves in a situation of not being able to afford to hire Mason at the former rates because they did not have access to sufficient cash. The reduced fees made the upholsterer’s services more obtainable.

Still, Mason underplayed the most important appeal in his advertisement. He noted that he had “reduce[d] the several Prices of his Work one third Part lower than formerly.” In other words, he knocked a tremendous 33% off his prices! Mason set about demonstrating this with a list of the fees he now charged for various services. He even encouraged prospective clients to compare “the above Prices with the Upholsterers Bills” (perhaps handbills distributed or posted by competitors), but this called for readers to expend additional effort to confirm a claim that he made only once rather than asserting it repeatedly and with greater force. Mason made his case, presenting a list of fees as evidence to support it, but the overarching message seems to have been overshadowed by the details. Mason may not have presented too much information, but that does not mean that he optimized the marketing potential associated with significant price reductions.

This critique may not be completely fair to an advertiser who operated within the conventions of eighteenth-century marketing practices. After all, his notice displayed a fair amount of innovation that distinguished it from others. However, it lacked other elements designed to attract attention and generate excitement. Mason opted for practical numbers instead of insistent proclamations about price reductions. He opted for substance over style, which may have better served potential customers in the end. Yet that decision demonstrates the chasm between advertising innovations in the eighteenth century and innovations that became standard practices in later centuries.

May 13

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

May 13 - 5:12:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (May 12, 1766).

It appears that James Morton’s primary purpose in placing this advertisement was to inform customers who had purchased goods on credit that they needed to visit his shop to make payment because he was preparing to leave town. The nota bene, however, tells an additional story of marketing innovation and maximizing the returns on what he spent to insert this announcement in the local newspaper.

Since he had purchased space in the newspaper to encourage customers in “settling their Accounts,” he diversified his message by using a small portion of it to “sell what few Goods he has on Hand,” but for cash rather than credit. This more or less amounted to an eighteenth-century “going out of business” sale. Morton looked to get rid of his remaining stock, figuring that some return on his investment was better than none. To draw customers to his sale he promised that they could purchase the remaining goods “at prime Cost.” In other words, they would get a deal.