March 5

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

Mar 5 - 3:5:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 5, 1768).

“All persons … will not repent coming so far down town.”

Location! Location!! Location!!! Today many businesses promote the convenience associated with their location, but an awareness of the potential effect of location on the success of a business goes back to the colonial era. James Brown and Benoni Pearce, for instance, promoted their shops “On the West Side of the Great-Bridge” in Providence by advising that “their Customers coming from the Westward, may save both Time and Shoe-Leather” by visiting their establishments rather than crossing to the other side of the river to browse the wares sold by merchants and shopkeepers there.

Other entrepreneurs, however, admitted that their location might present certain disadvantages if potential customers considered them too far out of the way. In his advertisement in the March 5, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, Nicholas Cooke announced that he sold “a Quantity of Dry Goods” at his shop “At the lower End of the Town.” Cooke realized that being situated at the outskirts of town was not an ideal location. Attracting customers required making alternate marketing appeals, such as emphasizing consumer choice. In addition to highlighting his “Quantity of Dry Goods,” Cooke also deployed the word “assortment” to describe certain categories of merchandise: “An assortment of Irish linen, checks and stripes” and “a large and neat assortment of glass, stone and earthen ware.” He had so many of those housewares that he proclaimed his inventory was “too large to enumerate.” In addition, he also stocked “many other articles” sure to delight shoppers.

To further justify making the trip to “the lower End of the Town,” Cooke also explained that he offered prices that his competitors could not beat. He stated that because he “imported the above goods directly from England” that he “can afford them as cheap as can be sold by any in this place.” He promised customers a bargain, assuring them that they “will not repent coming so far down town.” Brown and Pearce also attempted to convince certain prospective customers to venture beyond the nearest shops. Those who resided “on the other Side” of the Great Bridge would not “save both Time and Shoe-Leather” by visiting their shops, but they would be “well paid for crossing the Pavements, and be kindly received and well used.”

Eighteenth-century shopkeepers sometimes promoted their location when doing so worked to their advantage, but they did not neglect to acknowledge when they were located in a spot that consumers might not consider ideal. In such instances, they attempted to convince prospective customers that a variety of other benefits outweighed the inconvenience of traveling farther to their shops.

January 19

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

Jan 19 - 1:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1768).

“A WELL assorted stock of Goods, consisting of most articles imported into this province.”

In their advertisement in the January 19, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Nowell and Lord incorporated many of the most common marketing strategies deployed by merchants and shopkeepers in eighteenth-century America. The format of their advertisement, like the appeals, would have been familiar to readers. Like many of their competitors in Charleston and throughout the colonies, Nowell and Lord composed a list-style advertisement that revealed the range of goods they stocked, from “Irish and Kentish sheeting” to “leather caps” to “blue and white earthen ware.”

In and of itself, this format demonstrated the veracity of one of their appeals to potential customers: consumer choice. The partners reiterated that their patrons could choose the items that matched their needs, desires, tastes, and budgets throughout their advertisement. First, they described their inventory as “A WELL assorted stock of Goods,” proclaiming that it included “most articles imported into this province.” In other words, customers were unlikely to find merchandise in other shops that Nowell and Lord did not also carry. To underscore the variety they offered, the partners promoted their “choice assortment of cutlery” midway through the advertisement. They also made a point of noting that the list they printed in the newspaper was not exhaustive; instead, they also carried “many other articles too tedious to enumerate.” Customers would delight in the number of choices available to them when they visited Nowell and Lord’s shop.

In addition to consumer choice, the shopkeepers also made appeals to price and fashion. For instance, they stressed that they sold their merchandise “remarkably low.” To make their wares even more affordable, they offered “credit to the first of December 1768.” When it came to textiles for making garments, they informed readers that they imported “the newest patterns,” allowing customers to impress their friends and acquaintances by keeping up with current fashions in other parts of the empire.

Nowell and Lord deployed consumer choice as the central marketing strategy in their advertisement, but they supplemented that appeal with assurances about price and fashion. To sell their merchandise, they replicated methods used by countless other advertisers throughout the colonies. That so many merchants and shopkeepers consistently relied on the same strategies testifies to the power they believed those strategies possessed to entice and influence colonial consumers.

December 24

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

Dec 24 - 12:24:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (December 24, 1767).

“Newest fashioned hat trimmings.”

At his shop on Hanover Street in New York, Henry Wilmot stocked an impressive array of goods “imported in the last Vessels from LONDON.” His advertisement in the December 24, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy described all kinds of personal adornments, from lace and ribbons to hairpins and combs to jewelry and gloves. To incite demand for these baubles from Britain, Wilmot deployed one of the most common marketing strategies of the period, an appeal to fashion. Many shopkeepers made general statements about the fashionable qualities of all of their wares, but Wilmot instead reiterated this point throughout his advertisement. He repeated some variation on the phrase “newest fashion” five times in the list of his inventory: “newest fashioned coloured ribbands,” “newest fashioned hat trimmings,” “Leghorne, Dunstable and Skelliton hats trimmed in the newest fashion,” “new-fashioned combs,” and “new-fashioned bindings and laces.”

This method may have been intended to convey to potential customers that Wilmot exercised careful attention to detail when it came to keeping abreast of the latest trends in London. Rather than make sweeping claims about all of his merchandise, he highlighted particular items that consumers could trust reflected tastes currently on display in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. In turn, this suggested that he could provide guidance in selecting from among his other merchandise, steering customers away from items too far out of style in favor of those that suitably complemented the “newest fashioned” garments and adornments. At the very least, repeating the phrase “newest fashion” may have induced potential customers to associate all of Wilmot’s merchandise with current styles, as did the use of adjectives like “best” and “elegant.”

Colonial consumers often worried that shopkeepers hawked whatever merchandise they could acquire, that English merchants sent castaways no longer popular in the London market. Wilmot addressed those suspicions with repeated assertions that he stocked and sold goods of the “newest fashion,” stylish items that had not been lingering in his shop but instead arrived on the vessels that most recently entered port.

December 18

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

Dec 18 - 12:18:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 18, 1767).

“The above Advertisement coming late and being long must omit the Particulars till next Week.”

John Adams placed an advertisement in the December 18, 1767, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform readers that he sold “Philadelphia Flour and Bar Iron” and “a general Assortment of English Goods” at his shop on Queen Street in Portsmouth. An editorial note accompanied Adams’s notice: “The above Advertisement coming late and being long must omit the Particulars till next Week.” The shopkeeper’s much lengthier advertisement did appear in the next issue, but until then readers had to imagine what it might contain. Although they would not have been able to name all the “Particulars,” colonial consumers were so steeped in the print culture of marketing via newspaper advertisements that most would have accurately predicted that the complete notice included a lengthy list of merchandise that presented a multitude of choices. Adams did not benefit from sharing that list with potential customers in the December 18 issue, but when it did appear it concluded with a general description of “a variety of other Articles.” Even when allocated space for the entire advertisement, Adams chose to publish a partial list of his inventory and prompted consumers to imagine what other treasures they might discover if they visited his shop. The editorial note explaining that the advertisement had been abbreviated achieved the same purpose.

That note had at least three audiences. The first consisted of residents of Portsmouth who could easily visit Adams’s shop as part of their usual routines at some point in the coming week. The entire advertisement notified them that Adams carried an array of goods – so many that they could not all be listed in the current edition – that he sold “cheap for Cash.” Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette who resided in Portsmouth’s hinterland comprised the second audience. They might visit town only occasionally, limiting their access to any of the shops there. The editorial note alerted them that Adams would soon publish more “Particulars” about his inventory, information that they could eventually take into account when planning their excursions into Portsmouth or sending their orders to the shopkeeper. Adams himself was the third audience for the editorial note. It may not have been apparent at the time he submitted his advertisement that it would not appear in its entirety. Even if Adams had been aware in advance, the note provided an acknowledgment and assurances that the printers would allocate sufficient space for his advertisement the following week. It simultaneously informed readers that the shopkeeper had intended to share much more with them. While not the copy Adams intended to publish, the editorial note served to incite interest in his merchandise and anticipation for the complete advertisement.

December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:3:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 3, 1767).

“Sundry other Goods … will be sold great Bargains.”

Throughout the eighteenth century, newspaper advertisers most commonly deployed a handful of marketing strategies: appeals to price, quality, gentility, and consumer choice. Many advertisers incorporated several of these appeals into their commercial notices, while others crafted advertisements that emphasized a particular appeal.

Benjamin Booth adopted the latter strategy in his advertisement for several goods he imported from London that appeared in the New-York Journal in the late fall of 1767. He made nods toward quality (“BEST English sail-Cloth”) and consumer choice (a list of merchandise followed with a promise of “sundry other Goods”), but he reiterated appeals to price four times in his advertisement. Like many other advertisements placed by colonial shopkeepers, Booth’s notice included a header and a conclusion with a list of goods between them. Many advertisers inserted an appeal to price in either the header or the conclusion, but Booth attempted to incite demand for his wares by underscoring price in all three segments of his advertisement. He relied on formulaic language used by shopkeepers throughout the colonies in the header, proclaiming that his merchandise “will be sold exceeding cheap.” In the list of his inventory, he singled out “Scotch Carpeting” as “very cheap,” indicating an especially good deal among his already low prices. In the course of a single sentence in the conclusion, Booth promoted his prices twice. He stated that his assortment of goods was “laid in upon very low Terms, and will be sold great Bargains.” Here Booth once again inserted formulaic language that appeared in other advertisements: “very low Terms.” However, he concluded with a relatively novel appeal: “great Bargains.” Although shopkeepers regularly marketed low prices in the 1760s, few invoked the word “bargain” to describe the benefits to consumers. In this regard, Booth took an innovative approach, even as the format and stock phrases for the rest of the advertisement replicated other commercial notices. He borrowed heavily from existing marketing methods, but also added his own modification to attract the attention of prospective customers.

September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1767 Cowper and Telfairs in Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 23, 1767).


Lewis Johnson inserted an advertisement for his inventory of “A LARGE and COMPLETE ASSORTMENT of FRESH AND GENUINE MEDICINES” in the September 23, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The partnership of Cowper and Telfairs also placed an advertisement, informing potential customers of the “LARGE ASSORTMENT OF GOODS” they had imported from London. The notices, each listing an elaborate array of items, appeared side by side.

Although Lewis Johnson and Cowper and Telfairs each resorted to the common list-style advertisement to market their wares, the visual aspects of their notices distinguished them from each other. Cowper and Telfairs opted for a dense paragraph that extended two-thirds of the column, enumerating everything from “white, striped and ermine flannels” to “shirt buttons” to “broad and narrow axes” to “complete sets of china.” With some exceptions, they grouped their merchandise together by category (textiles, accouterments and accessories, hardware, and housewares). This made it somewhat easier for potential customers to locate specific items of interest (while also introducing them to others they may not have otherwise considered), even though the merchants did not include any sort of headers to indicate where one type of merchandise ended and another began. This dense list maximized the number of items Cowper and Telfairs presented to the public. While its format may have been somewhat overwhelming or difficult to read, it offered extensive choices to consumers.

Johnson’s advertisement, on the other hand, occupied the same amount of space on the page, but did not list nearly as many items. Instead, it divided a single column into two narrower columns, listing only one item per line. This left much more white space on the page, making it easier for readers to navigate through the merchandise. Like Cowper and Telfairs, Johnson introduced his list with the phrase “Amongst which are,” indicating that the advertisement did not include an exhaustive inventory. Both carried additional items at their shops. Given that he carried additional medicines, Johnson made a calculated decision to truncate his list in order to make it easier to read. Compared to the dense format of everything else on the page, the layout of his list likely drew the eyes of colonial readers, increasing the likelihood that they would take note of his advertisement.

Both list-style advertisements had advantages and shortcomings inherent in their appearance on the page. Although eighteenth-century advertisements lack the dynamic graphic design elements of modern marketing efforts, advertisers and printers did experiment with different layouts in their efforts to attract attention and incite demand among potential customers.

Sep 23 - 9:23:1767 Johnson from Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 23, 1767).

September 21

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

Sep 21 - 9:21:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 21, 1767).

“New Shop at the Sign of the Naked Boy.”

George Bartram launched a new venture in 1767, opening his own shop “at the Sign of the Naked Boy” on Second Street in Philadelphia. To let both former and potential new customers know about his new location, he published an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Bartram promoted the “general Assortment of dry Goods, imported in the last Vessels from Great-Britain and Ireland,” but he did not confine himself to merely describing the goods he stocked. Instead, he included a woodcut that featured some of the textiles he imported and hoped to sell to consumers in the port city. A cartouche in the center depicted a naked boy examining a length of cloth, encouraging potential customers to imagine themselves inspecting Bartram’s merchandise. That the boy held the fabric close to his naked body suggested quality and softness, enticing readers to anticipate the luxurious pleasures that awaited them at Bartram’s shop. Many rolls of fabric flanked the central cartouche, testifying to the “general Assortment” of merchandise. What kinds of tactile sensations might shoppers experience when they compared the weave of one fabric to another? The naked boy surrounded by textiles of all sorts invited colonists to visit Bartram’s shop, where they did not need to confine themselves merely to window shopping but could indulge their sense of touch as well as sight.

The woodcut also included the proprietor’s name on either side of the cartouche, an unnecessary flourish in an advertisement that featured Bartram’s name as a headline. Its inclusion may have been necessary, however, if the woodcut doubled as an accurate representation of the “Sign of the Naked Boy” that marked Bartram’s shop. The shopkeeper had previously conducted business at a “Shop lately occupied by Bartram and Lennox.” To mark his new shop as exclusively his own, Bartram may have instructed the painter or carver who made his sign to include his name as well as the device he intended to serve as his brand. Eighteenth-century advertisements regularly indicate which shop signs marked which businesses, but few of those signs have survived. Woodcuts like the naked boy in Bartram’s advertisement suggest what colonists may have seen as they traversed the streets and visited retailers and artisans who used signs to mark their businesses.