August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:31:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle Postscript
Postscript to the Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 31, 1768).

“James Gordon Is removed from his store in Third-street.”

When he moved his shop from Third Street to Chestnut Street in the summer of 1768, James Gordon placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advise former and prospective customers where to acquire the array of goods he offered for sale. One insertion of his advertisement did not, however, appear in a standard issue distributed on Mondays, nor in a supplement that accompanied such an issue. Instead, Gordon’s advertisement and a handful of others appeared in a Postscript to the Pennsylvania Chronicle published on Wednesday, August 31. The Pennsylvania Chronicle was usually a counterpoint to the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal, both distributed on Thursday, but subscribers and other readers gained access to this special issue just a day before the publication of the other two newspapers printed in Philadelphia.

William Goddard, the printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, explained the purpose of distributing the Postscript midway between issues instead of keeping to the usual schedule. “By the Earl of Halifax, arrived at New-York, from Falmouth, we have the following fresh Advices,” Goddard trumpeted, “which we now issue out in an extraordinary Half Sheet, as a Proof that we have as good Intelligence as our vigilant Neighbours, and are as willing to exert ourselves in the Service of the Public.” In other words, when it came to reporting the news from abroad the Pennsylvania Chronicle had the connections to keep its readers informed in a timely manner. That newspaper’s efforts rivaled those of its local competitors, both of which had been established for much longer. Indeed, by issuing the Postscript Goddard scooped the Gazette. The following day Hall and Sellers issued a Postscript to the Pennsylvania Gazette (in addition to the regular issue and the advertising supplement that usually accompanied it) that delivered the same news received “By the JULY PACKET, arrived at New-York from Falmouth.” That special edition also carried several advertisements.

Goddard issued the Postscript not only to keep readers informed but also to promote his newspaper. He hoped to increase circulation and, in turn, revenues from subscriptions and advertising. Compared to the Gazette and the Journal, the Chronicle carried fewer advertisements, but Goddard knew that he could attract more advertisers, like James Gordon, by increasing distribution. Prospective advertisers would be more willing to make that investment if the Chronicle increased its readership. Goddard’s note introducing the special edition was directed to advertisers as much as to readers.

August 12

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

Aug 12 - 8:12:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 12, 1768).

“Last Night the shops of the subscribers in said Middletown was broke open.”

Many advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers listed all sorts of consumer goods as a means of encouraging readers to visit shops, examine the merchandise, and make purchases. Other advertisements, however, demonstrate that not all colonists acquired goods through those means. Some colonists instead resorted to theft.

Such was the case in Middletown, Connecticut, at the end of July in 1768. On the morning of the final day of the month, George Philips, Asal Johnson, and Francis Whitmore all awoke to discover that their shops had been “broke open” during the night and several items stolen. The thief or thieves grabbed “about 6 dozen barcelona handkerchiefs, of which 2 dozen were black, the rest shaded various colours; 1 dozen black cravats, 3 or 4 pieces of black ribbons, 1 paper of white metal buckles, 1 castor hat a little moth eaten, 2 or 3 penknives,” and currency in several denominations from Philips. Similar items went missing from the shops of Johnson and Whitmore. The volume of stolen goods suggests that the thieves may not have intended these items solely for their own use. Instead, they may have attempted to fence them or otherwise distribute them through what Serena Zabin has termed an informal economy that allowed greater numbers of colonists to participate in the consumer revolution.

Philips and Johnson offered a reward to “Any person who will seize the thief or thieves with any or all of said articles, and secure them so that they shall be brought to justice.” The penalties could be quite severe for those convicted. Two years earlier in Rhode Island, for instance, Joseph Hart became a convict servant, sold into servitude “for the term of three years to satisfy the damages and costs of his prosecution and conviction, for stealing sundry goods.” Colonists who chose to gain access to the consumer revolution via extralegal means weighed the risks and rewards of acquiring goods that might otherwise have remained beyond their reach.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:25:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 25, 1768).

“A large Assortment of … GOODS.”

Frederick William Geyer advertised regularly in several of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. The shopkeeper deployed a variety of strategies to promote his wares, including appeals to price and consumer choice. Both appeared in a notice he placed in the July 25, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, he announced that he had just imported a “large Assortment of English, India and Scotch Peice [sic] GOODS.” Not only did he proclaim that he offered low prices, he also asserted that he was “determined to sell … as cheap as can be bought in Parts of America.”

Geyer devoted more effort – and space – to developing an appeal to consumer choice. In addition to introducing his merchandise as a “large Assortment,” he reiterated the word “assortment” several times to describe particular kinds of items he sold: “A large assortment of Irish linens,” “An assortment of superfine, middling and low pric’d Broad Cloths,” “An assortment of Ribbons,” “A large assortment of plain and painted Ebony Fans,” “a very pretty assortment of black and coloured paddlestick Fans,” “A pretty assortment of plain & flower’d Lawns,” “A large assortment of white Threads,” “a large and neat Assortment of Mettle Buttons immediately from the Makers,” and “a large Assortment of Glass Necklaces.” These descriptions appeared among an extensive list that included hundreds of items in his inventory, indicating to prospective customers that he carried wares to suit practically any taste or budget.

The space that Geyer’s advertisement occupied on the page also played a role in communicating that message to consumers. It more than filled an entire column on the front page of the July 25 issue, spilling over into a second column. A competitor, William Gale, advertised his own “General Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” in a notice that appeared on the same page, but it looked paltry printed next to Geyer’s advertisement. Indeed, Gale’s entire notice was similar in length to the portion of Geyer’s advertisement that required an additional column. They may have carried similar merchandise, but the space on the page consumed by Geyer’s notice suggested that customers would encounter so much more when they visited his shop on Union Street. Twice the length of any other advertisement in the same issue, Geyer’s notice dominated the page, part of a strategy of overwhelming his competitors by vividly presenting prospective customers with the many choices he made available to them.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:16:1768 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 16, 1768).

“A great Variety of Callicoes.”

Even though he advertised many of the same goods as other merchants and shopkeepers who placed notices in Boston’s newspapers in June 1768, Samuel Fletcher attempted to attract attention to his wares via the visual design of his advertisement in the Boston Weekly News-Letter. Eighteenth-century advertisers often listed an assortment of goods that comprised their inventory, informing potential customers of a vast array of choices to suit their tastes and budgets. Most merchants and shopkeepers who published such advertisements simply listed their merchandise in dense paragraphs. Others experimented, perhaps with the encouragement of printers and compositors who better understood the possibilities, with arranging their goods in columns, listing only one or two items per line, in order to make the entire advertisement easier for readers to peruse.

Usually list-style advertisements broken into columns featured only two columns, but Fletcher’s advertisement in the June 16, 1768, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter had three, distinguishing it from others that appeared in the same publication that week. (Fletcher’s advertisement was the only one divided into columns in the Boston Weekly News-Letter, but two others in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette used columns to organize “A great Variety of English and India Goods.” For the purposes of this examination of these advertisements, I have classified Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette and the Boston Weekly News-Letter as only one publication because they were printed on a single broadsheet folded in half to create four pages, two of which comprised Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette and the other two the Boston Weekly News-Letter. Whether the boundaries between the two were permeable when it came to inserting advertisements requires further investigation, but Draper printed both and the same compositors presumably set type for both.) Caleb Blanchard and Samuel Eliot inserted lengthy advertisements that extensively listed scores of items, each advertisement divided down the middle to create two columns. Other newspapers published in Boston in the late 1760s often included advertisements that used this format, making it familiar to readers in the city and its hinterlands. Very rarely, however, did advertisements feature three columns.

As a result, the visual aspects of Fletcher’s advertisement made it stand out from others, even if nothing else about the list of goods distinguished it from the notices placed by his competitors. Fletcher made a brief appeal to price, noting that he “Sells cheap for Cash,” but primarily relied on the graphic design of his advertisement to direct readers to his advertisement as part of his effort to convince potential customers to visit his shop “Near the Draw-Bridge, BOSTON.”

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:27:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (May 27, 1768).

“A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.”

Isaac Beers and Elias Beers sold a variety of goods at their shop in New Haven. In the spring of 1768 they enumerated many of their wares in an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal, listing textiles and adornments that ranged from “blue, bluegrey, and blossom colour’d German Serges” to “A very large Assortment of Buttons, Bindings, and all kind of Trimmings for Mens Cloathes” to “A genteel Assortment of the newest fashion’d Ribbons.” They stocked grocery items, including tea, cofeem and sugar, as well as “Pigtail Tobacco” and snuff.

Although they were not booksellers or stationers, the Beers included writing supplies and books among their inventory. Like other shopkeepers, they carried “Writing Paper” and wax wafers for making seals. They also sold bibles and spelling books as well as “A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.” (Although that portion of the advertisement has been damaged in the copy of the May 27, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal seen above, the same advertisement appeared the next week in an issue that has not been damaged.)

The Beers did not need to provide any further explanation for prospective customers to identify the pamphlet that contained all twelve of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” previously printed and reprinted in newspapers throughout the colonies, starting in December 1767 and continuing into the spring of 1768. In these “Letters,” Dickinson, under the pseudonym of “A Farmer,” presented a dozen essays that explained how Parliament overstepped its authority in passing the Townshend Act and other measures that usurped the authority of colonial legislatures. He encouraged colonists to resist Parliament’s designs or risk even greater abuses.

Upon completion of the series, industrious printers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia collected all twelve “Letters” in pamphlets. Printers and booksellers in several colonies advertised that they sold the “Letters,” but supplying the public with that pamphlet was not the province of the book trade alone. Shopkeepers like the Beers purchased “A few” copies to retail alongside general merchandise in their own shops, considering the “Letters” significant enough to merit particular mention in their advertisements. In so doing, they assisted in disseminating some of the arguments that eventually transformed resistance into a revolution. The choices they made as retailers and advertisers helped to shape the rhetoric of the Revolution.

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (May 23, 1768).

Those who will favor him with their Custom may always depend upon being as well used as at any Store or Shop in Town.”

Shopkeeper William Bant advertised in a very crowded marketplace. Residents of Boston encountered shops and stores practically everywhere they went as they traversed the city in the late 1760s. They also experienced a vibrant culture of advertising for consumer goods and services in the pages of the several newspapers published in the city. Some of those newspapers so overflowed with advertisements that the publishers regularly distributed supplements to accompany the regular issues. As the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century continued in Boston, Bant was just one of countless merchandisers attempting to entice prospective customers to patronize his shop.

As part of that effort, he inserted a relatively brief advertisement in the May 23, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. In it, he announced that he stocked “A general Assortment of English and India GOODS.” Unlike many other shopkeepers, however, Bant did not provide a list of his inventory. On the following page, Thomas Lee’s advertisement extended one-third of a column and listed dozens of imported goods he offered for sale. Jonathan and John Amory’s advertisement was twice as long and listed even more merchandise. John Gore, Jr., inserted an advertisement of a similar length, though its list of goods appeared even more crowded due to graphic design choices made by the compositor.

How did Bant attempt to compete with merchants and shopkeepers who invested in so much more space for promoting their wares in the public prints? He left the details of his “general Assortment” of goods to the imagination, instead opting to emphasize customer service. He pledged that “those who will favor him with their Custom may always depend upon being as well used as at any Store or Shop in Town.” Bant did not promise merely satisfactory service; he proclaimed that the service he provided was unsurpassed in the busy marketplace of Boston. He did not need to overwhelm prospective customers with dense and extensive lists of all the items they could purchase in his shop. Instead, he invited them to imagine the experience of shopping and interacting with the purveyors of the goods they desired. Just as merchandisers competed with each other for customers, consumers sometimes competed with each other for the attention of merchants and shopkeepers. Bant presumed that shoppers sometimes experienced frustration when they dealt with retailers. In turn, he assured prospective customers that they would not be disappointed in the service they received at his shop.

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.