October 20

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

Oct 20 - 10:20:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 20, 1767).

“If the linen is not liked, it will be taken back again, if not abused, and the money returned.”

In the fall of 1767 John McDonnell advertised “A Parcel of choice IRISH LINENS” in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. To entice potential buyers he resorted to several marketing appeals. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he underscored price. Indeed, he mentioned low prices even before naming the merchandise, first stating that customers could acquire his wares “at as low an advance as can be bought for in London” and only then revealing that he sold linens. Even though they had been transported across the Atlantic that did not raise the cost he charged for Irish linens in Charleston; local buyers enjoyed the same prices as their counterparts in faraway London. In addition, McDonnell pledged that he would not be undercut by any of his competitors, vowing to sell his linens “as cheaper than any in town.”

McDonnell also offered another opportunity for a potential customer to enjoy a discount, provided they had a willingness to purchase in bulk. “[A]ny merchant inclinable to purchase the whole,” he proclaimed, “will meet with a bargain.” McDonnell understood that he stood to generate greater revenues by selling his entire inventory at a reduced price than gradually selling smaller lots and perhaps ending up with surplus linens that never sold. (He was also willing to barter with customers who bought in bulk, accepting rice rather than cash.)

Yet emphasizing the low price was not the only marketing strategy McDonnell advanced in his advertisement. He also offered a money-back guarantee: “If the linen is not liked, it will be taken back again, if not abused, and the money returned.” He did stipulate one condition, that he would only accept returns and pay refunds if unsatisfied customers returned the merchandise in the same condition they purchased it. He needed to protect his own interests even as he proposed an arrangement that worked in potential customers’ favor.

Relying exclusively on text without images, McDonnell constructed a vibrant advertisement to convince readers to purchase his imported Irish linens. He made nods toward quality and customer service, but repeatedly emphasized low prices and bargains for consumers. If that was not enough to attract buyers, he also provided additional assurances about quality via an innovative money-back guarantee. Readers had nothing to lose if they gave McDonnell and his linens a chance.

October 13

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

Oct 13 - 10:13:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 13, 1767).

“THE famous new-invented STOMACH PILLS, prepared by JAMES SPEEDIMAN.”

Colonial shopkeepers and apothecaries frequently advertised a variety of imported remedies, especially patent medicines with names widely recognized by consumers. The “new-invented” pills for stomach ailments “prepared by JAMES SPEEDIMAN” did not have that advantage. Since they were mostly unfamiliar to local customers, William Williamson had to put special effort into marketing them in the fall of 1767.

He first established that patients in other places, especially England, had embraced Speediman’s “STOMACH PILLS.” The proprietor had been granted “HIS MAJESTY’S ROYAL LETTERS-PATENT.” In addition, Williamson assured potential customers that “those Pills are found effectual” by patients on the other side of the Atlantic. They had earned a positive reputation and were “approved of in Great-Britain.” Williamson mobilized both bureaucratic approbation and public consensus as endorsements of Speediman’s pills.

Yet local consumers did not need to trust solely William’s representation of how the pills had been received in England. He reported that he had brought a few boxes to South Carolina the previous year, “upon Trial” for his customers. After he distributed them, “they proved so beneficial to sundry Persons who used them” that patients wanted more of them and made “very frequent Applications” for them. This convinced Williamson to acquire a greater quantity, which had just arrived in port. Although Williamson did not provide testimonials, he did suggest that local consumers could verify that Speediman’s pills had worked for them.

In order to sell these stomach pills, Williamson also created a sense of exclusivity. He noted that Speediman made them available to him “by particular Appointment,” selecting him – “and him only” – to sell the pills in South Carolina. To substantiate the authenticity of the pills, Williamson delivered them with “printed Directions” that had been “signed with the Proprietor’s own Hand.” Advertisers sometimes indicated that other medicines came with printed directions and other marketing material, but rarely did they have such an immediate connection to “the Proprietor.” This also contributed to forging an aura of exclusivity.

William Williamson had a relatively new product, one not yet familiar to most consumers in his local marketplace. Colonists were already familiar with other patent medicines, with other brands, and their effects so he needed to convince them to give Speediman’s stomach pills a chance. To do so, he stressed that their effectiveness had made them popular in England, but emphasized that they were not yet widely available in South Carolina. Due to an exclusive contract, local consumers could obtain them only from him.

October 6

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

Oct 6 - 10:6:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 6, 1767).

“All GENTLEMEN may therefore save themselves a great deal of trouble.”

John Ward, a tailor, advanced a variety of marketing appeals in his advertisement aimed at “All GENTLEMEN” in Charleston, but convenience was foremost among them. Ward detailed how he imported textiles and “trimmings of all colours.” Clients did not need to obtain fabrics from shopkeepers and then contract with a tailor to make their garments. Ward considered that system “a great deal of trouble.” By constructing clothing from the materials he sold in his workshop, Ward saved his customers all of the hassle of going from shop to shop. This also streamlined the process because clients had only one bill rather than “so many different bills for their clothes.” Furthermore, Ward offered the convenience of knowing exactly how much his garments cost, making it unnecessary for prospective customers to do all kinds of tabulations based on which materials they might purchase from which retailers. Ward announced that he “fixes the price of a suit of clothes … from FORTY-FIVE to FIFTY POUNDS currency a suit.”

Realizing that all of this convenience mattered little if the price did not match the rates set by competitors or if potential clients suspected inferior quality, Ward made certain to address those concerns. His supplier on the other side of the Atlantic, described as “as good a judge [of dry goods] as any in England,” purchased the textiles and trimmings “upon the very best terms.” This, in turn, allowed Ward “to sell much lower than the common advance.” Customers who wished to acquire fabrics got a deal when they bought from Ward rather than local shopkeepers. Those who also wanted those fabrics made into garments could “have their clothes made near as cheap as can be sent from England.” Ward acknowledged a slight premium for the convenience he provided, presumably a price worth paying to work directly with a local tailor who could take his own measurements and make adjustments and repairs on the spot. In terms of quality, he also used superlatives to describe his materials: “best superfine London dress’d BROAD-CLOTHS,” “superfine plush,” and “the very best of silk and worsted breeches pieces.”

John Ward marketed convenience in acquiring materials, having garments made, and paying bills, but not at the cost of other considerations important to prospective clients. As he promoted convenience, he simultaneously made traditional appeals to price and quality to reassure skeptical consumers.

September 29

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

Sep 29 - 9:29:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 29, 1767).

“They daily expect by the NANCY, Capt. JORDAN, from London, two very large and compleat assortments of goods.”

Like many merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies, Atkins and Weston indicated the source of their inventory in their newspaper advertisement. They informed readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that that had “just imported from LONDON, per the Captains BALL, RAINIER, and ALEXANDER, a variety of Goods.” This was boilerplate, part of a formula for the first sentence of many advertisements, but it became a standard part of marketing in eighteenth-century America because it addressed several factors that motivated colonists to participate in a transatlantic consumer revolution.

In proclaiming that they “just imported from LONDON … a variety of Goods,” Atkins and Weston framed the remainder of their advertisement for potential customers. They promised consumer choice among the “variety of Goods” before listing many of them to demonstrate the point. They emphasized a sense of shared identity among residents of the empire’s largest and most cosmopolitan city and colonists in Charleston, South Carolina, and its hinterlands. (Note that the partners operated two shops, one in Charleston and the other in Stono.) Their customers participate in the same “empire of goods” distributed in England. They also asserted that their merchandise was timely, implying that it corresponded to current fashions. An ocean separated consumers in London and Charleston, but this did not have to prevent colonists from keeping up with current tastes and styles.

In addition, listing which captains (and, sometimes, which vessels) delivered the goods to the colonial port allowed for readers to confirm that the merchandise had indeed been acquired recently rather than sitting on shelves or in storage for an extended period. At least some readers would know when certain ships had arrived at port, but any reader could browse the shipping news, usually printed immediately before the advertisements, to learn when ships had entered and departed the harbor.

Atkins and Weston developed an enhancement to this standard introduction. Later in their advertisement they reported that “they daily expect by the NANCY, Capt. JORDAN, from London, two very large and compleat assortments of goods, … and regular importations in future.” Not only did they incite demand for their current inventory, they also encouraged potential customers to anticipate the new wares that would soon become available via the Nancy. Furthermore, promises of “regular importations in future” revealed their confidence in their supply chain while also conditioning readers to assume that Atkins and Weston frequently updated their merchandise even without being exposed to subsequent advertising.

September 22

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

Sep 22 - 9:22:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 22, 1767).

“Yorkshire stuffs, fit for house negroe’s gowns.”

John Davies frequently placed advertisements in Charleston’s newspapers in the 1760s, promoting the “Great variety of sundry merchandize” he imported from England and Ireland. His commercial notices incorporated fairly sophisticated marketing methods. In today’s advertisements, for instance, he offered a discount on Irish linens (“15 per cent. under the common advance”) and “no charge of commissions” because his supply chain eliminated middlemen and buying in credit. To obtain his ware, he “bought of the manufacturers with cash.” Unlike most other advertisers, he specified prices for some of his inventory, including “Yorkshire stuffs … at 8s. 9d. the yard” and blue and white plains at 10s. per yard,” which allowed potential customers to engage in comparison shopping before visiting Davies’s “store in Beadon’s Alley.”

All of these factors made Davies’s advertisements noteworthy, but another element also merits attention for what it reveals about life in eighteenth-century South Carolina. Davies lived and worked in a slave society. In distinguishing between slave societies and societies with slaves, the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative defines slave societies as settlements “where slavery stood at the center of politics, the economy, labor experiences, and social identities. Slaveholders made up the ruling class in these areas and the master-slave relationship shaped all aspects of society and daily life.” (In societies with slaves, on the other hand, “the institution of slavery was relatively peripheral to local economies and white social status.”)

Davies’s advertisement reveals just one of the many ways that slavery shaped commerce and everyday life in colonial South Carolina. Those Yorkshire stuffs that Davies sold at the low price of eight shillings and nine pence per yard were “fit for house negroe’s gowns.” Davies realized that many potential customers owned slaves, some of whom worked in domestic service rather than laboring to raise rice, indigo, or other agricultural commodities. He directed customers to take note of a textile appropriate for clothing enslaved women who worked in the home, a fabric fitting to their station (as opposed to the “negroe cloth” often advertised to clothe most other enslaved men, women, and children) but that also testified to the status of slaveholders who assigned some of their human property to domestic service. Slaveholders needed a fabric that was fine enough, but not too fine, to reflect well on them should visitors glimpse their domestic “servants” at work. He gave that part of the local culture only casual acknowledgment, making no fanfare or otherwise distinguishing that particular appeal from the rest of the advertisement. Instead, the “Yorkshire stuffs, fit for house negroe’s gowns” were sandwiched between descriptions of other textiles.

A nota bene, however, did stand out from the remainder of Davies’s advertisement. In it, he informed readers that “A young Negro Fellow, who is a good Cook, is wanted on hire.” This notice was unrelated to the “Great variety of sundry merchandize” Davies sold at his store, yet he apparently did not believe that it merited a separate advertisement. Instead, he appended it to an advertisement for his business. His own arrangements for domestic labor performed by an enslaved man merged with a commercial notice intended to entice customers to make purchases from him. The institution of slavery was inseparable from commerce and domestic life in Davies’s advertisement.

September 15

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

Sep 15 - 9:15:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 15, 1767).

“HESTER is now become a sole trader.”

Throughout the eighteenth century the laws of coverture prevented most married women in Britain’s American colonies from operating businesses independently of their husbands. Upon marriage, the wife became a feme covert, her legal rights and obligations subsumed by her husband. Married women were barred from owning property and could not make contracts or sign legal documents in their own names. They also could not incur debts; instead, husbands were responsible for financial obligations their wives initiated (which helps to explain why so many advertisements for runaway wives stated that husbands would not pay any debts the absent wives contracted; it was a means of exercising control). A feme covert was literally “covered” by her husband in a legal fiction that the two had become one person. An unmarried woman, known as a feme sole, on the other hand, had not surrendered those rights. Single and widowed women operated businesses without the permission or oversight of husbands, but in most colonies married women did not have that option.

The colonial governments in Pennsylvania and South Carolina, however, did pass feme sole trader laws that allowed married women to conduct business in their own names, assuming all the risks yet exercising all the responsibilities. South Carolina passed two such laws, first in 1712 and again in 1744. According to the Elizabeth Murray Project, “the title of the 1712 law suggests that it was designed to make married women traders more responsible for their own debts.” The 1744 expanded on that purpose by offering certain protections to married businesswomen, especially allowing for “women to sue debtors in their own names.”

In the late summer of 1767 Hester Fulcker became an entrepreneur in her own right, but only after receiving permission from her husband. Henry Fulcker placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal announcing that Hester “is now become a sole trader by his consent.” Accordingly, “any body may trust her as such on her separate account, independent of him.” This gave Hester greater freedom to operate her business, but it also shielded Henry from any financial liability if she failed. Compared to married women in most other colonies, Hester Fulcker experienced significantly greater opportunities for participating in the marketplace as a retailer and supplier rather than solely as a consumer, thanks to her feme sole trader status.

September 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 8, 1767).

“Checks by the piece so low as 4s. 6d.”

Robert and Nathaniel Stott advertised a “General assortment” of textiles they imported from Liverpool to Charleston. They informed readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that they carried “checks, striped hollands, handkerchiefs; India dimothies, figured and plain; counterpanes, black velvets, velverets and jenets” that they “bought from the manufacturers.” Revealing their supply chain allowed the Stotts to more convincingly make an appeal to price. For readers who approached their advertisement with healthy skepticism, the Stotts explained that they could indeed sell imported fabrics for “much lower than the usual advance” because they did not procure their merchandise through fellow merchants on the other side of the Atlantic. Instead, they eliminated the middlemen, reducing prices for their customers in the process.

To demonstrate the veracity of their claim, the Stotts quoted a specific price for checks: “by the piece so low as 4s. 6d. per yard.” Consumers already familiar with the going rate for checks could assess for themselves what kind of bargain the Stotts offered, but those were not the only prospective customers who benefitted. The Stotts made it easier for all readers to compare prices when visiting local competitors, a process that might cause shoppers to visit the Stotts to purchase other items as well. After all, they sold “other widths in proportion” to the low prices for checks and other fabrics “upon very reasonable terms.”

Most eighteenth-century merchants and shopkeepers did not indicate specific prices in their advertisements, though significant numbers made general statements about their “low rates” or deployed other formulaic language. On its own, the Stotts’ invocation of “very reasonable terms” fit that trend, but committing to a specific price – four shillings and six pence per yard – distinguished their advertisement from others by making a concrete promise to consumers. The Stotts replaced vague reassurances with tangible evidence in their efforts to increase sales at their store in Beadon’s Alley.