September 10

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

Connecticut Courant (September 10, 1771).

“The Staffordshire and Liverpool Ware House, In King Stret BOSTON.”

As summer turned to fall in 1771, Ebenezer Bridgham, the proprietor of the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Ware House” on King Street in Boston, attempted to cultivate a regional reputation for his store.  Not content seeking customers in Boston and the surrounding towns, he also placed advertisements in newspapers published in other places in New England. On September 7, for instance, he inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette, informing prospective customers that he stocked “a very large and elegant Assortment of China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware” that he imported “directly from the several Manufacturers in Staffordshire and Liverpool.”  Three days later, the same advertisement also ran in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, and the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  Bridgham disseminated information about the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse far more widely than if he had placed his notice solely in the several newspapers published in Boston.  To entice customers in towns throughout New England to place orders from his store, he pledged to part with his wares “as low as they were ever sold in America.”

Essex Gazette (September 10, 1771).

The appearance of Bridgham’s advertisement in several newspapers demonstrated a division of responsibilities in the creation of marketing materials in the eighteenth century.  As the advertiser, Bridgham supplied the copy.  The composition, however, made decisions about the format.  In each newspaper, the graphic design of Bridgham’s advertisement looked consistent with other paid notices in that publication.  In the Essex Gazette, for example, the advertisement promoted “a very large and elegant Assortment of CHINA, GLASS, DELPH and STONE WARE,” the various categories of goods in capital letters.  Other advertisements in the Essex Gazette also featured key words in all capitals.  On the other hand, notices in the Connecticut Courant did not tend utilize that means of drawing attention to particular goods, reserving capitals for names of advertisers and towns.  Similarly, “Staffordshire” and “Liverpool” appeared in italics in the headline in the Essex Gazette, but “King Street” appeared in italics in the Connecticut Courant.  The compositors made decisions independently when they set type.  As a result, Bridgham’s advertisement had variations in design, but not copy, when it ran in multiple newspapers.

September 7

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

Providence Gazette (September 7, 1771).

“Sell at least as low as they were ever sold on the Continent of America.”

Some merchants and shopkeepers named their businesses after the signs that marked their locations, but relatively few chose other sorts of names.  E. Bridgham of Boston was one of those exceptions, advertising that he operated the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse” on King Street in Boston.  Bridgham sold, as the name suggested, goods imported “directly from the several Manufacturers in Staffordshire and Liverpool,” including “China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware.”

Bridgham was an enterprising entrepreneur in other ways as well.  He sought to cultivate customers from beyond Boston and the surrounding towns.  He placed his advertisement for the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse in the September 7, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  With the exception of printers looking to drum up business for proposed publications via subscription notices inserted in newspapers published in multiple colonies, most purveyors of goods confined their advertising to local newspapers.  At the time, Bridgham had five newspapers to choose among in Boston, all of them distributed beyond the bustling port.

Yet Bridgham imagined a larger market for his merchandise, placing himself in competition with merchants and shopkeepers in Providence as well as Boston.  To convince prospective customers in Rhode Island that they should purchase from him rather than shop more locally, he proclaimed that he was “able, and fully inclined, to sell at least as low” as similar imported goods “were ever sold on the Continent of America.”  He attempted to use low prices to lure customers, promising bargains that compared not only to any they might encounter in Boston or Providence but also New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and everywhere else.  Bridgham suggested he set prices low enough to justify the additional effort of acquiring goods from his shop in Boston for those who resided at a distance and had other options in their vicinity.

The Providence Gazette regularly carried advertisements for shops located in Rhode Island, western Connecticut, and southeastern Massachusetts, but rarely did merchants and shopkeepers from Boston advertise in that newspaper.  E. Bridgam apparently felt that the four shillings the printer charged to run the advertisement for three weeks might yield a return on his investment by enhancing the visibility of the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse and attracting new customers from Providence.

July 31

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (July 29, 1771).

“Now Selling very Cheap.”

In the decades prior to the American Revolution, purveyors of goods and services regularly incorporated appeals to price into their advertisements.  They did so often enough, in fact, that many delivered appeals to price in standardized or formulaic language in their newspaper notices.  In the July 29, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, Joseph Gardener informed prospective customers that he sold a variety of textiles “at the very lowest Rates” and “upon the most reasonable Terms.”  Those phrases frequently appeared in the introductions and conclusions to advertisements, before and after lists of goods that demonstrated the choices available to consumers.

Some advertisers, on the other hand, experimented with other means of enticing customers with low prices.  The proprietors of the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse in King-Street” stocked a “General Assortment of Ironmongery, Braziery and Cutlery Ware.”  To attract attention, they made their appeal to price the headline for the entire advertisement: “Now Selling very Cheap.”  Near the end of the advertisement, the proprietors also stated that their inventory “will be Sold much lower than those Articles are usually Sold in this place.”

The headline appeared in the largest font and preceded everything else in the advertisement.  Other headlines tended to focus on the advertiser or the merchandise.  For instance, “Joshua Gardner” appeared in the largest font in that advertisement, as did “Richard Clarke & Son” in an advertisement for tea, spices, and other groceries.  Another advertisement bore a headline proclaiming “IRISH LINNENS” for sale at Bethune and Prince’s store.  On the same page, the headline for Joseph Mann’s advertisement drew attention to the “CHOCOLATE” he ground and sold.  Another advertisement for a stolen anchor demanded inspection with a headline that promised “Eight Dollars Reward.”

The proprietors of the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse recognized an opportunity to deviate from the usual practices concerning headlines in newspaper advertisements.  They made low prices the focal point of their notice with a headline, attempting to hook readers with that appeal and encourage them to examine the rest of the advertisement in greater detail.  Even when advertisements consisted entirely of text without images, advertisers and printers experimented with graphic design to deliver messages to consumers.