August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (August 4, 1766).

“All those who owe small trifling Debts, must discharge them before the End of August.”

Thomas Davidson wanted to settle accounts and catch up on his bookkeeping. To those ends he published an advertisement with a timetable for customers to pay their debts. Those with “small trifling Debts” had four weeks (“before the End of August”) to pay up, while others who owed more substantial amounts had nearly twice as long (“before the latter End of September next”). Davisdon warned that customers in both categories needed to be punctual or else he would take a step he considered “very disagreeable.” He threatened to sue those who did not heed his call to pay what they owed.

Davidson preferred cash, but he was more interested in settling accounts. If necessary, he was willing to accept a variety of goods that his customers presumably produced on their own farms: “Wheat, Rye, Indian-Corn or Pork.” Cash, credit, and barter all served as modes of exchange in the economy of colonial Connecticut as buyers and sellers negotiated final reckonings for their exchanges.

Although the primary purpose of Davidson’s advertisement seems to have been settling accounts, he also sought to generate more business. After warning customers with outstanding debts that he would sue them “without further Notice,” he announced that he sold “WEST-INDIA RUM, by the Hogshead, or smaller Quantity.” Apparently he did not want to find himself in a similar situation with prospective sales. He declared that he sold the rum “for Cash only.” Such was the tradeoff for purchasing the rum “very cheap.” Customers had to pay in cash.

Eighteenth-century account books, ledgers, and letters are the best sources for revealing business practices of merchants and shopkeepers, but advertisements often provide useful supplements that also demonstrate the public face that entrepreneurs presented to customers and their communities.

February 22

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Feb 22 - 2:17:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (February 17, 1766).

“The above Goods will be sold … for Cash or Country Produce.”

It is interesting that Davidson starts his advertisement assuring his potential customers that the “neat assortment of English and East-India Goods [were] suitable for the season.” He is letting them know that the products he was currently carrying could be used immediately and did not need to be stored until their use was required.

Davidson also mentioned that if people did not have cash on hand he would be more than happy to barter. He even went beyond mentioning his openness to bartering; he listed specific items that he would accept in lieu of cash. He would have accepted country produce and a list of other products that costumers from the town would likely have gotten from another source or grown themselves.

By accepting items other than cash in exchange for goods, he interested a larger audience because hard currency was not as common at this time. Davidson appealed to a larger constituency than if he had advertised cash only.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Mary notes that Davidson described his stock of “A Neat Assortment of English and East-India Goods” as “suitable for the Season.” This was one of many appeals the shopkeeper incorporated into his advertisement, along with mentioning price, quality, and the possibility of bartering. This advertisement also includes several stock phrases, including “Neat Assortment” and “suitable for the Season,” among its attempts to woo potential customers.

Davidson inserted one element that did not always appear in eighteenth-century advertisements: the date. While it was not exceptional for an advertiser to include a date, it was not the standard practice either. In this case, the date of the advertisement matched the date of the issue in which it appeared. (The type would have been set and the newspaper printed before February 17, so most likely Davidson intentionally specified that the date of his commercial notice would bear the same date as the issue in which it appeared.) Davidson, like other newspaper readers of the period, would have realized that sometimes an advertisement might be repeated for weeks or even months. Including the date in his advertisement buttressed his claim that his “Assortment of English and East-India Goods” was indeed “suitable for the Season,” or at least allowed readers and potential customers to better assess that claim.