April 4

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 4, 1771).

“Too many Articles to be enumerated.”

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently published extensive advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Those advertisements served as catalogs of their inventory, listing all sorts of goods they offered for sale.  Both the length and the number of entries communicated the array of choices available to consumers.  In the April 4, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, Joshua Gardner inserted an advertisement that filled half a column.  In a dense paragraph, he enumerated scores of “ENGLISH GOODS,” everything from textiles and trimmings to housewares and hardware.  Like many of his peers, he concluded with a promise of “sundry other articles” that would not fit in his advertisement.

Other advertisers did not describe the scope of their wares in such detail.  Some, like Ebenezer Storer, merely stated that they had on hand an “Assortment of GOODS” and invited prospective customers to visit their shops to see for themselves.  Others provided a preview of their merchandise, but dismissed the long lists published by competitors.  Margaret Newman and Robert Hall both took that approach.  Newman promoted her “neat Assortment of English & India GOODS” as well as an “Assortment of Paper Hangings, Felt Hats, Cutlery Ware,” and textiles.  Reiterating “Assortment” underscored choices for consumers, so many choices that a newspaper advertisement could not contain all of them.  Newman proclaimed that she could not even attempt to list her goods because they “Consist[ed] of too many Articles to be enumerated.”  In his advertisement for a “fresh Parcel of Garden Seeds” and a “Collection of the Best Kind of Fruit-Trees,” Hall insisted that he had “too many Sorts to be inserted in an Advertisement.”  Most of his competitors who placed advertisements in the same issue listed dozens of seeds or trees.

Both Newman and Hall suggested that they carried the same variety of goods as their competitors who published long lists of merchandise.  Their insistence that they had “too many Articles to be enumerated” even implied that they might offer more choices than their competitors who provided extensive accounts of their inventory, such a vast array that they could not select only some to appear in their advertisements.  Publishing shorter advertisements may have been motivated by financial concerns, but advertisers like Newman and Hall devised ways of making the length work to their advantage.

January 5

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

Providence Gazette (January 5, 1771).

“A variety of other articles too tedious to mention.”

Shopkeepers Ebenezer Thompson and James Arnold placed a lengthy advertisement for a “GOOD assortment of English and India Goods” in the January 5, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The partners deployed a familiar format, a prologue that gave general information about their enterprise followed by an extensive inventory of their merchandise. The prologue listed their names and location, identified which ship had recently delivered their wares, and promised “the very lowest Rates” or prices for their customers.

Some advertisers, like Nicholas Brown and Company, Joseph and William Russell, and Thurber and Cahoon limited their advertisements to the information in the prologue, but Thompson and Arnold reasoned that if they demonstrated the range of choices available to consumers that they would attract more customers.  As a result, their advertisement filled half a column, enumerating dozens of textiles as well as everything from “womens black worsted gloves and mitts” to “horn and ivory combs” to “temple and common spectacles” to “leather bellows.”  Thompson and Arnold focused primarily on garments and trimmings, but also indicated that they stocked housewares and hardware.

After cataloging so many items, the shopkeepers concluded with a note that they carried “a variety of other articles too tedious to mention.”  Like the lengthy list, that was also a marketing strategy frequently employed by advertisers who wished to suggest that they provided such a vast array of choices that it was not possible to name all of them.  This enhanced the invitation for consumers to visit their shops by providing both certainty about some of the merchandise and opportunities for further discovery.  Thompson and Arnold demonstrated that they carried an assortment of goods to satisfy customers, but also allowed for some surprises that could make the experience of shopping even more pleasurable for prospective customers who took the time to examine their wares.

Thompson and Arnold certainly paid more for their advertisement than their competitors did for their notices.  Five that consisted solely of the material from the prologue filled the same amount of space as Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement on its own.  Yet the more extensive advertisement may very well have been worth the investment.  Not only did it give consumers a better sense of the goods that Thompson and Arnold carried, its length made it more visible on the page and suggested the prosperity and competence of the shopkeepers.

November 19

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

Nov 19 - 11:19:1767 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 19, 1767).

“New fancied Goods too tedious to mention.”

Upon importing a “Large Assortment of MILLENARY,” M. Philips turned to the pages of the New-York Journal to advertise her wares. Unlike many other shopkeepers, she did not attempt to incite demand by indicating particular items in her inventory. In the two advertisements immediately above, for instance, Garrat Noel and James Nixon both listed dozens of items they peddled. Compared to Philips, both made a more significant investment in marketing. The newspaper’s colophon indicated that “Advertisements of a moderate Length are inserted for Five shilling, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.” Printer John Holt did not specify what qualified as moderate length, but he almost certainly charged Noel and Nixon more for their notices. Nixon’s advertisement occupied twice as much space as Philips’s relatively brief advertisement. Noel’s was five times as long. Featuring two columns of merchandise, it also involved much more complicated typography (though the advertising rates in the colophon do not indicate any additional fees for such services).

Even though Philips did not attempt to entice potential customers with an extensive list of the items on her shelves, she aimed to convince them that they would encounter an array of choices in her shop. First she stated that she had imported a “Large Assortment.” Then she described her inventory as a “great Variety.” It was such a “great Variety” that the particulars were “too tedious to mention” in an advertisement. In making that claim, Philips resorted to a strategy sometimes deployed by other merchants and shopkeepers, though some placed the phrase at the end of a list as a means of assuring readers that they had not exhaustively enumerated their wares. Prospective customers could still encounter some surprises in their shops.

Philips may have also benefited from the proximity of her advertisement to Noel’s. At the top of the column, Noel announced that he had imported goods from London via Captain Lawrence and the New-York. Philips also reported that she had “just imported” her millenary supplies and fancy goods “in the Ship New-York, Captain Lawrence, from London.” As a result, some readers may have associated the types of goods listed by Noel with the “newest and genteelest” merchandise in Philips’s shop. Noel’s advertisement primed readers to think of particular items. Philips then allowed them to conjure images of those and other “fancied Goods” at her store on Smith Street.