July 11

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

Jul 11 - 7:11:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 11, 1768).

“To be Particular in the different Species of said Assortment, would be Tedious.”

When Nathaniel Bird opened a new store on Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island, in the summer of 1768, he stocked it with “a very large and general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS, suitable for the Season.” Unlike many of his competitors in Newport and counterparts in other colonial cities and towns, Bird did not insert a list of merchandise in his advertisement as a demonstration of the vast choices available to prospective customers. Instead, he adopted a different strategy, one that was less common though not unknown. He advised readers that “To be Particular in the different Species of said Assortment, would be Tedious, and of Course Impertinent with the Publick.” He critiqued one of the standard practices of eighteenth-century advertising for consumer goods, the litany of items offered for sale. Depriving readers and potential customers of an extensive list, he argued, was actually a virtue. His advertisement did not intrude in the public prints any more than necessary to advise the residents of Newport and the surrounding area that he stocked an assortment of imported goods. This method also had the advantage of prompting readers to imagine how long the list might have been if Bird had instead chosen to publish it, an exercise that perhaps conjured consumer choice better than explicitly naming specific articles.

In the absence of a litany of goods, Bird developed other strategies for marketing his wares. He informed prospective customers that he “imports all his Goods direct from the Manufactories.” Some readers may have been skeptical about his ability to acquire everything in his “very large and general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” directly from the producers, but others likely focused on the purpose of this pronouncement. Bird claimed that he eliminated English merchants and other middlemen who drove up prices. This was one factor that allowed him to sell his merchandise “very low, or as cheap as at Boston, or any of the other Governments.” Comparing prices in Newport to those in Boston was a particular concern of the smaller port’s merchants and shopkeepers at the time. Two columns over from Bird’s advertisement, Stephen Deblois, Jr., asserted that he sold similar goods “on as low Terms as they can be had at any Shop or Store in Boston.” Deblois also refrained from publishing a list that enumerated his inventory, but he did not offer any commentary of the sort Bird espoused concerning that decision.

Bird’s critique of list-style advertisements may have garnered additional attention for his own notice. Did consumers consider it an effective appeal? That cannot be determined from the advertisement alone, but Bird’s boldness in making the statement suggests an interest in playing with the accepted forms as a means of engaging prospective customers who might otherwise pass over advertisements that did not seem to offer any content out of the ordinary. Bird’s terse comments made his advertisement memorable, if nothing else.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:10:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 10, 1768).

“The Particulars would be too tedious to insert in an Advertisement.”

William Appleton, a frequent advertiser in the New-Hampshire Gazette, promoted “A very valuable Collection of BOOKS & STATIONARY” in the June 10, 1768, edition. Appleton did not deploy to a marketing strategy frequently used by booksellers and others who stocked books and stationery in their advertisements published in newspapers throughout the colonies: inserting an extensive list of the titles available and the various sorts of paper and other writing accouterments. Instead, he simply stated that “The Particulars would be too tedious to insert in an Advertisement.” Appleton left it to the imaginations of prospective customers to conjure his wares. He encouraged their curiosity, hoping that he had sufficiently enticed potential patrons to visit his shop.

By the time readers encountered Appleton’s advertisement on the final page of the June 10 issue, they had likely noticed Richard Champney’s lengthy advertisement, extending two-thirds of a column, listing scores of goods on the first page. Elsewhere on the same page as his notice, Thomas Martin ran an advertisement approximately twice as long as Appleton’s, most of it devoted to naming his merchandise. Martin stocked everything from “Loaf Sugar” to “Childrens Shoes and Stockings” to Hollow Iron Ware.” Two advertisements of similar length flanked Appleton’s notice on the right and left. Even in those Henry Appleton enumerated more than a dozen items and Peter Pearce twice that number. Presenting consumers with an array of options intended to please and entertain accounted for one of the most popular marketing strategies in eighteenth-century advertising.

Appleton made a nod in that direction in the second half of his advertisement, noting that he also sold “Silver WATCHES of the best sort – Silver & gilt Shoe and Knee BUCKLES, NECKLASSES, and EARINGS, for the Ladies.” This, however, was a truncated list. Appleton concluded by more broadly invoking “a general Assortment of Jewelry Ware, &c. &c. &c.” Once again, he encouraged prospective customers to imagine the possible treasures among his inventory when he inserted the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera (&c.) three times in succession.

Appleton operated his business in a crowded marketplace. To distinguish his advertisement from others, he departed from one of the most common strategies for inciting demand among potential customers. His competitors and others provided lists of their inventory; no matter how lengthy, however, those lists seemed starkly finite compared to Appleton’s assertion that “The Particulars would be too tedious to insert in an Advertisement.” He made an appeal to consumer choice that required purchasing less rather than more space in his local newspaper.