August 18

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

Essex Gazette (August 18, 1772).

“His utmost Abilities will be exerted to give Satisfaction to his Customers.”

In August 1772, George Deblois alerted readers of the Essex Gazette that he “has received, in the last Ships from LONDON, and has now for SALE … A Good and general Assortment of Hard-Ware and ENGLISH GOODS” at his shop in Salem.  The merchant boasted that he purchased this merchandise “in England on the best Terms.”  As a result, he “is enabled, and is determined to sell them, by Wholesale and Retail, at the very lowest Advance.”  Deblois hoped to hook “his Customers and others” with lots of choices and low prices.

He did not, however, catalog his inventory in an attempt to demonstrate the many choices he made available to consumers, a popular strategy among eighteenth-century advertisers.  Instead, he suggested that doing so “would be only tedious” because “his Assortment consists of a great Variety.”  Rather than publish a dense list of his wares, he encouraged prospective customers to visit his shop, browse his merchandise, and see for themselves that they would “find almost every Article usually enquired for, and on as low terms as can be purchased in the Province.”  He pledged that “those who please to call and look” at his imported goods would not be disappointed.  Deblois also emphasized customer service in his efforts to encourage colonizers into his shop, declaring that “His utmost Abilities will be exerted to give Satisfaction to his Customers, and to use them in such a Manner as to encourage them to call again, or to recommend any of their Friends.”  In addition, he added a nota bene to underscore that “Constant Attendance will be given, and the Favours of his Customers gratefully acknowledged.”

Many merchants and shopkeepers focused primarily on their merchandise when they advertised in colonial newspapers.  Deblois took a different approach, treating shopping as an experience to be enjoyed by consumers in Salem and nearby towns.  He invited colonizers to browse in his shop, encountering items they wanted or needed on their own instead of finding them in a list in the public prints.  That experience included customer service as well as the “Hard-Ware and ENGLISH GOODS” offered for sale.  Deblois seemed to understand that cultivating relationships with “his Customers and others” who had not yet visited his shop would likely yield subsequent sales over time.  Accordingly, he emphasized more than moving merchandise in his advertisement.

April 7

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1772).

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

In the spring of 1772, an advertiser who identified himself simply as “STUKES” (almost certainly William Stukes) advised readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that he imported and sold a “COMPLEAT assortment of millinary, haberdashery, [and] stationary” and “As compleat and large an assortment of RIBBONS as ever was imported into this province at one time.”  As further evidence of the bounty available at his shop, he listed dozens of textiles, garments, and accessories.  Stukes stocked everything from “new fashioned flowered Leghorn hats” to “Ladies Morocco pocket books … with silver French locks” to “fine white linen gloves” to “fashionable fans.”  Like many other eighteenth-century advertisers, he expected such a vast array of choices to entice consumers.

Yet he did not want to overwhelm prospective customers by committing too much to print (or he did not want to pay for additional space that a longer list would occupy in the newspaper).  He concluded his litany of goods with a note that he carried “a variety of other articles too tedious to enumerate.”  Where did Stukes draw the line?  Giving only his last name amounted to an economy of prose, but the lengthy list of goods certainly did not.  Only two other shopkeepers placed advertisements listing a similar number of items in the April 7, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Stukes apparently did not consider the “blue satin hats” and the “wax ear-rings” and the “Barcelona cravats” and the “womens black calamanco pumps” in his notice to be “too tedious to enumerate” as he competed to attract customers by demonstrating the choices available at his shop.  Proclaiming that listing anything more would become “tedious” was a sly way of encouraging prospective customers to imagine for themselves what else they might discover in Stukes’s shop.  He gained the advantage of cataloging his wares in the public prints while simultaneously suggesting that he exercised restraint in how much he shared about his merchandise.

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.