What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Any that will favour him with their Custom my depend upon being used as well as they can be at any Store upon the Continent.”
In an advertisement that extended nearly an entire column in the May 28, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette, Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., listed dozens of items available “at his Store next to the Rev. Doctor Whitaker’s Meeting-House.” Other advertisers also provided lengthy lists of their merchandise, but none of them as long as the description of the “general Assortment of English and India GOODS” that Sparhawk carried. To further underscore the multitude of choices, he concluded the list with “&c. &c. &c. &c. &c.” Advertisers frequently inserted the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera once, twice, or even three times to suggest that the amount of space in their advertisements was not sufficient for cataloging all of their wares. Sparhawk was even more intent on making that point.
He also enhanced his notice with a nota bene directed to wholesalers. Like many other advertisers, he sold his goods “by Wholesale or Retail.” Most who did so did not make special overtures to customers who wished to buy in volume. Sparhawk, on the other hand, advised “all those that deal in the Wholesale Way, that they may be assured that his Goods come from one of the best Houses in LONDON.” The merchant sought to assure shopkeepers, tailors and milliners who purchased textiles and accessories, and other retailers that he carried goods of the highest quality and most current fashions. Sparhawk’s customers did not need to fear that their own customers and clients would reject this merchandise. Furthermore, the merchant aimed to cultivate good relationships with retailers. He expressed a desire “to sell chiefly by Wholesale,” pledging that “any that will favour him with their Custom my depend upon being used as well as they can be at any Store upon the Continent.” Sparhawk had many competitors, not only in Salem, but also in nearby Boston. For the right prices, retailers might have even looked to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and beyond. The merchant proclaimed that doing so was not necessary, that he provided service that equaled any in the colonies. In return for their custom, “their Favours shall ever be gratefully acknowledged.”
Sparhawk deployed several strategies to attract customers, especially those who wished to make wholesale purchases with the intention of retailing those items. He underscored the extensive choices available among his merchandise, both through a lengthy catalog of goods and a hyperbolic expression of just how many items did not fit in his advertisement. He also made a point of describing his own supplier as “one of the best Houses in LONDON,” bestowing even greater cachet on his merchandise. In addition to promoting his goods, Sparhawk also promised superior customer service in his efforts to attract retailers as customers.