What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Will be sold (by Wholesale only) at such Rates as may encourage all Retailers in Town and Country.”
The partnership of Smith and Atkinson advertised a “large and very general Assortment of Piece Goods” in the September 10, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, but they did not seek to sell their wares directly to consumers. Instead, they addressed retailers, advising them of their intention to deal “by Wholesale only.” Smith and Atkinson imported such a variety of merchandise that they considered it “equally tedious & unnecessary to enumerate here.” They may have wished to avoid paying for the amount of space required to catalog their inventory in a newspaper advertisement, but this strategy also had the benefit of prompting “Retailers in Town and Country” to fret about what kinds of goods Smith and Atkinson had on hand that might “compleat their Assortments” that they offered to their own customers.
Shopkeepers considered promoting consumer choice one of the most effective appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements. Many did publish lengthy lists in the public prints, demonstrating to prospective customers that they could fulfill their needs and desires. Even those who opted for shorter advertisements often mentioned the “assortment” or “variety” of wares they stocked. Realizing that retailers so often advanced such appeals to rouse demand among consumers, Smith and Atkinson adapted the strategy to their own purposes in targeting shopkeepers in Boston and surrounding towns. They proclaimed that they could augment any inventory throughout the year, “there being at all Seasons … a great Variety” of goods at their store. They also declared that they set low prices for retailers who wished to enhance their inventory, explaining that they could pass along the savings because “these Goods have been purchased on the best Terms.” In addition, those who paid cash received even better deals. Smith and Atkinson mentioned that “Due Encouragement will be given to those who pay ready Money” twice. Many of the advertisements for consumer goods in colonial newspapers targeted consumers themselves, but merchants also resorted to advertising to facilitate wholesale transactions. When they did so, their appeals about large assortments of goods and low prices simultaneously adapted and reinforced the marketing strategies commonly deployed by retailers who sought to incite demand among consumers.