September 13

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letters (September 10, 1772).

“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.

April 3

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 3, 1772).

“Country Traders … may be supplied with all Kinds of Writing-Paper … at any Store in Town.”

John Fleeming published the Boston Chronicle in partnership with John Mein from 1767 to 1770.  That newspaper folded, in large part due to the blatant Tory sympathies espoused by Fleeming’s partner.  Mein fled Boston, leaving Fleeming to oversee the business for the few months that the newspaper continued publication in his absence.  With the Boston Chronicle behind him, Fleeming turned to job printing and selling stationery and writing supplies.  In the April 3, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, he advertised a “large Assortment of STATIONARY” that included “Writing Paper of all Kinds, Quills, Wax, Wafers, Ink-Chests & Stands of various Kinds, Ivory Folders, Leather Ink Bottles, Ink-Powder, and Patent Cake Ink.”

Fleeming hoped to encourage retail sales among residents of Boston who visited his shop, but he also made an appeal to “Country Traders and Shopkeepers” looking to make wholesale purchases.  He promised them that they “may be supplied with all Kinds of Writing-Paper by the Ream, as Cheap as at any Store in Town.”  Fleeming competed with a number of stationers who imported paper from England, especially after Parliament repealed the duties on paper and other items and merchants called an end to the nonimportation agreement adopted to achieve that goal.  Eager to maximize revenues, Fleeming aimed to attract wholesale as well as retail customers.

In so doing, he resorted to a familiar marketing strategy, one adopted by merchants who sold a variety of imported goods ranging from textiles to housewares to hardware to patent medicines.  Some advertised that they filled retail orders sent from colonizers in the countryside.  Others did not work directly with consumers outside of Boston, but that did not mean that they neglected to capture wider markets as wholesalers.  Merchants frequently assured “Country Traders” that they offered the best bargains, allowing them to generate sales by passing along the savings to their customers.  By modern standards, Fleeming’s advertisement may not appear flashy, but that does not mean that it lacked a sound marketing strategy in the eighteenth century.

February 19

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 17, 1772).

“On as low Terms as at any Store in BOSTON.”

The partnership of Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers made low prices one of the focal points of their advertising in a notice that ran in the February 17, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Most newspaper advertisements of the era featured the names of the advertisers as headlines, if they included headlines at all, but in this case “Amorys, Taylor and Rogers” constituted a secondary headline.  Their advertisement commenced with a primary headline that proclaimed, “GOODS EXTREMELY CHEAP.”

The partners then developed that theme in a nota bene that preceded a lengthy list of their inventory that extended three-quarters of a column.  They offered their wares wholesale to retailers, both “Country Shopkeepers” and “Town Shopkeepers.”  Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers explained that they offered their customers low prices because they acquired “almost every Kind of Goods usually imported from Great Britain … immediately from the Manufacturors.”  In other words, they did not deal with English merchants whose intervention tended to inflate prices.  By eliminating those middlemen, Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers kept prices down for American retailers.  In turn, those retailers could generate business by setting their own low prices for their customers.

The partners underscored that they offered the best bargains.  They pledged that “Country Shopkeepers may be supplied at any Time with what Goods they want, and on as low Terms as at any Store in BOSTON.”  Those “Country Shopkeepers” had many choices of merchants supplying retailers with imported goods in that bustling port city, but Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers indicated that they matched the prices of any of their competitors.  In addition, “Town Shopkeepers … who usually import their Goods, may have them on such Terms as may answer them as well as importing.”  Retailers in Boston would not find better deals through corresponding with English merchants, especially since Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers had their goods shipped “immediately from the Manufacturors.”

Low prices played an important role in marketing imported goods among both wholesalers and retailers in eighteenth-century Boston.  Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers explained at some length how they were able to part with their goods “EXTREMELY CHEAP,” hoping to attract the attention of retailers looking to set low prices of their own and pass along the savings to consumers.  That merchants and shopkeepers promoted low prices comes as no surprise, but the commentary about prices that sometimes appeared in newspaper advertisements demonstrates that some advertisers made deliberate efforts to engage prospective customers rather than passively announcing low prices and expecting that would be sufficient to generate business.

November 24

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (November 22, 1771).

“Proper Allowances made to those that sell again.”

Numerous merchants and shopkeepers regularly placed advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter as well as the other newspaper published in Boston in the early 1770s.  While the shopkeepers aimed their notices at consumers, some merchants address both retailers and consumers.  William Bant, for instance, stocked a “large and general Assortment of GOODS … to sell by Wholesale and Retail.”  Not every advertiser identified their intended customers so explicitly; some instead made more specific appeals that invited both retailers and consumers to purchase their merchandise.

John Adams and Company advertised a “complete Assortment of Cream-colour’d China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware” as well as groceries and a “small Assortment of English Goods” available at their shop near the Old South Meeting House.  Adams and Company informed prospective buyers that they sold their wares “very low for Cash – with proper Allowances made to those that sell again.”  In other words, retailers who bought in volume received discounts.  Similarly, William Bant concluded his extensive advertisement that listed dozens of items with a nota bene that alerted “Traders and Shopkeepers” that they “may be supplied with Assortments of the foregoing Articles, upon as good Terms, as at any Store in Town.”  Bant hoped to entice retailers by offering to match the prices set by his competitors.

In another advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Smith and Atkinson made it clear that they intended to deal with retailers exclusively.  They acquired a “Large and General Assortment of European and India Goods … on the very best Terms,” allowing them to sell their merchandise “(by Wholesale only) at such Prices as shall give full Satisfaction to those in Town and Country who purchase their Assortments here.”  In addition, they encouraged retailers who imported goods on their own to supplement their inventories and “compleat their Assortments” by selecting from among the items Smith and Atkinson had on hand.

Readers encountered numerous advertisements for consumer goods in just about every issue of newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s.  Merchants and shopkeepers hoping to sell directly to consumers placed the majority of those advertisements, but not all of them.  William Bant, John Adams and Company, and Smith and Atkinson were among the many merchants who sold imported goods wholesale, designing marketing materials aimed at retailers rather than consumers.

May 28

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

Essex Gazette (May 28, 1771).

“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.

February 10

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

New-York Journal (February 7, 1771).

“A great many other articles, suitable for traveling merchants.”

John Watson, a merchant, sold a variety of goods at his store on Cart and Horse Street in New York.  In an advertisement in the February 7, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal, he listed dozens of items ranging from textiles to “Mens and womens shoes” to “Men, women and boys, best silk gloves and mitts” to “Table spoons, and best Holland quills.”  This catalog of goods, arranged in two columns, presented consumers an array of choices that Watson hoped would entice them to visit his store and make selections according to their tastes.  He also promised that they would encounter an even greater assortment of merchandise, “a great many other articles … too tedious to enumerate.”  Many merchants and shopkeepers who emphasized consumer choice with their lengthy litanies of goods doubled down on that appeal by proclaiming that even with as much space as their advertisements occupied in colonial newspapers it still was not enough to do justice to everything in their inventories.

Watson did not address consumers exclusively.  He declared that he sold his wares “wholesale or retail,” supplying shopkeepers, peddlers, and others who purchased to sell again as well as working directly with consumers.  He noted that he stocked goods “suitable for traveling merchants” to carry to smaller towns and into the countryside.  Participating in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century was not a privilege reserved for residents of the largest port cities.  Colonists did not need to live in New York and visit Watson’s store in order to purchase the fabrics, ribbons, buttons, snuff boxes, playing cards, and other items he imported and sold.  Instead, those who lived at a distance made purchases via the post or at local shops or from peddlers and “traveling merchants” who helped in distributing consumer goods beyond the major ports.  Bustling cities like New York, Boston, Charleston, and Philadelphia certainly had higher concentrations of shops, affording ready access to consumer goods to local residents, but those places did not have monopolies when it came to the rituals of consumption.  Watson, like many other merchants, used newspaper advertising for multiple purposes, seeking to incite demand among local customers while simultaneously distributing goods to retailers and peddlers who made them available to even greater numbers of customers.

December 12

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 10, 1770).

“Goods of the best qualities, and newest patterns.”

George Fenner stocked a variety of textiles and clothing at his store on Broad Street in New York.  In an advertisement that he inserted several times in both the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal in November and December 1770, he listed “PRINTED cottons and lines of the finest colours,” “handkerchiefs of all sorts,” “linen and cotton checks,” “men and boys ready made clothes,” “womens scarlet cardinals,” and “felt and castor hats” along with an array of other merchandise.  Yet that was not an exhaustive catalog of his inventory.  Fenner advised prospective customers that he also carried “many other articles in the linen and woollen draper, too tedious to insert.”  If readers wanted to know what other items the merchant made available then they would have to visit his store.  He whetted their appetites by mentioning only some of his wares.

Fenner directed his advertisement to shopkeepers and others who wished to purchase by volume.  He noted that he sold his goods wholesale “at a very small profit.”  In other words, his markup was low enough that his buyers could still charge competitive retail prices at their retail shops.  He also attempted to incite interest in his merchandise by declaring that his customers “may depend upon having goods of the best qualities, and newest patterns.”  He realized that retailers would reiterate such appeals to their own customers when they marketed clothing and textiles.  To convince prospective buyers that he did indeed provide the “newest patterns,” Fenner opened his advertisement with a proclamation that he had “Just arrived from LONDON,” the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire.  Accordingly, he had been on the scene to assess for himself which patterns were currently in fashion.  Retailers who dealt with him could assure their own customers that they could choose from among the latest trends.

Fenner had several goals in constructing his advertisement.  He sought to convince retailers that he had an impressive inventory that warranted a visit to his store to select among the clothing and textiles he offered at wholesale prices.  At the same time, he needed to convince prospective buyers that these wares had good prospects for retail sales.  In so doing, he made appeals to price, quality, and fashion to reassure retailers that they would be able to sell these items to consumers.

July 5

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

Jul 5 - 7:5:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 5, 1769).

“He will sell so as shopkeepers can afford to retail them again.”

When watchmaker Christopher Syberry announced to the public that he “lately set up his business” in Savannah in 1769, he also informed prospective customers that he simultaneously sold a variety of goods. His inventory included “fine hyson tea, garnet necklaces of different prices, best wax beads for ladies, some black silk lace, Barcelona handkerchiefs, the best sort of silk velvet, silk gimps of different colours, fine pigtail tobacco, snuff in bottles, and papered tobacco.” Selling these items provided an additional revenue stream in case Syberry could not drum up enough business to support himself cleaning and repairing clocks and watches.

Syberry made it clear that he did not merely retail the items listed in his advertisement; he also acted as a wholesaler who distributed goods to shopkeepers in the small port and throughout the rest of the colony. He did not emphasize price as much as many other advertisers during the period, but he did pledge to sell his wares “so as shopkeepers can afford to retail them again.” Although unstated, this may have included discounts for purchasing in volume. Syberry implicitly presented himself as an alternative to merchants in England who fulfilled orders by letter. Shopkeepers who opted to acquire goods from him gained the advantage of examining the merchandise in his shop and choosing those items they considered good prospects for retailing themselves. Syberry emphasized quality in his advertisement, repeatedly describing items as “fine” or “best,” but shopkeepers did not have to accept his assessment. They could examine those goods before buying them to retail. Those who visited Syberry’s shop saw and selected their wares rather than describing what they wished to order in a letter or instructing correspondents to send the latest fashions and then hoping for the best.

Other colonists who advertised similar goods in the Georgia Gazette operated as both merchants and shopkeepers, wholesalers and retailers, but Syberry distinguished his business by explicitly addressing shopkeepers and assuring them that he offered reasonable prices for his wares so they could “retail them again.” He may have anticipated that shopkeepers would make more substantial purchases than consumers, providing greater security for an entrepreneur who had “lately” launched a new enterprise in Savannah.

November 27

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

Nov 27 - 11:24:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 24, 1768).

He does not Doubt but their Cheapness will be sufficient Recommendation to Traders and Shop Keepers to become his Customers.”

Like many other advertisements in the New-York Journal and other newspapers published throughout the colonies, John Thurman’s notice listed “a large Assortment of Goods” that he imported and offered for sale. Shopkeepers who dealt directly with end-use consumers placed many of those advertisements, but merchants who sold wholesale placed similar notices. Advertisers sometimes made it clear whether they parted with their wares wholesale, retail, or both, but not always. Abeel and Vynack, for instance, explicitly stated that they sold “wholesale and retale,” but Edward Laight did not mention which methods he practiced. Laight was not alone. Many eighteenth-century newspaper notices did not indicate what types of buyers the advertisers sought, though that may have been considered unnecessary since many readers already would have been familiar enough with local merchants and shopkeepers to distinguish between them when perusing their advertisements.

Even under those circumstances, some advertisers did address particular sorts of customers, especially in the process of advancing other appeals intended to make their merchandise more attractive. Thurman, for instance, believed that the low prices he set for his goods “will be sufficient Recommendation to Traders and Shop Keepers to become his Customers.” He explained that he sold textiles, adornments, and other wares “at the lowest Rates.” He was able to do so because “he purchased the Goods himself from the Manufactories.” In other words, he bypassed English merchants, the middlemen notorious for passing along higher prices to colonial consumers. By dealing directly with the producers, Thurman kept prices down for both retailers and, ultimately, their customers.

Given the distribution of the New-York Journal and other colonial newspapers, advertisers like Thurman addressed “Traders and Shop Keepers” in towns and villages as well as retailers in busy port cities. Those who did not live in the vicinity of Thurman’s “Store in Wall-Street” in New York may not have been as familiar with his status as a wholesale rather than retailer. Making it clear that he sought customers who wished to buy in volume for resale may not have been necessary as far as his neighbors were concerned, but essential in cultivating a wider market for his merchandise. Explaining that he kept prices low by eliminating English merchants from the distribution chain may have made his wares more attractive to country “Traders and Shop Keepers” looking to acquire inventory from merchants in the city. Thurman certainly made more effort to entice them with his explanation of his supply chain than Abeel and Vynack did when they simply stated that “they prose selling reasonably, wholesale and retale.”

May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 9, 1768).

Most of which are suitable for the North-river and Albany trade.”

Although Erasmus William’s advertisement in the May 9, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury did not discourage or exclude retail sales, it did focus primarily on further distributing imported goods by offering to sell to merchants and shopkeepers wholesale. Williams reported that he had just received “A very large and new assortment of European and India goods” via “the Snow Amelia, Capt. Sinclair.” The merchant proposed specific customers for many of the textiles, especially the “great number of printed and furniture cottons.” He stressed that they were “suitable for the North-river and Albany trade.” Since the newspapers published in New York served the entire colony, he had a reasonable expectation that potential buyers from far beyond the city would see his advertisement and possibly contact him to refresh their inventories.

Williams also directly addressed prospective customers who might wish to buy in bulk, pledging that “Any merchant, store or shop-keeper, inclining to purchase the whole or any large quantity” would get a real bargain. He explained that an associate in London, a “competent judge” of the merchandise, had negotiated a deal and paid for the goods in cash. In turn, this allowed Williams to pass along the savings to his own customers, especially those interested in relieving him of significant quantities all at once.

Most merchants who placed advertisements for consumer goods in eighteenth-century newspapers did not explicitly specify that they intended to sell their wares wholesale. Some likely assumed that readers already knew which advertisers were wholesalers and which were retailers. Williams, on the other hand, made it clear that he intended to sell “the whole” or a large quantity in a single transaction. He also imagined the further distribution of the assortment of goods he had just imported, envisioning that they would be transported beyond New York, a busy port city. The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century was not confined to the urban centers on the Atlantic coast. Instead, merchants like Williams and the shopkeepers and other traders that did business with him in other parts of the colony helped facilitated the expansion of consumer culture to towns and villages and beyond.