September 27

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

Sep 27 - 9:24:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (September 24, 1767).

“A Variety of other Articles suitable for this Market, and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.”

As spring turned to fall and colonists anticipated the arrival of winter in 1767, Philip Livingston inserted an advertisement for “A Very neat Assortment of Woollens, suitable for the Season” in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. In placing this notice, Livingston did not seek the patronage of end-use consumers; instead, he acted as a wholesaler in distributing imported textiles to retailers to sell to customers in their own shops throughout the colony. After listing a variety of fabrics (most of them in an array of colors), he described them as “suitable for this Market and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.” The merchant wanted potential customers to know that if they acquired his woolens and “other Articles” that the merchandise would not just sit on the shelves.

Livingston’s advertisement also demonstrates the wide distribution of newspapers in the late colonial period. He inserted his notice in a newspaper printed in New York City, confident that “Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony” would see it. At the time, printers in the busy port published four newspapers: the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on Mondays and the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the New-York Journal on Thursdays. Livingston placed the same advertisement in all four publications, realizing that was the most efficient way to communicate with shopkeepers in towns beyond the city. After all, the four newspapers printed in New York City were the only newspapers published in the colony in 1767. Livingston did not have the option of buying advertising space in hometown publications because the four newspapers emanating from New York City were the local newspapers for residents throughout the entire colony! Subscribers beyond the city received copies delivered by post riders. After delivery, issues passed from hand to hand. Individual retailers “in the Northern Parts of the Colony” might not have access to each of New York’s newspapers during any given week, but Livingston knew that they likely would see at least one.

In distinguishing among the various components of colonial newspapers it might be tempting to view the news items as general interest for any reader but advertisements as limited to local markets. That, however, would not be an accurate assessment of many of the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. Many advertisers – both wholesalers and retailers – sought to cultivate customers in towns beyond the cities where newspaper were published. The extensive distribution networks for colonial networks made that possible.

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 1, 1767).

“GODREY & GADSDEN, Will exchange the following GOODS.”

Godfrey and Gadsden’s dense list-style advertisement resembled many other inserted in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and newspapers throughout the colonies in the second half of the eighteenth century. The partners enumerated dozens of imported items, everything from textiles to housewares to hardware, and concluded with “&c.” (etc.) to suggest an even greater array of merchandise than what could be squeezed into their advertisement.

Their advertisement differed from most others, however, in one significant aspect. Godfrey and Gadsden were not seeking customers. They did not offer their assortment of goods directly to colonial consumers. Instead, they stated that they “Will exchange the following GOODS … for such others as they have occasion for.” The partners intended this notice for fellow merchants who imported a similar, yet slightly different, variety of goods and now wished to further diversify their wares. Perhaps they also sought shopkeepers who had obtained surpluses of certain items and looked for opportunities to reduce their inventory through such exchanges. They may have also had their eye on the export market, trading imported goods for local commodities that they could then transport to other ports around the Atlantic. Whatever the possibilities, Godfrey and Gadsden did not address end-sue consumers in their advertisement.

This illustrates that even though the format looked quite similar to other commercial notices advertisers sometimes envisioned very different purposes for their advertisements. They turned to the advertising pages of weekly newspapers to conduct business along multiple trajectories, rather than exclusively pursuing potential customers engulfed in the consumer revolution. The “black silk and cotton gauze” and “large bell lamps for halls and stair-cases” and “parrot cages” and “gilt Morocco leather prayer books” eventually found their way into the homes of consumers, but Godfrey and Gadsden’s advertisement helps to demonstrate the circuitous route. Rather than a direct transatlantic supply chain from English producer to English merchant to American shopkeeper to American consumer, imported goods often passed through many other hands and were part of numerous additional commercial exchanges before consumers purchased them.

June 21

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

Jun 21 - 6:19:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (June 19, 1767).

“Will be sold 10 per cent. under the common advance.”

John Davies paid attention to quality and, especially, price in his advertisement for imported Irish linens and other textiles in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. He encouraged customers to buy in volume as a means of lowering prices as he targeted retailers who needed “to supply themselves … to sell again.” Although he did not specify specific rates for most of his goods, he did offer some numbers that would have been attractive to potential customers looking to acquire inventory and turn a profit themselves.

For instance, he stated that he “sold 10 per cent. under the common advance.” He assumed that potential customers already had a general sense of the going rates for the various sorts of textiles he sold, enticing them with the savings he offered compared to what they otherwise expected to pay. To sweeten the deal, he also promoted “the advantage of 5 per cent. being allowed in the purchase of them for prompt payment.” In other words, as he stated later in the advertisement, those “who purchase with cash” rather than credit stood to enjoy an additional discount that made his prices even more competitive. Davies implied further discounts for buying in bulk – “still greater allowance that will be made in taking a quantity” – although he did not offer specifics. The size of the subsequent discount may have been tied to the quantity purchased, subject to negotiations between Davies and his customers at the time of sale.

How was Davies able to offer low prices and significant discounts? He had cultivated relationships directly with the manufacturers, sidestepping English merchants who usually supplied American wholesalers and retailers. There had been “no charge of commissions” to other parties to drive up Davies’s prices. He also kept costs down by making his own purchases in cash rather than credit that accumulated interest. He passed his savings on to his customers in Charleston.

May 3

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

May 3 - 4:30:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 30, 1767).

“Other trimmings for hatters.”

Unlike many shopkeepers who advertised their wares almost exclusively to end-use consumers, James Nixon sold an array of imported textiles and ornaments wholesale as well as retail. To be competitive with merchants and other wholesalers, he offered discounts to those who made purchases with the intention of acquiring inventory to resell to consumers. “Great allowance will be made,” Nixon stated, “to town or country stores, taylors, stay-makers, hatters, &c. &c.”

On occasion advertisers made such appeals to potential customers who bought in volume, but rarely did they specifically address members of so many occupations. In his advertisement, Nixon constructed a network of business associates, promoting himself as a supplier to men and women who made and sold apparel. In addition to the “Great allowance” he made to tailors, staymakers, hatters, and others, he also attempted to draw the attention of particular customers to specific goods. For instance, he listed a “great assortment of all sorts of buttons” among the various “trimmings for hatters” in stock, as well as other sorts of “stay-maker’s and breeches-maker’s trimmings.”

Doing so may have had the added advantage of attracting the attention of end-use consumers. By implying that tailors and hatters, whose livelihood depended in part on acquiring the right materials, trusted him to supply a “neat assortment” of “Newest-fashioned” dry goods, Nixon created the illusion of an endorsement from his associates. In the absence of testimonials, he prompted potential customers to imagine that “his Store in KING-STREET” was a hub of activity for members of the clothing trades.

He also suggested an impressive market penetration for his wares, which he sold to both shopkeepers in New York and others who operated “country stores,” some of them in neighboring provinces. “Connecticut lawful mon[e]y will be taken,” he pledged, alerting customers near and far that he was flexible when it came to which sort of currency he would accept.

Although “taylors, stay-makers, hatters, &c. &c.” certainly purchased materials from merchants who imported them, very few advertisers addressed them as an occupational group or promoted their goods specifically to them. Many likely concluded that notices offering goods wholesale were sufficient for their purposes. James Nixon, on the other hand, experimented with addressing various sorts of potential customers, making it clear to those in the clothing trades that he wished to work with them (and offered discounts) in addition to supplying “town or country stores.”

January 8

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

Jan 8 - 1:6:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (January 6, 1766)

“Spades … black plain sattin … chintzes and callicoes … brown Manchester velvit … the best French pearl earings and necklaces … tapes and bobbins … pen-knives … darning and sewing needles … and table beer by the barrel.”

Abraham Remsen stocked a variety of merchandise to be sold “Wholesale or Retale, at his Shop in Clark-Street” in Newport.  Reading through his list advertisement, which certainly testifies to the assortment of goods so many shopkeepers promoted in eighteenth-century America, can be a bit disorienting.  In response to an advertisement featured a short while ago, one correspondent on Twitter remarked that colonial Americans must have had longer attention spans than their modern counterparts, considering the length, density, and lack of visual images common in many newspaper advertisements of the period.

This prompted me to think about reading habits in the eighteenth century.  Historians have long argued that early Americans read newspapers intensively, that they were read aloud in public spaces (like taverns and coffeehouses) and passed around until they became dog-eared.  Consider that American newspapers in the 1760s were published once a week.  Consider also that each issue was typically a single broadsheet, folded in half to create a four-page newspaper.  It makes sense that subscribers and others would read the news items carefully and perhaps multiple times.

But what about the advertisements?  Would they have been read as intensively as other items?  How would an early American reader have approached this advertisement?