What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A large and neat assortment of Dry Goods.”
William Wikoff advertised a “large a neat assortment of Dry Goods, suitable to the season” in the November 14, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal. He attempted to entice prospective customers to his shop by demonstrating the range of choices he made available to them, listing everything from “Devonshire kerseys” to “Mens and womens, and childrens gloves & mits” to “Wire and mould shirt buttons” to “Table and tea spoons.” His inventory appeared in two columns with one or two items per line, arranged in two columns, to make it easier to peruse. It looked quite different than most of the advertisements for imported consumer goods that ran in the Providence Gazette the same week. Several advertisers in that town declared that they stocked too much merchandise “to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement,” deploying a different strategy for invoking choice as a reason to visit their stores.
Even though he concluded his list by claiming that he has “many other articles, too tedious to mention,” Wikoff decided on a more common means of making an appeal about consumer choice in his advertisement, one that many of his competitors used in their advertisements in the same issue of the New-York Journal. On the same page as his notice, John Morton, John J. Roosevelt, and George Webster all ran advertisements that listed dozens of items arrayed in two columns. Henry Remsen and Company and Abeel and Byvanck also listed their wares, though they did not resort to columns but instead published dense paragraphs that required even more active reading on the part of prospective customers. Elsewhere, John Amiel, Hallett and Hazard, Robert Needham, Thomas Pearsall, Daniel Phoenix, Robert Sinclair, Samuel Tuder, and Kelly, Lott, and Company all inserted lists of goods arranged as columns, while William Neilson and Henry Wilmot opted for paragraphs that took up less space (and cost less since advertisers paid by the amount of space rather than the number of word). Gerardus Duyckinck placed two advertisements for his “UNIVERSAL STORE,” also known as the “Medley of Goods,” that listed his inventory and deployed unique formats.
In yesterday’s entry, I argued that many merchants and shopkeepers in Providence simultaneously deployed an uncommon strategy for suggesting consumer choice in the fall of 1771. They proclaimed that they carried “a Variety of well assorted GOODS” but asserted that the choices were so vast that they could not print them in newspaper advertisements. Today, I offer examples of more common formats that traders in other cities used to catalog their merchandise to demonstrate the choices consumers would encounter in their shops. In each case, advertisers did more than announce they had goods on hand and expect that was sufficient to attract customers.