Stobart, J. (2009) Exotic or everyday? Advertising groceries in Georgian England. Paper presented to: Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution (CHORD) Workshop - Retailing History: Texts and Images, University of Wolverhampton, England, 29 April 2009.
Advertising became an increasingly important aspect of retailing through the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century, not least as the range of printed media steadily expanded. Three modes of advertising stand out: notices placed in the growing number of local newspapers; trade cards and bill heads (often illustrated); and, from the early nineteenth century, advertisements placed within trade directories (Berg and Clifford, 2007). Drawing on examples of these different media from a range of towns across the country, this paper starts by assessing the extent to which grocers were engaged in such promotional activities. I argue that, alongside others selling fashionable and novel goods, they were amongst the most avid advertisers, particularly by the late eighteenth century. Building on this, I then offer a detailed analysis of the form, content, language and imagery used in grocers’ advertisements, focusing especially on the ways in which the goods are linked to notions and practicalities of empire and international trade. It is possible to draw a distinction between the intensely visual imagery of trade cards and directory advertisements, and the more prosaic lists of goods that characterise notices in newspapers. The former tended to play much more on the exotic nature of the products being sold. Colonial and neo-colonial references were prominent, often in the form of Chinese motifs. The latter, meanwhile, were often framed around more practical issues of supply, quality and price. That said, the picture was more complex than this simple dichotomy would allow, with the exotic and the everyday placed alongside one another in all forms of advertising. The consumer was thus simultaneously situated in the world economy and their own consumption milieu.