May 24

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

May 24 - 5:23:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 23, 1766).

“He continues to do business in the commission way.”

Thomas Hepburn was a broker who sold goods on consignment or, as he put it, he did “business in the commission way.” Rather than purchase and maintain his own stock, he sold merchandise that others supplied to him under an agreement that he would keep a portion of the proceeds from every sale. This minimized the risk of becoming overextended within the networks of credit that accompanied the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century; Hepburn did not lose any investment required to procure his merchandise.

What might Hepburn have sold? While it’s possible that he carried new merchandise, it seems more likely that he carried secondhand or used goods that colonists decided that they no longer wanted or needed for whatever reasons. Selling such items on commission facilitated a secondhand economy that permitted a greater number of colonists to participate in the consumer revolution that was taking place on both sides of the Atlantic. The “baubles of Britain” that found their ways into the possession of so many colonists did not always take a direct path from British merchant to colonial shopkeeper to colonial consumer. Sometimes they passed from person to person or household to household, making detours through shops that did “business in the commission way.”

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