What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The above GOODS will be sold as low as if the Prices were affix’d to each Article.”
Eighteenth-century advertisers rarely indicated specific prices for their merchandise, though they frequently proclaimed that they charged “reasonable rates” or offered discounts for purchasing by volume. Shopkeeper Gilbert Deblois stated that he sold the “large Assortment” of goods he stocked “Very Cheap for ready Money.” He made this promise in what might be considered the header of his advertisement that appeared before an extensive list detailing his inventory. Advertisements placed by retailers commonly featured some sort of header that included the advertiser’s name and location, announced that their wares had been recently imported, and made general appeals to price, quality, and fashion.
Deblois augmented his standard assurance that customers could expect “Very Cheap” prices with a note that explained why he did not specify any particular prices. “The above goods,” he asserted, “will be sold as low as if the Prices were affix’d to each Article.” He further explained, just in case potential customers were not already aware or needed to be reminded, that “it’s well known the fixing Prices to Goods in an Advertisement does by no Means denote the cheapness of them, as they differ so much in Quality.” Consumers would not find it useful, the shopkeeper argued, to review the prices in an advertisement before visiting his shop. They needed to examine the merchandise to assess its quality for themselves in order to determine that any price was indeed “Very Cheap.”
This clarification may help to explain why so few advertisers announced specific low prices as a means of attracting potential customers, a significant difference between eighteenth-century methods and modern marketing practices that often rely on advertising particular prices. In an era before major manufacturers mass produced products that carried brand names associated with well known reputations, both retailers and, especially, consumers may have considered listing specific prices in advertisements meaningless, ineffective, and potentially misleading.