April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:27:1767 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (April 27, 1767).

“I will work for the following prices.”

Charles Oliver Bruff, “Gold-smith and Jeweler,” was in a price war with “three different Silver-smiths” in New York. Bruff frequently advertised in the New-York Mercury, but he departed from his usual description of his merchandise and promises to provide good service to “the Gentlemen and Ladies of this city and country” to address a problem created by some of his competitors. He accused those “three different Silver-smiths” of undervaluing his work, making it seem as though he charged unreasonable prices.

To protect his reputation and avoid losing more business to his unscrupulous competitors, Bruff went to the rather extraordinary measure of listing his prices for the entire community to see, assess for themselves, and compare to the rates charged by other “Gentlemen of the trade.” He specified nine prices, including “For making a silver tankard, 3s. per ounce,” and “For making a soop-spoon, 20s.”

Bruff may not have been the innocent victim that he tried to portray himself. His initial prices may have been inflated, but he could not admit to that in his advertisement. Instead, he offered an alternate narrative that depicted his competitors as lacking in sound judgment when it came to assessing the quality of his work and the value of products in their trade more generally. At the same time, he lowered his own prices, seemingly forced to do so in order to continue to attract clients. As a result, new customers would receive quite a bargain since Bruff did not wish to “hurt myself for others” by charging full value for his workmanship only to be undercut by competitors. He concluded his advertisement by stating definitively that he would “work as cheap as any in this city.” Even if Bruff had overcharged in the past, intentionally or not, potential patrons need not worry about that happening if they now chose to deal with him.

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