What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At as low a Rate for Cash as can be bought at any Shop in Newport.”
In the June 8, 1767, edition of the Newport Mercury, Josias Lyndon advertised that he sold an assortment of imported goods “Very cheap for Cash, or short Credit.” Invoking low prices was one of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century. Lyndon chose a standard method: promoting his own prices without making reference to those of his competitors. In that regard, he advertisement differed from most placed by shopkeepers in that issue. Others went into greater detail about the nature of their prices.
Samuel Lyndon, Jr., for instance, offered his wares “at as low a Rate as can be bought in any Shop in the Town of NEWPORT.” Similarly, David Moore sold dry goods and groceries “AS CHEAP FOR CASH as at any Shop in Newport.” Issachar Polock boldly proclaimed that he parted with his merchandise “at a LOWER PRICE than any advertised before him.” Each of these shopkeepers adapted the standard appeal to price in ways that more directly positioned their shops as preferable to local competitors.
Other advertisers expanded on this trend. Napthaly Hart, Jr., stated that was “determined to sell at as low Rate as any of the Shops in NEWPORT or PROVIDENCE.” In an advertisement that also appeared in the Providence Gazette, William Rogers promised that customers purchased his inventory “as cheap as can be bough at any Shop in Providence.” Both of these shopkeepers seemed as concerned (or, in Rogers’ case, more concerned) with losing business to counterparts in Providence than others in Newport.
Christopher Champlin’s advertisement suggested why Newport’s shopkeepers provided more elaborate appeals to price than usual in the late spring of 1767. “FINDING many of his Brother Shopkeepers,” Champlin declared, “to prevent most of the circulating Cash from being sent to Providence, have greatly lowered the Price of their Goods; therefore … said CHAMPLIN … has to sell … a neat Assortment of GOODS … at as low a Rate for Cash as can be bought at any Shop in Newport.”
Cash was scarce in colonial America. By charging low prices, Newport’s shopkeepers not only competed with each other but also pursued the public interest on behalf of their entire community by not allowing scarce resources to seep away to another port city. Champlin annunciated this as “so laudable a Motive,” one that was “worthy of Imitation.” He was late to the game in lowering his own prices, but managed to position himself, along with his “Brother Shopkeepers” in Newport, as doing something noble when setting his prices.