What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Will be sold at the London retailing prices.”
Watchmaker Joshua Lockwood ran a shop at the corner of Union and Broad Streets in Charleston, South Carolina, where he sold “a very large and neat assortment of CLOCKS and WATCHES” recently imported from London. In an advertisement in the June 16, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he informed potential customers that his clocks and watches “are of the latest improvements,” signaling that the quality, style, and technology matched what they could purchase in London. His clientele did not need to worry about obtaining inferior timepieces simply because they lived in a small city at the edge of the empire.
Such assurances did not come with an inflated price. Lockwood pledged that his clocks and watches “will be sold at the London retailing prices.” Some prospective customers may have expected to pay a premium in order to obtain clocks and watches with “the latest improvements” that had been shipped across the Atlantic, but Lockwood indicated that this did not incur higher prices for his local buyers. They would be charged the same as if they lived in London and dealt directly with watchmakers there. There was no need to worry that distance and the smaller size of the local community lessened competition and raised prices.
Colonial advertisers most often compared their prices to those of their local competitors, asserting that they sold at the “lowest rates” in their town or colony. On occasion, however, advertisers made price comparisons that took into account the size of the community in which they lived and worked. Shopkeepers in the hinterlands beyond the major port cities, for instance, claimed that they set prices that competed with those in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Advertisers in smaller cities, such as Portsmouth and Providence, favorably compared their prices to the going rates in larger ports. Transatlantic comparisons represented the next link in the chain, as merchandisers in the largest colonial cities, like Lockwood, declared that their prices matched what counterparts in London charged. Regardless of their location, advertisers believed potential customers looked to the next larger community and suspected prices might be lower there. In turn, advertisers sought to ease such anxieties (and promote more sales) by persuading potential customers that they benefited from the same deals as if they shopped in a locale with a larger population and considered less remote.