What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Checks by the piece so low as 4s. 6d.”
Robert and Nathaniel Stott advertised a “General assortment” of textiles they imported from Liverpool to Charleston. They informed readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that they carried “checks, striped hollands, handkerchiefs; India dimothies, figured and plain; counterpanes, black velvets, velverets and jenets” that they “bought from the manufacturers.” Revealing their supply chain allowed the Stotts to more convincingly make an appeal to price. For readers who approached their advertisement with healthy skepticism, the Stotts explained that they could indeed sell imported fabrics for “much lower than the usual advance” because they did not procure their merchandise through fellow merchants on the other side of the Atlantic. Instead, they eliminated the middlemen, reducing prices for their customers in the process.
To demonstrate the veracity of their claim, the Stotts quoted a specific price for checks: “by the piece so low as 4s. 6d. per yard.” Consumers already familiar with the going rate for checks could assess for themselves what kind of bargain the Stotts offered, but those were not the only prospective customers who benefitted. The Stotts made it easier for all readers to compare prices when visiting local competitors, a process that might cause shoppers to visit the Stotts to purchase other items as well. After all, they sold “other widths in proportion” to the low prices for checks and other fabrics “upon very reasonable terms.”
Most eighteenth-century merchants and shopkeepers did not indicate specific prices in their advertisements, though significant numbers made general statements about their “low rates” or deployed other formulaic language. On its own, the Stotts’ invocation of “very reasonable terms” fit that trend, but committing to a specific price – four shillings and six pence per yard – distinguished their advertisement from others by making a concrete promise to consumers. The Stotts replaced vague reassurances with tangible evidence in their efforts to increase sales at their store in Beadon’s Alley.