November 12

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

Nov 12 - 11:12:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 12, 1767).

“Joshua Blanchard Going into another Trade, Is selling his GOODS.”

It would have been difficult for readers not to notice Joshua Blanchard’s advertisement in the November 12, 1767, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. It occupied the entire first column on the first page. In addition, it had a different format than most other advertisements that listed consumer goods. On the left Blanchard listed his inventory; on the right he indicated prices. Approximately fifty entries included specific prices that potential customers could expect to pay at Blanchard’s shop. Throughout the eighteenth century, merchants and shopkeepers rarely inserted prices in their advertisements. When they did, they usually confined themselves to a small number of items. Blanchard, on the other hand, provided an extensive guide to retail prices at his shop on Dock Street.

Why did Blanchard take this extraordinary step? He had previously emphasized the “VERY LOW Price at which he sells” in other advertisements, but had mocked the popular practice of “enumerating every Particular, even to Pins and Needles.” Apparently he changed his mind when he decided to have a going-out-of-business sale. He opened his advertisement by explaining that because he was “Going into another Trade” that he was “selling his GOODS.” He listed specific prices as a means of attracting attention, inciting demand for his merchandise, and demonstrating that he meant business. Prospective customers did not need to worry that Blanchard would lure them into his shop with promises of low prices only to end up haggling over prices similar to those of his competitors. Instead, they knew in advance how much he charged for dozens of items.

Blanchard ceased listing prices about two-thirds of the way through his advertisement, switching to two columns that merely listed other merchandise. Space constraints and the cost of placing a lengthier advertisement may have prevented him from providing prices for every item. Or, he might not have intended to list prices for his entire inventory, preferring instead to use the first items in his advertisement to draw customers into his shop and trusting that they would then encounter other bargains that they could not resist.

Eighteenth-century retailers did not usually use sales as a means of marketing their wares, certainly not to the extent that the practice became standard in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but some did experiment with the concept. In effect, Joshua Blanchard advertised a going-out-of-business sale in the fall of 1767.

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