What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“I will Sell as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.”
Nathaniel Backus, Jr., listed several commodities and their prices in an advertisement he inserted in the February 26, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette. In addition, he offered “a good Assortment of European Goods, which I will Sell as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.” Backus listed his location as Norwich Landing. The New-London Gazette served a region that extended far beyond the port town for which it was named.
Note that Backus did not compare his prices to those in other cities and towns in New England. He confined his comparison to the local marketplace, seeking to assure potential customers that they could not do any better dealing with other local shopkeepers. Few, if any, of his wares – “BEST London Pewter,” “German Serge,” “Barbados Rum,” and “Bohea Tea,” to name just a few of the commodities he listed – had arrived directly at Norwich. Instead, they had likely been shipped first to Boston or New York. Even if they had been transported via a more direct route, this “good Assortment of European Goods” would have passed through the port of New London and its customs house before continuing up the Thames River to Norwich. These additional legs required in shipping the goods to the small town of Norwich likely made them slightly more expensive for retailers to obtain them, affecting the prices Backus and others charged their customers. Shopkeepers in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Providence and Newport, Rhode Island, sometimes favorably compared their prices to those in Boston, New York, or all of New England. Retailers located inland, like Backus in Norwich, however, did not make such appeals at the same rate.
Backus guaranteed the prices he listed in his advertisement: “those that favour me with their Custom, may depend on being served through the Season, at the above Prices.” This allowed for consumers to do some comparison shopping even before visiting his shop. If potential customers considered the prices he listed for select items to be reasonable then they might have been more willing to accept Backus’s assertion that he sold his merchandise “as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.”