What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.”
Thomas Greene’s advertisement for “A fresh Assortment of DRY-GOODS” ran in the Providence Gazette for the first time on January 28, 1769. In it, he listed twenty different kinds of textiles, including “kerseys, serges, cotton velvets, Scotch plaid, Irish linens, garlix, dowlas and checks.” He also carried stockings, handkerchiefs, and shoes as well as “a great number of other articles in the dry-good way.” Greene supplemented this merchandise with imported grocery items, including “tea, chocolate, raisins, … rum, sugar and melasses.” While not as extensive as other advertisements that sometimes appeared in the Providence Gazette, Greene’s notice enumerated sufficient items to suggest to customers that they could choose from among an array of merchandise at his store “just below the Great Bridge.”
In addition to consumer choice, Greene also made an appeal to price. When he concluded his list of wares, he proclaimed that “he determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.” In so doing, he indicated his willingness to participate in a price war with other purveyors of dry goods located in the city. Although not unknown, such forceful language was not as common as more general invocations of low prices. Samuel Chace’s advertisement for “A NEW and general Assortment of English and Indi GOODS” in the same issue, for instance, stated that he would “sell cheap,” but did not make any implicit comparisons to the prices charged by any of his competitors. Samuel Chace’s advertisement had been running in the Providence Gazette for three months; William Chace, on the other hand, had inserted a new advertisement the previous week. In it, he declared that “he is determined to sell” his “good Assortment of DRY GOODS” for prices “as cheap, if not cheaper, than any of their Kind are to be sold in Providence.” Furthermore, he assured prospective customers that he “doubts not but they may lay out their Money to their Satisfaction” as his shop, also located “Just below the Great Bridge.”
Greene and Chace were nearby neighbors and competitors. Only a week after Chace launched an advertisement that made exceptional claims about the prices he charged, Greene published his own advertisement to inform prospective customers that they were just as likely to enjoy the same bargains at his store. Their notices appeared in the same column, with two short advertisements appearing between them, making it easy for readers to compare their appeals and place them in conversation with each other. Savvy consumers already sought out the best prices, but these competing advertisements further encouraged comparison shopping.