What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Half a Dollar per Dozen, it being the lowest that I can get them to yet.”
Two advertisers offered lemons for sale in the June 15, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. One advertisement simply stated: “JUST IMPORTED, and to be Sold by Jonathan Snelling, At his Store on Treat’s Wharf, A few Boxes of choice Lisbon Lemons.” The other advertisement was more elaborate. Opening with a headline that proclaimed “Fresh Lisbon LEMMONS,” John Crosby then went into detail about the low prices that he managed to finagle for his customers in Boston and its environs.
Even before publishing this advertisement, Crosby was familiar in the local marketplace. He advertised frequently, not only in the Boston Weekly News-Letter (co-published with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) but also in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (co-published with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette). Usually short, his advertisements always advised potential customers to seek him out “At the Basket of Lemmons” (his preferred spelling) in the South End. Between his easily recognizable shop sign and regularly placing advertisements in multiple newspapers, Crosby made sure that residents of the busy port were aware of his citrus venture.
Yet he further enhanced the visibility of his business by emphasizing the prices of his fruit. Shopkeepers and other purveyors of goods infrequently listed prices in their advertisements in the 1760s, making it all the more notable that Crosby set the price for lemons at “Half a Dollar per Dozen.” Underscoring that this was a particular bargain, he informed readers that was “the lowest I can get them to yet.” He also had “Very good China Oranges at 24 Shillings per Dozen.” This was not the extent of his attention to prices. He also pledged to continue inserting “a Weekly Account in this Paper as usual, of the lowest Price I can Sell [lemons] for.” His marketing strategy depended not only on constantly presenting his name and the “Basket of Lemmons” to potential customers but also providing regular updates about prices so consumers could assess deals and bargains for themselves.
Comparing the advertisements for lemons placed by Snelling and Crosby demonstrates that not all eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements for consumer goods were alike. While it might be tempting to dismiss them as mere announcements, their variations testify to the efforts advertisers made to incite demand and the innovations they adopted to distinguish their businesses from their competitors. Although brief, Snelling’s advertisement did make appeals to freshness and quality, noting that his “choice” lemons had been “JUST IMPORTED.” Crosby much more elaborately leveraged price as he endeavored to sell his lemons. He achieved impressive visibility for his business with his weekly account of prices in his advertisements.