What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Sold on as low terms, as before the non-importation took place.”
On the first day of March 1770, an advertisement in the New-York Journal informed prospective customers that a “large Assortment” of goods “Remains for SALE, at WILLIAM NEILSON’s STORE.” Those goods consisted primarily of textiles, everything from “stript and printed linens” to double milled linseys” to “flower’s and border’d printed handkerchiefs.” Neilson asserted that consumers could have any of this merchandise “Cheap for READY MONEY.”
That was not the only appeal that Neilson made to price. He concluded the advertisement with a nota bene that informed both prospective customers and the rest of the community that “The above goods will be sold on as low terms, as before the non-importation took place.” In other words, Neilson did not take advantage of the current political situation to inflate prices. To protest duties levied on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea in the Townshend Acts, merchants and shopkeepers in New York signed nonimportation agreements, pledging to abstain from importing a much wider array of goods from England for as long as Parliament left those duties in effect. Neilson’s use of the phrase “Remains for SALE” could have implied that he received all of his merchandise prior to the nonimportation agreement; the nota bene much more explicitly invoked the intersection of commerce and politics.
Colonists suspected some merchants and shopkeepers stocked up on imported goods in advance of the agreement. Some purveyors of goods may have seen the boycott as an opportunity to reduce surplus inventories, making a virtue of purchasing goods that had lingered on shelves and in storehouses for quite some time. If this did contribute to a scarcity of goods over time, it had the potential to result in higher retail prices. That Neilson found it necessary to include his nota bene suggests that conversations about those very circumstances were taking place in New York at the time he placed his advertisement. Participating in the nonimportation agreement required sacrifices of both purveyors of goods and consumers. Neilson proclaimed that paying higher prices need not be one of the sacrifices made by his customers.