What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The best French gloves and mits, free from spots, at 12s6. per pair.”
Like many other shopkeepers in Charleston and throughout the colonies, William Stukes stocked “a neat assortment of millenary GOODS, with many other articles.” To demonstrate the point, he cataloged much of his inventory in a newspaper advertisement. He carried “PLAIN and flowered sattins,” “stript thread gauze,” “scented and plain hair powder,” and “different coloured silk gloves and mitts,” along with an array of other items. In addition, he advised prospective customers of “All sorts of millinary ware made in the newest fashion by Mrs. Stukes.” His partner received second billing even though she provided an important service that undoubtedly supported his enterprise and supplemented the household income.
Stukes sought to incite demand for his wares by emphasizing both consumer choice and fashion. In addition, he made appeals to price, proclaiming that he would sell these goods “extraordinary cheap.” When eighteenth-century advertisers made such claims, they usually did not elaborate. Stukes, however, listed his prices for several items:
- “black sattin hats at 30s.”
- “the newest fashion broad ribbons at 5s. per yard”
- “the best French gloves and mits, free from spots, at 12s6. per pair”
- “Hose’s callimanco shoes at 31s. per pair”
- “fine bohea tea at 20s. per pound”
- “black pepper at 15s. per pound”
- “table knives and forks at 20s. per set”
- “best Oronoko tobacco at 12s6 per pound”
Prospective customers did not have to take Stukes at his word that he offered low prices, only to be disappointed when they visited his shop. Unlike most other advertisers, he published prices for several items. That allowed consumers to assess for themselves whether Stukes actually offered bargains. It also facilitated comparison shopping. Prospective customers might examine the merchandise in other shops, Stukes may have reasoned, and then decide to give their business to him upon learning that his competitors did not match his prices.
Today, consumers are accustomed to prices being advertised with products. Indeed, naming a price is a common marketing strategy, an effort to entice customers with bargains. Most eighteenth-century advertisers did not deploy that method for attracting customers, though a few, like Stukes, did experiment with attaching prices to some of their goods when they promoted their businesses in the public prints.