What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He will likewise dispose of at private sale, all his household furniture.”
In the spring of 1771, Sampson Neyle took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to advertise what amounted to an eighteenth-century version of a moving sale. He advised readers that he planned “to embark for England in few weeks” and planned to sell his belongings before departing. He also called on “all persons who have accounts against him” to seek payment before he left Charleston. Colonists frequently placed such advertisements in advance of making transatlantic trips. They almost always mentioned settling accounts, but only some of them offered items for sale.
Neyle listed an assortment of “household furniture” for prospective buyers, including “a neat mahogany desk and book-case, cloaths press, shaving stand, chairs, tables, bedstead, [and] feather beds.” He also intended to part with housewares like china and glass. To make these items more attractive, Neyle suggested that even they were secondhand that they had been barely used. He proclaimed, in italics to draw notice, that most of those items “were new about five months ago.” Neyle’s moving sale presented an opportunity for buyers to benefit from bargains on slightly used consumer goods compared to what they would pay artisans and retailers for new items.
Yet Neyle also attempted to manage that discount and his own proceeds by first offering his belongings “at private sale.” Only if necessary would he sponsor a “public sale.” Here he likely made a distinction between one-on-one transactions with buyers and an auction. A “private sale” of any or all of the items allowed Neyle to set prices and negotiate with buyers based on how much interest they demonstrated. At an auction, however, he would have to settle for the highest bid … and anything that did not sell via “private sale” likely would not achieve a higher bid at auction. In addition, sponsoring an auction also meant paying a vendue master, further eroding Neyle’s bottom line.
Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal encountered many invitations to participate in the consumer revolution. Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans placed advertisements for all sorts of new goods, but other advertisers offered secondhand items as well. Neyle and others who advertised moving sales expanded the number of ways that colonists could acquire goods, not unlike the many estate notices that listed used furniture and housewares for sale.