What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Ladies Riding Dresses made at Prices in Proportion to the above.”
Edward Griffiths, a tailor from London who migrated to Portsmouth, advertised his services in the May 3, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Like many other artisans, he promised “reasonable Rates” for his work. He did not, however, expect prospective clients to take his word. Instead, he published a list of what he charged for more than half a dozen items. A “lappeled Suit,” for instance, cost one pound and eight shillings, as did a “half trimmed Suit.” A “frock Suit” was slightly less expensive at one pound and four shillings. Three more items – a pair of breeches, a jacket with sleeves, and a jacket with lapels – all cost four shillings and eight pence. In contrast, Griffiths charged only four shillings for a jacket without sleeves. In addition, he made and sold “Ladies Riding Dresses … at Prices in Proportion” to those enumerated in his advertisement.
Prospective clients knew what they should expect to pay even before they visited Griffiths’s shop. They could assess for themselves whether he did indeed charge “the most reasonable Rates” for his garments. Furthermore, the tailor facilitated comparison shopping. Consumers who previously paid other tailors more for the same items could recognize a bargain among his list of prices. That depended, however, on Griffiths actually setting prices low enough to survive such scrutiny. Merely naming prices in his advertisement did not necessarily guarantee that he would attract customers, especially if Griffiths misjudged the local market. This strategy also limited his ability to haggle with customers. He could still offer discounts at the time of sale, but the published prices prevented him from setting rates any higher on the spot and then allowing clients to feel as though they negotiated significant bargains. Providing the list of prices in his advertisement had advantages and disadvantages. Griffiths apparently felt confident enough in his prices that he believed the advantages outweighed the disadvantages.