What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“All as cheap as they can be bought in Boston.”
From New Hampshire to Georgia, purveyors of consumer goods frequently made appeals to price in their newspaper advertisements. They often made general statements, like Francis Grant did in an advertisement in the May 21, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette. He described his prices for a “good Assortment of English and West-India GOODS” as “cheap.” Similarly, John Appleton declared that he sold his merchandise “on the most reasonable Terms.” John Appleton made a stronger case for his prices, asserting that he sold imported foods “At the very lowest Rates.” Even so, he deployed rather generic language.
Other advertisers, however, attempted to attract customers by making bolder and more specific promises about their prices. William Vans advertised a “Beautiful Assortment of Paper Hangings” (or wallpaper) as well as a “great Variety of English, West-India and Grocery GOODS.” He pledged that he set prices “as cheap as any Store in Town.” Yet merchants and shopkeepers in Salem did not compete for customers only among themselves but also with their counterparts in nearby Boston. That being the case, Jonathan Nutting sold “Painters Colours” and window glass “as cheap as they can be bought in Boston.” Nathaniel Sparhawk stocked all sorts of merchandise, listing dozens of items in his advertisement. Like Nutting, he proclaimed that he was “determined to sell as low as can be bought in Boston.” George Deblois expressed a similar sentiment in an advertisement enumerating just as many goods. He trumpeted that his prices were “as cheap … as can be bought in this town, or any other town in the province.” Consumers did not need to look to Boston or anywhere else for better bargains than they could find in Salem.
Making an appeal to price became a standard part of newspaper advertisements for consumer goods in the eighteenth century. Almost every advertisement in the May 21, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette included some mention of low prices, suggesting that both advertisers and prospective customers expected such appeals incorporated into marketing efforts. Yet many advertisers did not merely declare low prices by rote. Instead, they devised more sophisticated appeals, such as comparing their prices to their competitors in town and beyond. Those merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged that consumers looked for the best deals. In turn, they promised their customers would find those deals at their shops, stores, and warehouses.