What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Sold as low as at any Store or Shop in Town.”
Advertisements for consumer goods in eighteenth-century newspapers frequently included appeals to price. In the June 10, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, William Bant informed his “Friends and Customers” that he sold a “General Assortment of English and India GOODS … at the very lowest Rates.” Similarly, Lewis Deblois sold cutlery, hardware, and other goods “at the very lowest Price.” Joshua Isaacs set “reasonable Terms” for the imported goods he sold. In many instances, advertisers made only brief reference to the price of their merchandise, but some, like Joshua Gardner, underscored price in their attempts to entice customers.
Gardner stocked a “fine Assortment of English Goods” that he acquired from London, Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, and other towns. After listing several items, he declared that “the above-mention’d Goods are purchased upon the best Ter[m]s.” In turn, he passed along the savings to his customers, pledging that everything in his inventory “shall be Sold as low as at any Store or Shop in Town.” Prospective customers, he proclaimed, would not find better bargains anywhere in Boston.
In addition, Gardner inserted a special “NOTE” to retailers, informing “THOSE Persons who purchase to Sell again” that they “may be supply’d by the Piece, Half-piece or Quarter-piece, Dozen, Half-dozen or Quarter-dozen, at the same advance as if they bought large Quantities.” Many wholesalers promoted discounts for purchasing in volume in their advertisements, but Gardner went beyond that deal. He offered retailers an opportunity to purchase in smaller quantities at the same rates as if they placed larger orders. Such an offer distinguished him among wholesalers who advertised in Boston, perhaps making his wares more attractive to shopkeepers in the city and surrounding towns.
Although many advertisers resorted to formulaic language when making appeals to price, others experimented with both the rates they charged and how they described prices to prospective customers. Gardner devoted as much space in his advertisement to discussing his prices as he did to listing his goods, making his notice unique among those inserted by Bant, Deblois, Isaacs, and many other merchants and shopkeepers.