What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He will sell as cheap … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.”
Purveyors of goods and services frequently made appeals to price to entice prospective customers, but some made much bolder claims than others. Consider how advertisers sought to leverage price to their advantage in the June 15, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.
William Eliot stocked a variety of textiles “to be sold cheap.” Similarly, John Fitton sold flour, pork, and peas by the barrel, “all cheap for Cash” (or in trade for “good Melasses”). In addition to promising low prices, other advertisers insisted that they set the lowest prices for their wares. The partnership of Nicholas, Joseph, and Moses Brown, for instance, carried “a fine Assortment of Hard Ware and other GOODS, which they will sell on the lowest Terms.” Coy and Waterman specialized in painting supplies, having “furnished themselves with a compleat Assortment of Painters Colours, which they will sell at the lowest Prices.”
Other advertisers made even more colorful proclamations about prices. At his shop at the Sign of the Turk’s Head, Paul Allen supposedly offered some of the best bargains anywhere in the colonies. He trumpeted that “he will sell on as low Terms … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.” Allen informed prospective customers that his prices matched the best deals available in Boston, Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, and other towns and cities. Joseph Nash made the same comparison, declaring that he sold his “neat Assortment of GOODS … as cheap … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.” Allen and Nash echoed an appeal John Morton and James Morton made in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy the previous day. The Mortons promised prospective customers that they could acquire their merchandise “as cheap as in New York or Boston.”
The vast majority of merchants and shopkeepers mentioned low prices in their newspaper advertisements, though some were more creative than others in doing so. Advertisers like Allen and Nash attempted to attract customers with reassurances that they had the best deals anywhere, not just prices that were low enough to compete in the local marketplace. In the process, they prompted readers to imagine themselves participating in a consumer revolution taking place throughout the colonies and beyond. Acquiring goods connected readers of the Providence Gazette to colonists in faraway places, giving them common experiences through their experiences in the marketplace.