September 7

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (September 7, 1771).

“Sell at least as low as they were ever sold on the Continent of America.”

Some merchants and shopkeepers named their businesses after the signs that marked their locations, but relatively few chose other sorts of names.  E. Bridgham of Boston was one of those exceptions, advertising that he operated the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse” on King Street in Boston.  Bridgham sold, as the name suggested, goods imported “directly from the several Manufacturers in Staffordshire and Liverpool,” including “China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware.”

Bridgham was an enterprising entrepreneur in other ways as well.  He sought to cultivate customers from beyond Boston and the surrounding towns.  He placed his advertisement for the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse in the September 7, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  With the exception of printers looking to drum up business for proposed publications via subscription notices inserted in newspapers published in multiple colonies, most purveyors of goods confined their advertising to local newspapers.  At the time, Bridgham had five newspapers to choose among in Boston, all of them distributed beyond the bustling port.

Yet Bridgham imagined a larger market for his merchandise, placing himself in competition with merchants and shopkeepers in Providence as well as Boston.  To convince prospective customers in Rhode Island that they should purchase from him rather than shop more locally, he proclaimed that he was “able, and fully inclined, to sell at least as low” as similar imported goods “were ever sold on the Continent of America.”  He attempted to use low prices to lure customers, promising bargains that compared not only to any they might encounter in Boston or Providence but also New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and everywhere else.  Bridgham suggested he set prices low enough to justify the additional effort of acquiring goods from his shop in Boston for those who resided at a distance and had other options in their vicinity.

The Providence Gazette regularly carried advertisements for shops located in Rhode Island, western Connecticut, and southeastern Massachusetts, but rarely did merchants and shopkeepers from Boston advertise in that newspaper.  E. Bridgam apparently felt that the four shillings the printer charged to run the advertisement for three weeks might yield a return on his investment by enhancing the visibility of the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse and attracting new customers from Providence.

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