October 26

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

Providence Gazette (October 26, 1771).

“They will be able to sell as cheap as any on the Continent.”

The merchants who advertised in the October 26, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette placed special emphasis on their prices as they competed with each other for customers.  Halsey and Corlis made a rather generic appeal to price, stating that they were “determined to sell at the very lowest Rates,” but other advertisers made more specific claims about their prices that departed from the formulaic language that appeared in so many advertisements of the period.

Several advertisers focused on retailers seeking inventory for their own shops in Providence and the countryside.  Nicholas Brown and Company, for instance, declared that “Town and Country Shop-Keepers may depend on being supplied on as advantageous Terms as by any Importers in New-England.”  Joseph Russell and William Russell provided even more guidance to retailers.  They stressed that they purchased their inventory “in England on the very best Terms.”  That allowed them to “sell at so low an Advance, as will afford to those who buy to sell again, a very good Profit.”  Prospective customers likely realized this also meant that they could better serve their own customers by setting competitive prices.

The partnership of Stewart and Taylor even included a nota bene to draw attention to the prices for the “Variety of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” that they “Just Imported from London, Manchester, and Liverpool.”  The merchants proclaimed that they “expect (as one of them has been at the above Places, and purchased their Goods from the Manufacturers) they will be able to sell as cheap as any on the Continent.”  Having traveled to England to negotiate the best bargains, Stewart and Taylor passed along the savings to their customers.  They made a bold claim that consumers would not find better prices anywhere in the colonies.

Even as some advertisers relied on standardized language about low prices in their newspaper advertisements, others engaged readers with more robust descriptions about how they acquired their goods and how that contributed to their own low prices.  Retailers and other customers could compare the accounts presented in the advertisements to determine which merchants were most likely to give them the best deals on their merchandise.

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