What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Cheaper than the Cheapest.”
In the fall of 1771, Henry Daggett advertised a “large & general Assortment of English & India GOODS” in the Connecticut Journal. His advertisement in the November 15 edition also listed several different kinds of wines and spirits as well as “Loaf and Brown SUGARS by the large or small Quantities” available at his store near Yale College in New Haven. He offered all of his inventory “Wholesale and Retail,” supplying shopkeepers and selling directly to consumers.
Most purveyors of goods and services made appeals to price when they placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, but Daggett emphasized low prices to an extent not seen in most other notices in the Connecticut Journal and other publications. John Sherman informed prospective customers that he sold his “large Assortment of GOODS … very reasonably.” Similarly, John Atwater stocked a “general Assortment of English Goods” that readers could acquire “very cheap.” Sherman and Atwater embedded appeals to price within their notices; in comparison, Daggett crafted a headline that presented his establishment as “ANOTHER CHEAP STORE!” He deployed price as a means of framing the rest of his advertisement. In the middle of the advertisement, he further elaborated, proclaiming that he set prices “Cheaper than the Cheapest.” Customers might have found some of the same imported goods at Sherman’s store or Atwater’s store, but Daggett suggested that his competitors did not match the bargains he offered.
Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements might not appear very sophisticated compared to marketing campaigns of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but those notices should not be dismissed as mere announcements. Daggett attempted to incite demand for his goods by emphasizing low prices, hoping that the promise of good deals would convince customers to make purchases and buy in greater quantities if he could convince them that they were getting the better end of the transaction. Even the wording and format incorporated innovation as Daggett deviated from standardized language concerning prices to promote “Cheaper than the Cheapest” goods and inserted a headline describing his “CHEAP STORE!” At a glance, Daggett’s advertisement may look like all the others to modern readers, but on closer examination it becomes clear that Daggett sought to create a distinctive notice that would garner greater attention.