December 11

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

Boston Evening-Post (December 9, 1771).

“[I]f the Teas should not please those that have not yet made trial, they will be received back and the Money returned.”

Archibald Cunningham took to the pages of the Boston Evening-Post to advertise a variety of groceries and housewares in December 1771.  His inventory included sugar, rice, nutmegs, and an assortment of spices as well as “Blue and white China Cups and Saucers” and “Delph & Glass Ware” in several colors.  Cunningham listed each of these items, some with short descriptions, but devoted an entire paragraph to promoting tea.

He informed prospective customers that he carried “Bohea Tea very good” and “excellent Souchong and Hyson Tea.”  According to Cunningham, his tea “has been approved of by good Judges to be of a superior Quality in Flavor and Color to that commonly imported.”  He did not name those “good Judges,” but he also did not expect consumers to accept such testimonials without question.  Instead, Cunningham promised satisfaction by offering a money back guarantee.  [I]f the Teas should not please those that have not yet made trial,” the shopkeeper declared, “they will be received back and the Money returned.”  That likely attracted the attention of some readers as they encountered advertisements placed by several shopkeepers who included tea among their merchandise.

On occasion, purveyors of goods and services experimented with money back guarantees in the eighteenth century, but not so often that such offers regularly appeared in advertisements.  Cunningham provided his customers with an additional benefit that distinguished how he marketed tea from others who advertised the same varieties.  Lewis Deblois and George Deblois listed “Bohea Tea per Chest or Dozen” in their advertisement, giving customer options when it came to quantity.  John Adams and Company commented on the quality of their “Best Hyson and Bohea Tea,” but did not encourage customers to take it home, try it, and then return it for a refund if it did not meet with satisfaction.

In offering a money back guarantee, Cunningham further testified to the quality of his tea.  He would not have made such an offer unless he was confident consumers would rarely invoke the option of returning what they purchased.  The guarantee provided security at the same time that it reassured prospective customers about the quality “in Flavor and Color” of Cunningham’s “Bohea Tea very good” and “excellent Souchong and Hyson Tea.”

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