What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He will sell … at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”
In 1772, James Lockwood began the new year by placing an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy “to inform the Public, That he is now opening, at a new Store …, a great Assortment of English & India GOODS, BOOKS, and all kinds of STATIONARY.” The merchant marketed these items “Wholesale or Retail,” seeking both retailers and consumers as customers. To compete with other merchants and shopkeepers in town, he proclaimed that he set prices “as cheap as any of his Neighbours.” In other words, he would not be undersold … and might even offer some bargains better than buyers would find anywhere else in New Haven.
In this brief advertisement, Lockwood deployed two of the most common advertising strategies of the era: an appeal to price and an appeal to consumer choice. Elsewhere in the same issue, other merchants and shopkeepers did the same. Roger Sherman, for instance, promoted a “general assortment” of goods, noting that he sold them “cheap.” Henry Daggett similarly carried a “large Assortment of English and India GOODS” as well as a “Quantity of Queen’s WARE, gilt and plain.” He also declared that his prices were “cheap,” a word commonly used to mean “low” rather than “lacking in quality.” None of these advertisers published extensive lists of their merchandise, a common strategy for demonstrating choices to readers, but they used words and phrases like “great assortment,” “general assortment,” “quantity,” and “all kinds” to suggest the choices that awaited consumers. They also did not elaborate much on price, though Lockwood did attempt to distinguish his store from the others when he asserted that he sold his merchandise “at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”
To modern eyes accustomed to much more sophisticated marketing strategies, newspaper notices like the ones placed by Lockwood, Sherman, and Daggett may appear to have been nothing but announcements that they had goods for sale. Though their advertisements were indeed rudimentary, these merchants and shopkeepers did make some effort to incite demand and entice consumers to shop at their stores. Each of them underscored choices and promised low prices. Lockwood even experimented with the appeal to price in his advertisement, assuring prospective customers that if they did some comparison shopping around town that they would not be disappointed with his prices.