What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Determined not to be undersold.”
To compete with other shopkeepers and merchants in Providence, Jones and Allen emphasized both low prices and extensive choices in their advertisement in the May 30, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette. The headline for their notice, “The GREATEST PENNYWORTHS Of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS,” immediately alerted prospective customers to the bargains they would encounter at the Sign of the Golden Ball. They elaborated on their low prices in the conclusion to their advertisement. “Said JONES and ALLEN,” the partners confided, “think it needless to say any thing more urgent to the public, than that they deal for ready money, and are determined not to be undersold by any retailer in Providence.” Although they did not make any explicit promises, Jones and Allen hinted that they would match the prices if customers found better deals in other shops. They also made a special appeal concerning the prices for tea, sugar, and spices, pledging to part with them “on the lowest terms.”
To demonstrate that they made choices available to consumers, Jones and Allen listed dozens of items from among their inventory of textiles, garments, accessories, and housewares. In many instances, they deployed language that suggested even more choices, such as “shaloons, tammies and calimancoes, of all colours,” “a large assortment of light and dark patches,” “an assortment of hemp, thread, cotton, worsted, and silk and worsted hose,” “an elegant assortment of ribbons,” and “An assortment of broaches, hair sprigs, ear rings, &c.” The et cetera (abbreviated “&c.”) implied even more choices. Jones and Allen also inserted “&c. &c.” and “&c. &c. &c.” to underscore that they stocked an even greater array of merchandise. In addition, they did not list any of the items from among their “good assortment of hard-ware.” Instead, they claimed those items were “too tedious to enumerate in an advertisement,” though readers may have suspected that Jones and Allen did not want to incur the additional expense. After all, the advertisement already filled two-thirds of a column.
Other advertisers claimed to offer “the lowest Prices” in Providence, but did not exert the same effort in making that claim. Similarly, others declared that they carried a “compleat Assortment of English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS,” but did not list any of their wares. Jones and Allen adapted popular marketing strategies, making their advertisement more distinctive than many others that ran in the same issue of the Providence Gazette.