What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At the very lowest Rates that any Merchants sell for in America.”
John Brown, a prominent merchant who made a portion of his fortune through participation in the transatlantic slave trade, wanted it both ways in an advertisement for “English and India GOODS” he placed in the August 1, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette. He declared that it “would be needless to particularize every Article in a News-Paper,” but them provided an extensive list of items that customers would find “among the great Variety” of items he imported from London. Extending two-thirds of a column, the catalog of goods included “a neat assortment of looking glasses,” “a compleat assortment of hard ware, consisting of almost every article ever imported,” “beads and necklaces,” “boys furred caps,” and “ivory and horn combs.” Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Brown listed dozens of textiles. Despite considering it “needless to particularize every Article,” Brown published the longest advertisement, by far, in that issue of the Providence Gazette.
In addition to demonstrating the range of choices available at his store, Brown sought to distinguish his advertisement by promising low prices to merchants and shopkeepers who made wholesale purchases. He promised the “very lowest Rates that any Merchants sell for in America,” making a bold claim that extended far beyond his competitors in Providence. Brown claimed that his prices matched or beat those set by merchants in Newport, the other major port in the colony, as well as merchants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. Retailers in Providence and other towns in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts did not need to acquire their merchandise from merchants in Boston or New York in hopes of getting the best deals. Instead, they could streamline the supply chain by working directly with Brown. Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes claimed they offered the lowest prices in town or in the colony or region. Just as he “went big” with his list of imported goods, Brown attempted to awe and entice prospective customers with hyperbolic declarations about offering the best prices anywhere in the colonies.