March 3

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

Pennsylvania Journal (March 3, 1773).

“ALL kinds of ribbons, which he will sell for cash at 65 per cent, on sterling cost.”

David Shakespear marketed “ALL kinds of ribbons” and “sundry other dry Goods, hardware, jewellery,” and other merchandise in advertisements that ran in the Pennsylvania Journal in February and March 1773.  He did not, however, invite consumers to browse his wares and make purchases.  Instead, he made clear that he restricted his commercial activities to wholesale transactions.  He addressed “City and Country Shopkeepers” in his notice.

In promoting his selection of ribbons, an especially popular accessory for enhancing garments, millinery, and women’s elaborate hairstyles, Shakespear informed prospective buyers that he “will sell for cash at 65 per cent, on sterling cost.”  He apparently believed that such transparency would entice “City and Country Shopkeepers” to do business with him, provided that they had the cash to take advantage of the bargain prices he charged.  Given the discount, it made sense that Shakespear wished to sell by volume to retailers rather than deal directly with consumers who made smaller purchases.

He outlined his business model, stating that he “purposes to continue importing to sell by wholesale only” and “hopes that the small advance put on [his wares], will recommend him to the custom of the City and Country Shopkeepers.”  Shakespear envisioned distributing his inventory throughout Philadelphia, a bustling urban port and the largest city in the colonies, and towns in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland.  He provided an alternative to doing business with English merchants in London, positioning himself as a middleman who offered deals that allowed retailers who made wholesale purchases from him to pass along the savings to their own customers.

Although Shakespear mentioned the discount only in relation to ribbons, he may have anticipated that prospective customers would associate bargain rates with his other merchandise.  Even if those deals for dry goods, hardware, and other items were not as generous as his prices for ribbons, some of those “City and Country Shopkeepers” may have anticipated that they could negotiate with Shakespear for favorable prices.  His advertisement signaled that he was open to such overtures.

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