What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“No Good will be received by him of any Servants or Minors.”
Martin Bicker launched a new enterprise in Boston in the early 1770s. He offered his services as a broker who “receive[s] in all sorts of English and Scotch Goods, Houshold Furniture,” and other items and “does engage to raise the Cash for such Goods delivered [to] him for Sale.” In so doing, he put himself in competition most directly with auctioneers in the city, though he also gave consumers another alternative to buying from shopkeepers. Retailers also had the option to purchase wares from Bicker rather than from merchants. Still, Bicker positioned him services primarily as an alternative to those provided by auctioneers in the city. In an advertisement in the April 5, 1773, edition of the Boston Evening-Post, he declared that he paid cash for goods that clients entrusted to him “with as quick Dispatch and to good Advantage as can be done at any Auction whatever.” In addition, he concluded with a nota bene directed at buyers, declaring that he “has for Sale a Variety of English and other Goods, which may be had as cheap as at any VENDUE” or auction. Bicker noted that he ran his brokerage “At the RED FLAG,” a symbol usually associated with auctions but appropriated here for his own purposes.
Given that the broker offered secondhand goods for sale, he aimed to reassure the public that he did not peddle stolen items. Bicker stopped short of allowing others to examine his ledgers, but he did promise that “no Goods will be received by him of any Servants or Minors.” That meant that he did not accept items delivered by all sorts of free and unfree laborers who fell within the category of servants, including indentured servants, apprentices, and enslaved men and women. Bicker realized that these subordinates sometimes stole goods from their employers, masters, or enslavers and then sold or traded them. He also refused items from children and youth who similarly lacked authority when it came to disposing of goods. In his efforts to make his brokerage a success, Bicker pursued two strategies in his advertisement. He presented his services as equal to those in the auction houses already familiar to residents of Boston while simultaneously encouraging confidence in his integrity as an honest dealer who did not accept any and all merchandise sent his way. Instead, he exercised appropriate discretion that testified to his overall trustworthiness.