What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“As he is determined to quit Trade and settle his Affairs, he will sell off all his remaining Goods at public Sale.”
Randle Mitchell advertised a “going out of business” sale in the fall of 1773. He announced that he “is determined to quit Trade and settle his Affairs” and “is now selling off his stock of European and India GOODS, Imported in the last Vessels from London and Bristol.” The merchant outlined the terms of the sale in an advertisement that ran in the Pennsylvania Journal for several weeks in October.
Mitchell ran the advertisement in advance of commencing the sale, hoping to build both anticipation and competition among wholesalers and retailers interested in acquiring his wares. The sale would start on November 1, but interested parties could examine the merchandise at Mitchell’s store on Water Street “three days before the sale.” He pledged that “the Good [will be] arranged in order for any person to view them.” In addition, he distributed “Hand bills with the particulars of the goods … thro’ the city and country, a week before the sale.” Mitchell did not rely on newspapers notices as the only means of advertising his “going out of business” sale. Though none of those handbills survive, Mitchell’s reference to them suggests that colonizers encountered more advertisements in various formats than have been preserved in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections.
To entice prospective buyers, Mitchell declared that he “will sell off in the Packages to any Merchant or Shopkeeper at prime cost or the usual credit.” He offered more generous terms to those who bought in greater volume, setting “Six Months Credit” for “All Persons purchasing above Fifty Pounds value.” Those purchasing “only £20 value and under £50” received just three months credit, while smaller purchases had to be paid in cash at the time of sale. Furthermore, anyone eligible for six months credit who instead chose to pay case “may have a discount of Five per cent.” Those who qualified for three months credit, in turn, received “a discount of Two and a half per cent” for paying cash. Mitchell considered these terms “so very convenient, and advantageous to the Purchasers, that they must see their Interest in purchasing at the Sale.”
Although Mitchell did not use the term “going out of business” to describe his sale, that was the kind of event that he sponsored at his store. With newspaper advertisements and handbills distributed far and wide, he attempted to create a buzz of anticipation for the bargains soon available to merchants and shopkeepers interested in buying in volume. To inspire them to imagine how they could manage such purchases, Mitchell explained the discounts and credit available. In the process, he devised a structure that encouraged larger purchases in his efforts to liquidate his inventory. Mitchell did not merely announce that he was going out of the business. He made his decision “to quit Trade” an event that demanded the attention of merchants and shopkeepers in and near Philadelphia.