February 14

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

Essex Gazette (February 14, 1769).

“Will sell the Remains of Mr. Hamilton’s Goods at the lowest Prices.”

GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!!! Although Arthur Hamilton and Archibald Wilson did not make such a proclamation, this was the marketing strategy they adopted in an advertisement that ran in the February 14, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Wilson placed the advertisement on behalf of Hamilton, explaining that the merchant had “gone out of the Country.” In the wake of his departure, Hamilton had “empowered” Wilson “to settle his Affairs,” including taking legal action against any associates who neglected to pay their debts. In addition, Wilson had taken possession of “the Remains of Mr. Hamilton’s Goods.” He occupied Hamilton’s former shop, where he sold the remaining merchandise “at the lowest Prices, for Cash or short Credit.” Settling Hamilton’s affairs, including liquidating his inventory, merited setting the “lowest prices” to entice prospective customers.

Hamilton and Wilson were not the only advertisers in the Essex Gazette who ran a sale without calling it a sale. Robert Alcock had been advertising for more than a month that he intended “to clear off his Stock.” To that end, he sold textiles and other goods “greatly under the usual Prices.” In other words, he ran a clearance sale. Featuring this marketing strategy in his advertisement may have offered inspiration to Hamilton and Wilson as they considered how to best attract customers. The Essex Gazette, barely six months in publication at the time they placed their notice, contained relatively few advertisements compared to newspapers printed in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Pennsylvania. Most issues had a dozen or fewer paid notices, making each of them that much more visible to readers. Given the circulation of colonial newspapers, Hamilton and Wilson would have had access to publications from Boston and other cities, but for the purposes of advertising to their local market they likely paid the most attention to advertisements in the Essex Gazette. They did not need other merchants and shopkeepers to demonstrate that setting low prices would aid in selling Hamilton’s remaining merchandise, but they may have benefited from Alcock’s example when it came to informing the public that they had adopted this approach. Sales were not a standard element of print marketing in the eighteenth century. Hamilton and Wilson may have adopted a method of addressing prospective customer that they saw Alcock introduce in their community. Given the small number of advertisers in the Essex Gazette, they could have decided that they needed to take a similar approach in order to be competitive.