What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Will sell them cheaper than any in the city.”
Charles Oliver Bruff, a goldsmith and jeweler, operated a shop at “the Sign of the Tea-pot, Tankard, and Ear-ring” on Maiden Lane in New York in the early 1770s. He regularly placed newspaper notices to advise prospective clients of his services. In the January 6, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, for instance, he declared that he “makes or mends any kind of diamond or enamel’d work in the jewellery way” and “makes all sorts of silversmiths work, and mends old work.” In addition, he mended “ladies fans in the neatest manner and at the lowest price” and sold rings, lockets, “hair jewels,” and a variety of other jewelry.
Bruff sought to draw attention to two other aspects of his business. He informed readers that he had “just finished some of the neatest dies for making sleeve buttons, with the neatest gold cuts to them to stamp all sorts of gold buttons, silver, pinchbeck, or brass.” Colonizers who desired such distinctive buttons could acquire them from Bruff … and at bargain prices. He pledged to “sell them cheaper than any in the city.” In addition to buttons, Bruff also highlighted his interest in working with “gentlemen merchants that travel the country, or pedlars,” anticipating that they would purchase in quantity for resale. The goldsmith asserted that peddlers “may depend on being used well.” That included maintaining good relationships as well as offering low prices. Bruff confided that for such customers he would “make any kind of work cheaper than they can get it in the city elsewhere.”
Whether hawking buttons, cultivating relationships with retailers, or mending fans for fashionable ladies, Bruff deployed superlatives to compare his prices to those of his competitors in the bustling port city. He did not merely declare that he offered comparable low prices; instead, he claimed that he undersold other goldsmiths and jewelers in New York, hoping that this strategy would bring customers into his shop.