October 2

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

Providence Gazette (October 2, 1773).

“A Number of other Articles, which will be sold as cheap as can be bought in New-York.”

James Mather, “From New-York,” took to the pages of the Providence Gazette in October 1773 to inform residents of the town and the surrounding area that he “HAS opened a cheap Shop” where he sold a variety of goods at low prices.  To entice prospective customers, the shopkeeper listed many of the items that he stocked, including “large and small Damask Tablecloths,” “Gauze Aprons and Handkerchiefs,” and “Breeches Patterns.”  To underscore the choices that he made available to consumers, Mather included several “assortments” as he cataloged his wares, including “a neat Assortment of japanned and hard Wares,” “a choice Assortment of the newest fashioned printed Cottons, Calicoes and Chintz,” “a neat Assortment of flowered, striped and plain Scotch Lawn for Aprons,” and “an Assortment of Jewellery.”  In addition, his inventory included “a Number of other Articles.”

Mather also emphasized price as he promoted his “cheap Shop.”  Like other retailers, he used the word “cheap” to mean inexpensive rather than as an indication of inferior quality.  Advertisers expected “cheap” would resonate positively with prospective customers instead of signaling to them that bargain prices came at the expense of quality.  Mather concluded his list of goods with a declaration that he would sell them “as cheap as can be bought in New-York,” provided that purchasers paid in cash.  When he described himself as “From New-York” he established his credibility for making such a claim about his prices.  Why did the shopkeeper expect that references to prices in New York would get the attention of consumers in Providence?  Even though the town was a busy port in its own right, many more vessels visited New York, transporting goods from England to the colonies.  More imported goods in the marketplace often meant lower prices, in part because of the number of merchants and shopkeepers who had negotiated for good deals from their suppliers.  In addition, merchants in New York received goods from England and then distributed them to retailers near and far.  Such was the case with other major ports, including Boston, Charleston, and Philadelphia.  Consumers sometimes expected to find lower prices in those urban centers, yet Mather and other retailers frequently sought to disabuse them of that notion with promises of setting the same low prices without the inconvenience of traveling or sending away for goods.

November 10

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

Essex Gazette (November 10, 1772).

GOODS cheaper than the cheapest.”

William Vans ran a “Variety-Shop” in Salem in the early 1770s.  To incite interest in his wares, he regularly advertised in the Essex Gazette.  He often mentioned his low prices, comparing them to what consumers could expect to pay for the same merchandise in other shops.  For instance, in May 1771 he proclaimed that he sold his wares “as cheap as any Store in Town.”  Eighteen months later, he enhanced a similar appeal to price with a headline that made his marketing pitch.  “GOODS cheaper than the cheapest” appeared at the top of his advertisement in the November 10, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Vans intended the meaning of “cheap” as understood in the eighteenth century, promoting inexpensive wares without suggesting that low prices indicated inferior quality.  In the introduction to his extensive inventory, Vans declared that he set prices “as cheap or cheaper … than at any Shop in the County,” deciding to give his assertion more weight by expanding it beyond “any Store in Town.”

That Vans devised a headline with a marketing message distinguished his advertisement from others in the same issue.  William Scott advertised the “Essence of Pearl, and Pearl Dentifrice,” the toothpaste created by Jacob Hemet, “DENTIST to her Majesty, the Princess Amelia,” that he sold at his shop.  A headline that advised the product was “For the TEETH and GUMS” appeared at the beginning of the advertisement, but it did not make an explicit marketing appeal like Vans’s headline.  Most merchants and shopkeepers used their names, printed in larger font, as headlines.  Such was the case for John Appleton, “John & Andw. Cabot,” George Deblois, John Dyson, Samuel Flagg, Stephen Higginson, John Prince, and others.  Van’s name received similar treatment, but below the “GOODS cheaper than the cheapest” headline.  Some of those merchants and shopkeepers did make appeals to price in the introductions that came before their lists of merchandise.  Deblois, for instance, declared that “he will sell as cheap as is sold in any Shop or Store in Town, and as low as is sold in Boston, or elsewhere.”  John Appleton stated that “he is determined to sell at such very low Rates … as cannot fail to give full Satisfaction to every reasonable Purchaser.”  Those advertisers made appeals to price, but prospective customers encountered them only after wading into those notices.  Consumers did not have to read the smaller print in Vans’s advertisement to know that he claimed to sell “GOODS cheaper than the cheapest.”  In this instance, the format certainly enhanced the message.

April 25

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

Postscript to the Censor (April 25, 1772).

“The Cream of Goods … at his Cheap Shop.”

Customers could expect only the best merchandise when they visited the “Cheap Shop” operated by Gilbert Deblois.  In an advertisement in the April 25, 1772, edition of the Postscript to the Censor, Deblois trumpeted that he carried “The Cream of Goods” selected by “the most able merchants in the city of LONDON,” purchased at “the different manufactories in England,” and imported to Boston.  His inventory included “a great variety” of “English, Scots, Irish, Dutch & India Goods.”

In describing his business as a “Cheap Shop,” Deblois did not mean that he sold inferior goods.  Instead, both buyers and sellers understood “cheap” to mean inexpensive or a good value for the money.  They did not associate “cheap” with poor quality.  As a result, prospective customers did not notice any contradiction in Deblois’s claim that he sold “The Cream of Goods … at his Cheap Shop.”

The merchant set such good prices for his merchandise, both wholesale and retail, that he refused to haggle with his customers.  He declared his determination “to sell very cheap,” but also asserted that he “makes no abatement on the prices first asked.”  He expected buyers to be satisfied that they acquired the best possible bargains for “The Cream of Goods” without having to negotiate for further discounts.  To that end, he informed readers that his customers “may depend no shop in town shall under sell him.”

Deblois was so confident in this claim that he circulated it widely, placing the same advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  Doing so significantly expanded the distribution of his advertisement, especially since the Censor was struggling to attract subscribers and would cease publication less than a month after Deblois submitted his notice to multiple printing offices.  A Tory who eventually evacuated Boston with the British in 1776, Deblois may have appreciated the political stance represented in the Censor, but as a man of business he chose to advertise in newspapers that did not share his perspective.