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