What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“They will be Sold as cheap as at any Shop in Boston.”
Robert Robertson advertised a “large Assortment of English GOODS” available at his shop in Portsmouth in the July 28, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Samuel Bowles and Stephen Hardy advertised similar wares. All three listed dozens of items; collectively, their advertisements filled almost an entire column in that issue, presenting consumers with many choices. Prospective customers could choose among the merchandise, but they could also choose among the purveyors. To help them make those choices, Bowles and Robertson each described their prices as “very cheap.”
Robertson, however, did more than deploy a standard appeal to price. He concluded his advertisement with a nota bene that underscored the bargains at his shop: “As the above Goods are a Consignment to me, they will be Sold as cheap as at any Shop in Boston.” In making this pronouncement, Robertson acknowledged that he competed not only with Bowles and Hardy and other shopkeepers in Portsmouth but also with all of the merchants and shopkeepers not so far away in the largest and busiest port in New England. Their advertisements filled the pages of the several newspapers printed in that city that certainly found their way to Portsmouth. Robertson revealed that he expected at least some of his prospective customers engaged in comparison shopping, not only in Portsmouth but ranging farther away as well. He also suggested that consumers in New Hampshire had grown accustomed to paying higher prices than their counterparts in Massachusetts.
Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes proclaimed that they matched or beat the prices of their local competitors in the 1760s; only rarely did they address prices throughout an entire region or make comparisons to prices in other cities and towns. Robertson was innovative in that regard, but it may well have been innovation born of necessity if he suspected that he regularly lost business when colonists in New Hampshire visited Boston or sent away for goods supplied by the merchants and shopkeepers who resided there.