What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Samuel Young … begs Leave to notify the Gentlemen and Ladies of Town and Country.”
Samuel Young of Providence was new to shopkeeping, but he demonstrated in his first advertisement that he understood the conventions of eighteenth-century advertising. He incorporated several of the most common marketing appeals of the era, including price, quality, and consumer choice. He opened his notice with a pledge to “sell as cheap for Cash, as any Person in this Town, or elsewhere” and concluded by reiterating that he offered “the lowest Prices.” He went into greater detail about the “most excellent Quality” of his “European GOODS,” claiming that “all who have passed their Judgment on them” acknowledged “that they are better wrought than any that have yet been exposed to Sale here.” Similarly, he sold “the best of West-India Goods.” Savvy consumers probably greeted these boasts with some skepticism. After all, Young sold the same imported goods as his competitors. Although he did not enumerate his wares, Young stated that they comprised “a great Variety” and were “finely suited to the Wants of the People.” Hyperbolic at times, Young did not merely place a notice that announced he opened a new shop. Instead, drew on techniques already popular in consumer advertising to market his merchandise.
As a newcomer to his occupation, Young also attempted to reassure potential customers about his own character, arguing that he possessed the personal qualities to make sure they would receive satisfactory treatment during transactions. He was not afraid of hard work, intending to “give constant Attendance at his Shop.” He also seemed sensible that some of his claims came off a bit overstated. To that end, he persuaded readers “that he doth not mean to delude and betray People by false Pretensions.” Instead, he simply wished to “establish himself in the World, on the firm Foundation of Truth and Integrity.” Young’s advertisement appeared alongside commercial notices by shopkeepers with established reputations. He realized that he needed to make bold claims to attract attention to his business while simultaneously cultivating his own standing as an honest and fair dealer.