What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Goods very Cheap.”
As May 1773 came to an end, Samuel Eliot and Thomas Walley continued publishing advertisements that included colorful commentary about their low prices. In the supplement that accompanied the May 27 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Eliot once again asserted that “Those who are acquainted with his Prices, will not need to be told that he sells at low Rates; those who are not, who will please to call on him, shall be satisfied he makes no idle Profession, when he engages to sell his Goods on the most similar terms.” Elsewhere in the supplement, Walley expressed his exasperation with the elaborate stories that some of his competitors printed about how they “sell cheaper than cheap and lower than anybody else.” Rather than publish tales with “little meaning,” he “rather chuses to inform his good Customers and others that he will sell at such Prices, as that both the Seller and Buyer may make a Profit.”
In contrast, Gilbert Deblois took a streamlined approach to promote the low prices he charged for a “large and beautiful Assortment” of textiles, accessories, housewares, tea, and a “great Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention in an Advertisement.” He deployed a headline that summarized his prices: “Good very cheap.” He also inserted a nota bene to advise that “Country Traders may be supplied at as low Advance as can be bought at any Store in Town,” reinforcing the message in the headline. In the standard issue, Herman Brimmer and Andrew Brimmer published an advertisement with a primary headline, “Variety of GOODS,” and a secondary headline, “Exceeding Cheap.” The Brimmers listed dozens of items from among the “Assortment of English, India and Scotch GOODS” they recently imported, but they did not make additional remarks about the low prices of those items. They relied on the secondary headline to market their prices.
Deblois and the Brimmers adopted a different approach than Eliot and Walley in their efforts to alert prospective customers to their low prices. The former chose brevity, allowing short headlines to frame the remainder of their advertisements, while the latter offered narratives intended to engage and perhaps even entertain readers. In both instances, the advertisers made price a defining factor in their newspaper notices. They did not merely announce that they had goods for sale. They presented a reason for consumers to select their shops over others.