What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The lowest Price of Lemmons.”
John Crosby’s advertisements were a familiar sight for readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in 1769. Every week he advised prospective customers that he sold “Fresh Lemmons” and other citrus fruit “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons.” Yet he did more than merely invite residents of Boston to purchase his wares. His marketing efforts included listing his prices. While other purveyors of consumer goods and services frequently made appeals to low prices, most rarely advertised specific prices for their wares. Crosby made a point of promising low prices and demonstrating to prospective customers that he did indeed offer bargains. For instance, on December 14, 1769, he advertised lemons for “Two Pistareens per dozen,” stating that was “the lowest I can get them to yet.” In addition, he sold “very fine LIMES at Six Shillings per dozen.”
When it came to his lemons, Crosby set the same price regardless of how many customers purchased, from “large and small Quantities down to the single Dozen.” Some eighteenth-century merchandisers allowed for discounts for buying in volume, but Crosby took the opposite approach. He advised prospective customers that they did not need to buy in bulk to get a good deal. He made his best prices available to all customers, provided that they bought at least a dozen. He reiterated that point in order to underscore it: “any one that buys to the Amount of one Dozen, shall have them as cheap in proportion as tho’ they bought a Box.”
Crosby also provided regular reports on the price of lemons at his shop, his own abbreviated price current restricted to a single commodity. He emphasized that service in his advertisements, noting that there “will be a Weekly Account as usual in this Day’s Paper, of the lowest Price of Lemmons.” In so doing, he made his advertisements a regular feature in the newspaper, a feature that consumers could depend on finding as they perused each new edition. In an era when many advertisers inserted the same notice for three or four weeks and then allowed it to expire without publishing a new advertisement, Crosby constructed an ongoing advertising campaign that required constant maintenance. His advertisements were more than an invitation or appeal to prospective customers; in updating the prices of lemons and other citrus fruit each week, Crosby’s advertisements provided a service to consumers in Boston.