What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Will be sold … as low as at any Store or Shop in America.”
Among the advertisements and notices in the May 14, 1773, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, John McMaster and Company promoted a “large Assortment of English, India, and Scotch GOODS” recently received via “the last Ships from London.” They invited prospective customers to visit their store in Portsmouth to examine their “Large Assortment of flower’d Lawns, Cambricks and Muslins,” “striped and plain Lutestrings,” and “Tabby Brocades.” In addition to textiles, McMaster and Company stocked “Large and Fashionable Ribbons,” “coarse and fine Guns,” and “may other Articles, too tedious to mention.” Advertisers often used that phrase to entice curious readers to browse their merchandise.
Beyond providing an array of choices to consumers, McMaster and Company called attention to their prices, proclaiming that their customers could acquire these goods “as low as at any Store or Shop in America.” They did not merely compare their prices to those set by local competitors in and near Portsmouth. Instead, they boldly declared that neither consumers who purchased on their own behalf nor retailers who bought to sell again would not find better deals anywhere else, not even in the much larger ports of Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. McMaster and Company were not alone in making that claim. In another advertisement, an entrepreneur who identified himself as McIntyre but did not give a first name hawked “CHINA and EARTHEN WARE” available at “his Store near the Market.” He asserted that he charged prices “as cheap as sold in America.”
Both McMaster and Company and McIntyre attempted to leverage promises of good deals, indeed the best deals possible, to induce prospective customers to imagine themselves purchasing their wares. They whet readers’ appetites with allusions to a “large Assortment” or “Good Assortment” of merchandise and then presented their low prices, the lowest anywhere, as the means of satisfying those appetites.