August 27

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Aug 27 - 8:24:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (August 24, 1769).

“He is determined … not to import any more Goods.”

In August 1769, Joshua Lockwood promoted “A VERY neat Assortment of CLOCKS and WATCHES” that he had “just imported … from LONDON.” He also carried “a large and neat Assortment of Silver and Metal-Mounted Holster, Saddle, and Pocket-Pistols.” He was careful, however, not to run afoul of the resolutions recently adopted by merchants and traders in Charleston, a nonimportation agreement similar to those already in effect in Boston and New York. In several of the largest urban ports, colonists leveraged economic resistance to the Townshend Acts, vowing not to import a vast array of goods from Britain while Parliament levied taxes on imported paper, tea, glass, lead, and paint. For his part, Lockwood alerted the public that he “is determined, and bound by Honour, and for the Good of the Country, until the late villainous Impositions laid upon us are taken off.” The watchmaker established for prospective customers and the community that he supported the nonimportation agreement, wedding commerce and politics in his advertisement.

Lockwood joined other merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who attempted to leverage the nonimportation agreement to sway consumers with their political sentiments. Unlike others, however, he used the boycott for another purpose: calling in debts. Lockwood anticipated that the tradesmen on the other side of the Atlantic who supplied his clocks and watches would demand “a Settlement” once he suspended placing new orders. They would not extend credit indefinitely to a customer who no longer actively purchased their wares. To pay his own bills, Lockwood called on “his Friends and Customers” to settle their accounts with him. He offered several months to do so, but warned that he would sue those who were “not so kind as to comply with his Request” by the first of the year. Newspapers from New England to Georgia carried advertisements that called on colonists to pay debts or end up in court. In that regard, Lockwood’s notice was not extraordinary. Using the nonimportation agreement as a means of encouraging those who owed him money to settle accounts, on the other hand, was innovative. He sought to harness (or exploit) a political movement for the benefit of his business in a new way. Plenty of advertisers asked consumers to patronize their shops because they supported nonimportation, but they did not use the boycott as a justification for calling in debts. What were the ramifications for Lockwood? Did readers find themselves in sympathy and more inclined to pay their debts to alleviate any hardships Lockwood might face as a result of suspending his orders from Britain? Or did they question Lockwood’s commitment to making a sacrifice on behalf of the cause and resent his effort to use the nonimportation agreement as rationale for taking colonists to court?

June 16

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jun 16 - 6:16:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 16, 1767).

“Will be sold at the London retailing prices.”

Watchmaker Joshua Lockwood ran a shop at the corner of Union and Broad Streets in Charleston, South Carolina, where he sold “a very large and neat assortment of CLOCKS and WATCHES” recently imported from London. In an advertisement in the June 16, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he informed potential customers that his clocks and watches “are of the latest improvements,” signaling that the quality, style, and technology matched what they could purchase in London. His clientele did not need to worry about obtaining inferior timepieces simply because they lived in a small city at the edge of the empire.

Such assurances did not come with an inflated price. Lockwood pledged that his clocks and watches “will be sold at the London retailing prices.” Some prospective customers may have expected to pay a premium in order to obtain clocks and watches with “the latest improvements” that had been shipped across the Atlantic, but Lockwood indicated that this did not incur higher prices for his local buyers. They would be charged the same as if they lived in London and dealt directly with watchmakers there. There was no need to worry that distance and the smaller size of the local community lessened competition and raised prices.

Colonial advertisers most often compared their prices to those of their local competitors, asserting that they sold at the “lowest rates” in their town or colony. On occasion, however, advertisers made price comparisons that took into account the size of the community in which they lived and worked. Shopkeepers in the hinterlands beyond the major port cities, for instance, claimed that they set prices that competed with those in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Advertisers in smaller cities, such as Portsmouth and Providence, favorably compared their prices to the going rates in larger ports. Transatlantic comparisons represented the next link in the chain, as merchandisers in the largest colonial cities, like Lockwood, declared that their prices matched what counterparts in London charged. Regardless of their location, advertisers believed potential customers looked to the next larger community and suspected prices might be lower there. In turn, advertisers sought to ease such anxieties (and promote more sales) by persuading potential customers that they benefited from the same deals as if they shopped in a locale with a larger population and considered less remote.