May 31

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 31, 1773).

“The above will be sold very low, as the subscriber has a great deal on hand.”

Appropriately enough, Jacob Wilkins advertised “ONE hundred and thirty pair of brass and iron and-irons” at the “Sign of the Gold And-iron and Candlestick” in the May 31, 1773, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Prospective customers could choose from among the “newest patterns and … different sorts and sizes” to outfit their places.  Wilkins also carried several accessories, including “tongs and shovels and fenders to suit the and-irons.”  In addition, he made “sundry sorts of brass-work” and stocked “a quantity of earthen ware … and all sorts of coarse ware.”

Wilkins concluded his advertisement with a note that “[t]he above will be sold very low, as the subscriber has a great deal on hand.”  It was not clear if he meant the andirons and accessories or all of the merchandise listed in his advertisement, but he may have been willing to dicker with customers over the price of any item.  Unlike other advertisers who merely promoted “very reasonable prices” (as George Ball did in a notice on the same page), Wilkins gave consumers a reason to believe that they would indeed acquire his wares at bargain prices.  He had so much inventory that he was determined to offer good deals just to reduce how much he had on hand.  Whatever determinations he already made about the lowest prices he could offer, Wilkins allowed prospective customers to feel as though they had the upper hand.  They may have been more enthusiastic about visiting his shop with the confidence that the seller had confessed in the public prints that he needed to reduce his inventory.

Wilkins enhanced his appeal to price with additional commentary intended to demonstrate the veracity of his pledge to sell andirons and other housewares “very low.”  Other advertisers sometimes did so as well, though their strategies often involved stories about how they acquired goods directly from producers in England rather than going through middlemen.  Wilkins took a rather novel approach, one that gave consumers the impression that they had the stronger position when it came time to discuss prices.