May 14

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 14, 1772).

Much cheaper than they are usually sold.”

In the spring of 1772, Samuel Gray sold “China WARE … At the Three Sugar Loaves in Cornhill, near the Heart and Crown,” the printing office where Thomas Fleet and John Fleet published the Boston Evening-Post.  Gray declared that he stocked a “neat Assortment of India China Ware.”  He provided a short list of merchandise, including a “Variety of pudding, sallad, and soop Dishes, round, eight-square, scalloped, and oval” as well as “octagon, and mackrel Dishes, of different sizes” and “others of various Forms and sizes.”  He also carried a “Variety of Table Plates and Butter Plates, Pattypans, Sauce Boats, Bowls, Tea Cups and Saucers, Coffee [Saucers], and other Articles.”  Repeatedly invoking a “variety” of styles and “others” encouraged prospective customers to imagine an even greater array of choices they would encounter at the Three Sugar Loaves.

In addition to consumer choice, Gray highlighted low prices in his efforts to entice readers into his shop.  The secondary headline for his advertisement proclaimed that he parted with his wares “CHEAP for CASH.”  Near the end of the notice, he underscored the bargains available to customers who paid in cash rather than credit.  He informed them that they could acquire most of his goods “exceeding low for Cash, much cheaper than they are usually sold.”  He likely intended for the italics to draw attention to this deal.  Gray further explained that “many of the Articles will be retailed at the first Sterling Cost,” suggesting that he did not mark up the wholesale prices that he paid.  Gray did not specify which items were among the “many” sold at such low prices.  He may have treated those items as loss leaders, figuring customers who purchased some of those “many” items would also buy other items.  He also acknowledged that he did not sell cups and saucers “much cheaper than they are usually sold.”  After all, he had to make a living.  In his marketing efforts, he carefully balanced bargain prices for most items with standard rates on just a couple, seeking to convince consumers that he offered better deals than they would find among his competitors.

July 11

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

Jul 11 - 7:11:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 11, 1767).

“They have been unjustly detained out of a Sum of Money, greatly to their Disadvantage.”

No publicity is bad publicity. That may have been the sentiment that motivated Black and Stewart when they placed this advertisement in the Providence Gazette. As part of their attempt to market tea, rum, molasses, and sugar, the partners aired their dirty laundry in the public prints.

Black and Stewart did not go into the particulars of what had transpired, but they did inform readers “that through the Knavery of some, and Collusion of others, they have been unjustly detained out of a Sum of Money, greatly to their Disadvantage.” Perhaps in a town the size of Providence it was not necessary to go into more detail. Black and Stewart may have been referencing a tale that local readers already knew, gossip that had already spread. They may have felt that acknowledging their difficulties presented the better path than trying to pretend that the unfortunate situation did not exist.

At the same time, the partners also attempted to generate sympathy for their plight. Even if readers did not know the specifics, they could still be moved that Black and Stewart “stand in Need of Cash.” The shopkeepers first emphasized their own needs and how they would benefit from commercial transactions, but then they pivoted to stress the benefits accrued to potential customers who chose to patronize their business. They noted that competitors “sell some Goods below Prime Cost” (perhaps as what would be called loss leaders today), prompting Black and Stewart to offer discounted prices on several popular items. To aid potential customers in comparison shopping, they listed prices for tea, rum, molasses, and sugar. They also issued a guarantee on the tea, which was “warranted good” but would be “taken back and the Money returned” if customers were not satisfied. If they could get customers though the door to purchase these items, some might also make selections from among the “Variety of English and West-India Goods” they also stocked.

Some readers may have found the story of Black and Stewart’s difficulties untoward, but the shopkeepers gambled that they could mobilize their tale of woe to attract customers. They portrayed their disappointments in business as opportunities for customers to benefit from lower prices. The marketplace could be cruel, but this afforded consumers victories on occasion. Black and Stewart invited potential customers to take advantage of their misfortunes, giving unspoken assurances that they could trust the deals were real since the shopkeepers were in such dire straits.