May 9

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 6, 1773).

“His Store is the cheapest after all is said and done, &c. &c. &c. &c.”

Thomas Walley stocked a variety of items at his “GROCERY STORE” on Dock Square in Boston in the spring of 1773.  In an advertisement in the May 6 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, he listed many of those items, from “New Rice” to “BOHEA TEA” to “Flour Mustard” to “Brown Sugars of all Qualities.”

Walley concluded his advertisement with a lively nota bene that commented on the marketing strategies deployed in the city’s newspapers by various purveyors of goods.  He stated that he “could engage, as others do in their late Advertisements, to sell cheaper than cheap, and lower than any Body else, or that his Store is the cheapest after all is said and done, &c. &c. &c. &c.”  The string of “&c.” (which modern readers would recognize as “etc. etc. etc. etc.”) communicated his exasperation with advertisers who went on and on about the bargains that they made available to their customers.  More bluntly, he declared that if he did the same that it would have “as little meaning,” something that he suspected both advertisers and savvy consumers realized.  Instead of making bold claims about his prices to dazzle prospective customers, Walley considered simplicity and honesty the better means of cultivating relationships of trust.  He “rather chuses to inform his good Customers and others that he will sell at such Prices, as that both the Seller and the Buyer may make a Profit.”  In other words, both parties got a good deal.

Walley’s approach echoed the one taken by Samuel Flagg when he advertised imported goods available at his store in Salem several months earlier.  Flagg proclaimed that he did not “mean to make such a Parade, not furnish the Publick with so many pompous Promises (as have lately been exhibited) of Goods being so amazingly cheap, but would rather convince them of the Cheapness of his Goods and of his Integrity in dealing, whenever they may please to call and favour him with their Custom.”  When it came to engaging prospective customers with his advertisements, he did not wish to “tell them a Story” like in “so many flashy Advertisements as weekly present themselves.”  Flagg asserted that such stories had no “true Meaning” … and readers knew that as well as he did.

Both Walley and Flagg saw critiquing advertising as the most effect means of marketing their wares.  They flattered readers by suggesting that they all knew that other advertisers inflated their claim yet Walley and Flagg would not insult the intelligence of their prospective customers.  Instead, they opted for honesty and integrity in presenting prices that worked to the advantage of both the shopkeepers and consumers.

May 1

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

Providence Gazette (May 1, 1773).

“He proposes to sell for Cash, cheaper than he has ever yet done.”

Several merchants and shopkeepers advertised “English and India GOODS” in the May 1, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette, noting that they recently received new inventory via ships from London and other English ports.  In addition to that headline, John Brown provided an extensive list of his merchandise.  Most others, however, inserted much shorter advertisements that emphasized consumer choice without cataloging their wares.  Caleb Greene and Welcome Arnold, for instance, promoted a “new and compleat ASSORTMENT of English and India GOODS.”  Similarly, Jabez Bowen hawked a “very neat Assortment of Summer GOODS,” while Ebenezer Thompson advertised a “fresh ASSORTMENT of all Kinds of English and India GOODS.”  If prospective customers wanted to know more about the particulars, they needed to visit those shops and stores.

That was also the case for the “fine ASSORTMENT of Spring and Summer GOODS” that Samuel Young “has just received by the last Vessels from England.”  In his efforts to convince prospective customers to browse his merchandise and make purchases from him rather than his competitors, Young declared that he set prices “cheaper than he has ever yet done.”  He had been in business at the same location “opposite the Baptist Meeting-House” for several years, so many local consumers presumably had some sense of his prices relative to those of Brown, Greene and Arnold, Bowen, Thompson, and other merchants and shopkeepers in the city.  Even if some considered Young’s prices higher than those of his competitors, he gave an incentive to consider shopping in his store when he asserted that he offered his best bargains ever.  He challenged the curious to discover the extent that he slashed prices for themselves.

Although Young lowered his prices, another aspect of his business remained the same.  He advised readers of the Providence Gazette that the “Sign of the Black Boy” marked the location of his shop.  Young received his “fine ASSORTMENT of Spring and Summer GOODS” from England, but consumers knew that route was only one part of transatlantic networks of trade and exchange that connected Europe, Africa, and the Americas.  Other routes, some of them plied by vessels owned by wealthy merchants in Providence, carried involuntary migrants, enslaved men, women, and children, from Africa to the Americas.  Some of those who survived the Middle Passage labored on plantations in the Caribbean, where they harvested sugar and other “West-India Goods” that Young also advertised.  The “Sign of the Black Boy” testified to the extent that consumer culture in Providence relied on slavery and the slave trade throughout the early modern Atlantic World.  Young offered bargain prices to his customers, but enslaved men, women, and children paid much higher costs in making available the imported goods sold at shops and stores in Providence and other colonial towns and cities.

April 19

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 19, 1773).

Those who are acquainted with his Prices, will not need to be told that he sells at low Rates.”

Samuel Eliot made consumer choice and low prices the centerpieces of the advertisement he inserted in the April 19, 1773, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  He first established that he stocked a “very fine Assortment of English and India Piece GOODS.”  He also stated that his inventory included a “Variety of Genteel Looking-Glasses” as well as “Stationary, Cutlery, and Hard Ware.”  He did not provide as extensive a list of individual items as Caleb Blanchard did for his “large and general Assortment of English and India GOODS” or Daniel Waldo did for his “compleat Assortment of London, Bristol, Birmingham, and Sheffield Hard Ware Goods,” but he did conclude with “&c. &c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that he sold goods beyond those that appeared in his advertisement.

Rather than listing dozens of items like some of his competitors, Eliot devoted more attention to promoting his prices.  In a paragraph that appeared in italics, he declared, “Those who are acquainted with his Prices, will not need to be told that he sells at low Rates.”  Even though they did not need to be told, Eliot offered a reminder that simultaneously presented an opening for elaborating on his prices for “those who are not” already aware of the bargains he offered.  He invited them “to call on him,” confidently asserting that once they visited his shop near Dock Square or his store on Wilson’s Lane they “shall be satisfied he makes no idle Profession, when he engages to sell his Goods on the most reasonable Terms.”  Eliot suggested that he set such low prices that many consumers already associated good deals with his merchandise.  For those not already aware, he issued a challenge to confirm his “low Rates” for themselves.  Getting prospective customers into one of his locations, Eliot likely surmised, increased the chances of making sales, especially if his prices were indeed as low as he suggested.  Other merchants and shopkeepers, like Ebenezer Storer, made passing references to “the lowest Rates” for their goods.  Eliot, in contrast, encouraged engagement with readers of the Boston Evening-Post by creating a narrative around his prices.

December 11

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

New-London Gazette (December 11, 1772).

“All the above articles will be sold lower than can be bought either in [New] York or Boston.”

In the fall of 1772, Ebenezer Backus, Jr., ran multiple advertisements for goods available at his store in Norwich, Connecticut, in the New-London GazetteOne of those advertisements may very well have circulated separately as a broadside or handbill.  It occupied almost an entire page in the November 20 edition.  An advertisement of that size would have been expensive.  In subsequent issues, Backus published another advertisement, one more in line with the length of advertisements published by other purveyors of goods and services.

Like the longer advertisement, the shorter version included a list of goods.  To help prospective customers navigate that list, Backus divided his notice into two columns with only one or two items per line rather than including everything in a paragraph of dense text.  He stocked a variety of textiles, including checks, ginghams, damasks, “Pelong Sattins,” and “Plain Sattins” as well as accessories like buttons, “Barcelona Handkerchiefs of different colours,” and a “Compleat assortment of Ribbons.”  Beyond merchandise intended for making garments, Backus also sold “Cream coloured Ware of all Kinds.”

Although Backus included fewer goods in this advertisement than his previous one, he did add a new marketing appeal with the intention of capturing the attention of prospective customers.  In a nota bene that concluded the notice, Backus asserted that “All the above articles will be sold lower than can be bought either in [New] York or Boston.”  Consumers in and around Norwich may have expected to pay more to acquire goods in the small town of Norwich than in the region’s major urban ports, but Backus assured them that was not the case.  He hoped to entice them with bargains as good or even better than they would encounter elsewhere.  In so doing, he demonstrated that the consumer revolution reached even small towns where colonizers had access to the same goods at the same prices as their counterparts in the largest cities in the colonies.

August 30

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 27, 1772).

“Many of the above Articles were bought by himself at London, Bristol and Birmingham.”

John Welsh took to the pages of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to inform readers that he “Just IMPORTED … An Assortment of English GOODS and HARDWARE” in the summer of 1772.  He made choice a central element of his marketing efforts, providing a list of his merchandise that included “Silk and worsted Mitts and Gloves,” “Silk & Linen Handkerchiefs,” and “Ivory & Ebony Stick Fans.”  He also indicated that he offered choices among certain kinds of goods, including “A good assortment of Hosiery,” “a Variety of other Piece Goods,” “An Assortment of Handles & Escutcheons,” “Files of all sorts,” and “a Variety of other Braziery, and Cutlary.”  In other advertisements, Welsh described himself as a jeweler rather than a merchant or shopkeeper.  He included a separate listing for jewelry in this advertisement, including “A fine Assortment of Cypher, Brilliant, Earing, Button and Ring Stones” and “an Assortment of Jewelry, Stone, Shoe, Knee & Stock Buckles.”

Yet consumer choice was not the only appeal that Welsh made to prospective customers.  He also offered low prices.  A manicule directed readers to a note at the end of his advertisement, a note in which Welsh declared that “Many of the above Articles were bought by himself at London, Bristol and Birmingham, and will be sold low for Cash.”  Welsh suggested that he could offer bargains that customers might not encounter in other shops because he eliminated intermediaries.  Rather than purchase his wares from English merchants who raised the prices that they paid to producers, Welsh traveled to England and purchased much of his inventory directly from the manufacturers in three cities.  He then passed along the savings to his customers.  Merchants and shopkeepers often promoted low prices, but few gave any sort of explanation to convince consumers that they would find the best deals in their shops.  Welsh aimed to give prospective customers a reasonable expectation that he did indeed offer good bargains on an array of merchandise.

May 16

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

Providence Gazette (May 16, 1772).

“They will sell at as cheap a Raste as any Goods … can be purchased in this Town.”

Nathaniel Jacobs advised prospective customers that he stocked a “compleat Assortment of European and East-India GOODS” that he “sold at the lowest Prices” at his shop on the west side of the Great Bridge in Providence.  Other merchants and shopkeepers who also placed notices in the May 16, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette placed even greater emphasis on the bargains they offered.

At their shop at the Sign of the Elephant, for instance, Tillinghast and Holroyd stocked a “Variety [of] ARTICLES … which they will sell at as cheap a Rate as any Goods, of the same Quality, can be purchased in this Town.”  In other words, their competitors did not have lower prices.  To underscore the point, they made an additional appeal to female consumers.  “The Ladies are especially informed,” Tillinghast and Holroyd declared, “that a Part of their Assortment consists of Silks for Gowns, Cloaks, &c. Gauzes, Lawns, &c. for Aprons, &c. which will be sold at the lowest Prices.”  According to the advertisement, women could acquire these goods without paying extravagant prices.

Jones and Allen also emphasized low prices in their lengthy notice that listed scores of “ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” recently imported.  The headline for their advertisement proclaimed, “The greatest Pennyworths,” alerting prospective customers to bargain prices.  Not considering that sufficient to entice customers into their shop at the Sign of the Golden Ball, they concluded with a note that they “think it needless to say any thing more to the public, than that they deal for ready money, and are determined to be undersold by no retailer in Providence.”  Jones and Allen encouraged comparison shopping, confident that customers would ultimately buy their goods.

Thurber and Cahoon made similar promises concerning their “compleat Assortment of English and India GOODS” at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes.  They suggested that they already had a reputation for good deals at their store, stating that they were “determined to sell at their usual low Prices.”  In addition, they challenged consumers to make their own assessments, confiding that they “doubt not but all, who will call and examine for themselves, will be convinced [their prices] are as low, if not lower, than are sold by any Person, or Persons, whatever.”  Their advertisement advanced yet another claim to setting the best prices in town.

Tillinghast and Holroyd, Jones and Allen, and Thurber and Cahoon did not merely tell prospective customers that they offered low prices.  They did not make offhand appeals to price.  Instead, they crafted short narratives about the bargains at their shops, pledging consumers would not find better deals elsewhere.  They believed that such narratives would entice customers to visit their shops even if they encountered low prices in other stores.

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.

February 21

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

Connecticut Journal (February 21, 1772).

Can be afforded cheaper than if purchased in Boston or New York.”

In February 1772, Isaac Beers and Elias Beers took to the pages of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy to advertise “a small Assortment of GOODS” they recently imported from London.  They listed some textiles, promising as well “a general Assortment of Articles in the Cloathing Way.”  They concluded their advertisement with a note that they sold their wares “at the very lowest Rates.”  A manicule drew attention to that proclamation.

The shopkeepers provided additional commentary about price intended to convince prospective customers to shop at their store rather than seek out alternatives.  “As we imported the above Goods immediately from London,” they explained, “they undoubtedly can be afforded cheaper than if purchased in Boston or New York.”  Residents of New Haven and nearby towns did not need to visit one of the bustling port cities or send away to shopkeepers there in order to benefit from the best bargains.  The higher volume of shipping that arrived in Boston and New York did not necessarily mean that consumers in those cities had access to better deals, at least not according to the Beerses.  In addition, they managed to keep prices low at their store in New Haven because they did not acquire their merchandise via wholesalers in Boston and New York.  Receiving their goods “immediately from London” eliminated a round of markups.

Readers did not need to look beyond New Haven for the best prices.  The Beerses underscored that point when they asserted that they “are determined to sell [the above Goods] as low as they possibly can be afforded.”  They were not the only entrepreneurs to make appeals to price in Connecticut Journal, but they did provide the most extensive explanation to demonstrate how they managed to keep prices low for their customers.  In so doing, they acknowledged that consumers assessed the claims made in newspaper advertisements and made careful choices when shopping.

February 19

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 17, 1772).

“On as low Terms as at any Store in BOSTON.”

The partnership of Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers made low prices one of the focal points of their advertising in a notice that ran in the February 17, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Most newspaper advertisements of the era featured the names of the advertisers as headlines, if they included headlines at all, but in this case “Amorys, Taylor and Rogers” constituted a secondary headline.  Their advertisement commenced with a primary headline that proclaimed, “GOODS EXTREMELY CHEAP.”

The partners then developed that theme in a nota bene that preceded a lengthy list of their inventory that extended three-quarters of a column.  They offered their wares wholesale to retailers, both “Country Shopkeepers” and “Town Shopkeepers.”  Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers explained that they offered their customers low prices because they acquired “almost every Kind of Goods usually imported from Great Britain … immediately from the Manufacturors.”  In other words, they did not deal with English merchants whose intervention tended to inflate prices.  By eliminating those middlemen, Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers kept prices down for American retailers.  In turn, those retailers could generate business by setting their own low prices for their customers.

The partners underscored that they offered the best bargains.  They pledged that “Country Shopkeepers may be supplied at any Time with what Goods they want, and on as low Terms as at any Store in BOSTON.”  Those “Country Shopkeepers” had many choices of merchants supplying retailers with imported goods in that bustling port city, but Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers indicated that they matched the prices of any of their competitors.  In addition, “Town Shopkeepers … who usually import their Goods, may have them on such Terms as may answer them as well as importing.”  Retailers in Boston would not find better deals through corresponding with English merchants, especially since Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers had their goods shipped “immediately from the Manufacturors.”

Low prices played an important role in marketing imported goods among both wholesalers and retailers in eighteenth-century Boston.  Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers explained at some length how they were able to part with their goods “EXTREMELY CHEAP,” hoping to attract the attention of retailers looking to set low prices of their own and pass along the savings to consumers.  That merchants and shopkeepers promoted low prices comes as no surprise, but the commentary about prices that sometimes appeared in newspaper advertisements demonstrates that some advertisers made deliberate efforts to engage prospective customers rather than passively announcing low prices and expecting that would be sufficient to generate business.

October 26

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

Providence Gazette (October 26, 1771).

“They will be able to sell as cheap as any on the Continent.”

The merchants who advertised in the October 26, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette placed special emphasis on their prices as they competed with each other for customers.  Halsey and Corlis made a rather generic appeal to price, stating that they were “determined to sell at the very lowest Rates,” but other advertisers made more specific claims about their prices that departed from the formulaic language that appeared in so many advertisements of the period.

Several advertisers focused on retailers seeking inventory for their own shops in Providence and the countryside.  Nicholas Brown and Company, for instance, declared that “Town and Country Shop-Keepers may depend on being supplied on as advantageous Terms as by any Importers in New-England.”  Joseph Russell and William Russell provided even more guidance to retailers.  They stressed that they purchased their inventory “in England on the very best Terms.”  That allowed them to “sell at so low an Advance, as will afford to those who buy to sell again, a very good Profit.”  Prospective customers likely realized this also meant that they could better serve their own customers by setting competitive prices.

The partnership of Stewart and Taylor even included a nota bene to draw attention to the prices for the “Variety of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” that they “Just Imported from London, Manchester, and Liverpool.”  The merchants proclaimed that they “expect (as one of them has been at the above Places, and purchased their Goods from the Manufacturers) they will be able to sell as cheap as any on the Continent.”  Having traveled to England to negotiate the best bargains, Stewart and Taylor passed along the savings to their customers.  They made a bold claim that consumers would not find better prices anywhere in the colonies.

Even as some advertisers relied on standardized language about low prices in their newspaper advertisements, others engaged readers with more robust descriptions about how they acquired their goods and how that contributed to their own low prices.  Retailers and other customers could compare the accounts presented in the advertisements to determine which merchants were most likely to give them the best deals on their merchandise.