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