February 26

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

Feb 26 - 2:26:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 26, 1768).

I will Sell as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.”

Nathaniel Backus, Jr., listed several commodities and their prices in an advertisement he inserted in the February 26, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette. In addition, he offered “a good Assortment of European Goods, which I will Sell as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.” Backus listed his location as Norwich Landing. The New-London Gazette served a region that extended far beyond the port town for which it was named.

Note that Backus did not compare his prices to those in other cities and towns in New England. He confined his comparison to the local marketplace, seeking to assure potential customers that they could not do any better dealing with other local shopkeepers. Few, if any, of his wares – “BEST London Pewter,” “German Serge,” “Barbados Rum,” and “Bohea Tea,” to name just a few of the commodities he listed – had arrived directly at Norwich. Instead, they had likely been shipped first to Boston or New York. Even if they had been transported via a more direct route, this “good Assortment of European Goods” would have passed through the port of New London and its customs house before continuing up the Thames River to Norwich. These additional legs required in shipping the goods to the small town of Norwich likely made them slightly more expensive for retailers to obtain them, affecting the prices Backus and others charged their customers. Shopkeepers in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Providence and Newport, Rhode Island, sometimes favorably compared their prices to those in Boston, New York, or all of New England. Retailers located inland, like Backus in Norwich, however, did not make such appeals at the same rate.

Backus guaranteed the prices he listed in his advertisement: “those that favour me with their Custom, may depend on being served through the Season, at the above Prices.” This allowed for consumers to do some comparison shopping even before visiting his shop. If potential customers considered the prices he listed for select items to be reasonable then they might have been more willing to accept Backus’s assertion that he sold his merchandise “as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.”

August 1

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

Aug 1 - 8:1:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 1, 1766).

“All Sorts of Tobacco … ALL WHICH WILL BE SOLD CHEAPER THAN CAN BE BOUGHT IN TOWN.”

When Neal M’Intyer advertised that he sold an assortment of goods “Cheap for Cash or short Credit” he made a standard marketing appeal that would have been familiar to potential customers in the eighteenth century. Appeals to price and quality were the most common means of attracting attention throughout the eighteenth century; both remain popular today.

In marketing the tobacco he sold, however, M’Intyer elaborated on the standard appeal of low prices. After naming nearly a dozen varieties he announced “ALL WHICH WILL BE SOLD CHEAPER THAN CAN BE BOUGHT IN TOWN.” Most wholesalers and retailers did not mention specific prices in their advertisements, just as M’Intyer neglected to do here. Although he did not lock in a specific low price, he did challenge potential customers to engage in comparison shopping, visiting other shops around Portsmouth to find out how their prices for “Ladies superfine Pigtail” or “Best inspected Virginia Leaf.” Once potential customers had a sense of what M’Intyer’s competitors charged for tobacco they might feel even more enthused about the price he named at his store.

Some modern retailers promise that they will match or beat the prices of their competitors. M’Intyer did not explicitly make that pledge in his advertisement; that bit of wording was a further advertising innovation that waited for another time. Yet the offer he made in his advertisement may have amounted to the same practice once customers reminded him that he had publicly announced that his tobacco “WILL BE SOLD CHEAPER THAN CAN BE BOUGHT IN TOWN.” If M’Intyer did not beat his competitors’ prices, customers could accuse him of breaking his word. Even worse, such news could spread, damaging M’Intyer’s reputation. Advertisements were (and are) designed to shape consumer behavior, but they also set up expectations and obligations for the advertisers themselves.