What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“As the most certain method to have goods from England on the best terms, said Wilson applies immediately to the manufactories and importers there, for his.”
In December 1767, Philip Wilson placed a list-style advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette to promote an assortment of imported goods “for Sale at his Store in Front-street, at the Chinese Balcony” in Philadelphia. Although his inventory consisted primarily of textiles and garments, he also carried housewares and other items, hinting at an even more extensive variety with “&c. &c. &c.” (etc. etc. etc.) at the conclusion of the list.
Yet Wilson’s advertisement did not end there. Instead, he appended a nota bene that instructed readers about his means of obtaining imported merchandise and why his particular business practices benefited his customers. “As the most certain method to have goods from England on the best terms,” the shopkeeper proclaimed, “said Wilson applies immediately to the manufactories and importers there, for his; which he will sell on the lowest terms.”
Some of Wilson’s competitors who also advertised in the December 10 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette and its supplement made appeals to price. Neave and Harman stated that they sold their wares “on the most reasonable Terms.” Magdalen Devine sold her “large and general Assortment of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS … on the lowest terms.” Neither Devine nor Neave and Harman, however, commented on how they had acquired the goods they imported and sold. Wilson, in contrast, made it clear that he kept prices low by removing the middlemen, dealt directly with the producers of English goods rather than merchants who charged commissions or otherwise increased wholesale prices eventually passed along to retail customers. When it came to goods not produced in England, such as “EAST-INDIA GOODS” that passed through London before being shipped to the colonies, Wilson purchased his stock directly from the importers before they were exchanged in the English market. In so doing, he kept prices low by cutting out of the process those merchants who aimed to earn profits by immediately exporting such goods at higher rates to colonial retailers.
Wilson sought to attract customers by demonstrating that his supply chain had as few links as possible. With fewer exchanges and fewer intermediaries attempting to earn profits during each exchange, he could “sell on the lowest terms” to colonial consumers. Thanks to his shrewd arrangements with “the manufactories and importers” in England, Wilson assured potential customers that they paid only what was necessary rather than contributing to the wealth of faraway merchants.