January 8

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 6, 1772).

“Will sell them cheaper than any in the city.”

Charles Oliver Bruff, a goldsmith and jeweler, operated a shop at “the Sign of the Tea-pot, Tankard, and Ear-ring” on Maiden Lane in New York in the early 1770s.  He regularly placed newspaper notices to advise prospective clients of his services.  In the January 6, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, for instance, he declared that he “makes or mends any kind of diamond or enamel’d work in the jewellery way” and “makes all sorts of silversmiths work, and mends old work.”  In addition, he mended “ladies fans in the neatest manner and at the lowest price” and sold rings, lockets, “hair jewels,” and a variety of other jewelry.

Bruff sought to draw attention to two other aspects of his business.  He informed readers that he had “just finished some of the neatest dies for making sleeve buttons, with the neatest gold cuts to them to stamp all sorts of gold buttons, silver, pinchbeck, or brass.”  Colonizers who desired such distinctive buttons could acquire them from Bruff … and at bargain prices.  He pledged to “sell them cheaper than any in the city.”  In addition to buttons, Bruff also highlighted his interest in working with “gentlemen merchants that travel the country, or pedlars,” anticipating that they would purchase in quantity for resale.  The goldsmith asserted that peddlers “may depend on being used well.”  That included maintaining good relationships as well as offering low prices.  Bruff confided that for such customers he would “make any kind of work cheaper than they can get it in the city elsewhere.”

Whether hawking buttons, cultivating relationships with retailers, or mending fans for fashionable ladies, Bruff deployed superlatives to compare his prices to those of his competitors in the bustling port city.  He did not merely declare that he offered comparable low prices; instead, he claimed that he undersold other goldsmiths and jewelers in New York, hoping that this strategy would bring customers into his shop.

January 3

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

Connecticut Journal (January 3, 1772).

“He will sell … at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”

In 1772, James Lockwood began the new year by placing an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy “to inform the Public, That he is now opening, at a new Store …, a great Assortment of English & India GOODS, BOOKS, and all kinds of STATIONARY.”  The merchant marketed these items “Wholesale or Retail,” seeking both retailers and consumers as customers.  To compete with other merchants and shopkeepers in town, he proclaimed that he set prices “as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”  In other words, he would not be undersold … and might even offer some bargains better than buyers would find anywhere else in New Haven.

In this brief advertisement, Lockwood deployed two of the most common advertising strategies of the era:  an appeal to price and an appeal to consumer choice.  Elsewhere in the same issue, other merchants and shopkeepers did the same.  Roger Sherman, for instance, promoted a “general assortment” of goods, noting that he sold them “cheap.”  Henry Daggett similarly carried a “large Assortment of English and India GOODS” as well as a “Quantity of Queen’s WARE, gilt and plain.”  He also declared that his prices were “cheap,” a word commonly used to mean “low” rather than “lacking in quality.”  None of these advertisers published extensive lists of their merchandise, a common strategy for demonstrating choices to readers, but they used words and phrases like “great assortment,” “general assortment,” “quantity,” and “all kinds” to suggest the choices that awaited consumers.  They also did not elaborate much on price, though Lockwood did attempt to distinguish his store from the others when he asserted that he sold his merchandise “at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”

To modern eyes accustomed to much more sophisticated marketing strategies, newspaper notices like the ones placed by Lockwood, Sherman, and Daggett may appear to have been nothing but announcements that they had goods for sale.  Though their advertisements were indeed rudimentary, these merchants and shopkeepers did make some effort to incite demand and entice consumers to shop at their stores.  Each of them underscored choices and promised low prices.  Lockwood even experimented with the appeal to price in his advertisement, assuring prospective customers that if they did some comparison shopping around town that they would not be disappointed with his prices.

December 27

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 27, 1771).

“WATCHES and CLOCKS are clean’d and kept in Repair.”

As 1771 came to an end and a new year loomed, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to remind residents of Portsmouth and nearby towns that he “clean’d and kept in Repair” both clocks and watches.  He also sold “all Sorts of Watch Materials lately imported” and “performs gilding Work, either with Gold or Silver.”  He pledged that he performed all of these services “in the cheapest and best Manner.”

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette may have remembered that not so long ago another clock- and watchmaker, John Simnet, frequently placed advertisements that accused Griffith of damaging watches rather than cleaning and repairing them.  Sometimes Simnet identified Griffith by name, but other times he merely made insinuations.  For his part, Griffith expressed less interest in fueling a feud in the public prints, preferring instead to bolster his own business rather than denigrate a competitor.  That did not prevent him, however, from suggesting that Simnet, who had recently relocated to Portsmouth from London, was an itinerant as likely to steal watches as repair them.  In a series of advertisements, Simnet trumpeted his decades of experience in some of the best workshops in London, proclaiming his superior skill.  In addition to pointing out that Griffith lacked formal training, he also implied that his competitor possessed a defective intellect.

Griffith and, especially, Simnet staged quite a performance in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette before the newcomer decided that Portsmouth was not the place for him.  After a year and a half of sparring with Griffith, Simnet moved to New York.  He once again touted the skill and experience he gained on the other side of the Atlantic, but he did select any local competitors to target for abuse.  Perhaps he learned in Portsmouth that some consumers did not appreciate marketing strategies that pivoted on abusing others.  Free of the cantankerous Simnet, Griffith continued placing occasional advertisements that conformed to the standards of the period.  He made positive appeals, such as asserting that he did his work “in the cheapest and best Manner,” but did not make any direct comparisons to other artisans.

December 10

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

Essex Gazette (December 10, 1771).

“Some of the above-mentioned Lawns and Gauzes are perhaps the most genteel of any ever imported into North-America.”

Several merchants and shopkeepers placed advertisements promoting imported goods in the December 10, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  With the exception of the notice from John Cabot and Andrew Cabot with its text running upward diagonally, most of those advertisements looked quite similar at a glance.  The name of the purveyor of the goods, set in a larger font, functioned as a headline, an introduction outlined the origins of the merchandise and the location of the shop or warehouse, and dozens of items appeared in a catalog of current inventory.

Some advertisers, however, attempted to distinguish their notices from others by incorporating additional appeals to prospective customers.  John Andrew, for instance, informed readers that they could expect good bargains at his shop at the Sign of the Gold Cup.  “Those who favour him with their Custom,” he confided, “may depend upon being served with good Pennyworths, as he is determined to be undersold by none.”  Elsewhere on the same page, Samuel Cottman described his prices as “Extremely cheap,” while John Gould and Company declared that they set prices “as low as at any Store in the Province.”  Andrew made it clear that customers could expect competitive prices from him.

Rather than price, John Grozart made an appeal to fashion in the nota bene that enhanced his advertisement.  He drew attention to certain textiles, declaring that “Some of the above-mentioned Lawns and Gauzes are perhaps the most genteel of any ever imported into North-America.”  Those fabrics were not merely fashionable, Grozart suggested, but superlative in their fashionableness.  Customers could not go wrong in purchasing them, especially if they wanted to impress their friends and acquaintances.  Folsom and Hart advertised wigs “made in the present Taste,” but did not make claims nearly as bold as Grozart did about his wares as he attempted to incite curiosity among readers.

Neither Andrew nor Grozart included images in their advertisements.  The copy had to do all the work of enticing prospective customers to visit their stores.  To that end, they each devised an additional appeal to enhance the otherwise standard format of their newspaper notices, trusting that consumers practiced the close reading necessary to detect the differences among the advertisements in the Essex Gazette.

December 6

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 6, 1771).

“The above Goods will be sold as low as at any other Store in Town.”

When shopkeeper Hugh Henderson moved to a new location in Portsmouth, he placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to notify “HIS CUSTOMERS AND OTHERS.”  He also took the opportunity to promote the “assortment of English Goods” available at his shop, listing several dozen items.  Henderson carried a variety of textiles as well as “Mens and Womens Stockings,” “Trimings for Ladies Cloaks,” lace, ribbons, and “Writing Paper.”  Having enticed prospective customers with that catalog of goods, he also offered a “Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention.”  Like many other shopkeepers in New Hampshire and throughout the colonies, Henderson emphasized consumer choice.

He also made note of his prices, deploying another means of luring prospective customers into his shop.  In the introduction to the list of goods, Henderson pledged to sell them “very cheap.”  He concluded his advertisement with a nota bene that advised readers that “The above Goods will be sold as low as at any other Store in Town.”  He called attention to his competitive prices both before and after listing his wares, helping readers to imagine acquiring them at prices they could afford.  Henderson even hinted at price matching, inviting customers to haggle for the best deals if they did some comparison shopping around town.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Gilliam Butler described his prices for “an Assortment of English GOODS” as “Cheap,” while William Elliot declared that he sold “English and West India GOODS, at a reasonable rate.”  Henderson’s nota bene suggested that he stayed informed about prices in the local market in order to set his own as “cheap” and “reasonable” as those charged by Butler, Elliot, and other shopkeepers.

Henderson depended on two of the most common appeals made to consumers in eighteenth-century newspapers:  choice and price.  He did not, however, make generic appeals.  Instead, he enhanced each with additional commentary, asserting that he carried other items “too tedious to mention” and that he sold his entire inventory “as low as at any other Store in Town.”  For some readers, such promises may have distinguished Henderson’s advertisement from others in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

November 15

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

Connecticut Journal (November 15, 1771).

Cheaper than the Cheapest.”

In the fall of 1771, Henry Daggett advertised a “large & general Assortment of English & India GOODS” in the Connecticut Journal.  His advertisement in the November 15 edition also listed several different kinds of wines and spirits as well as “Loaf and Brown SUGARS by the large or small Quantities” available at his store near Yale College in New Haven.  He offered all of his inventory “Wholesale and Retail,” supplying shopkeepers and selling directly to consumers.

Most purveyors of goods and services made appeals to price when they placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, but Daggett emphasized low prices to an extent not seen in most other notices in the Connecticut Journal and other publications.  John Sherman informed prospective customers that he sold his “large Assortment of GOODS … very reasonably.”  Similarly, John Atwater stocked a “general Assortment of English Goods” that readers could acquire “very cheap.”  Sherman and Atwater embedded appeals to price within their notices; in comparison, Daggett crafted a headline that presented his establishment as “ANOTHER CHEAP STORE!”  He deployed price as a means of framing the rest of his advertisement.  In the middle of the advertisement, he further elaborated, proclaiming that he set prices “Cheaper than the Cheapest.”  Customers might have found some of the same imported goods at Sherman’s store or Atwater’s store, but Daggett suggested that his competitors did not match the bargains he offered.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements might not appear very sophisticated compared to marketing campaigns of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but those notices should not be dismissed as mere announcements.  Daggett attempted to incite demand for his goods by emphasizing low prices, hoping that the promise of good deals would convince customers to make purchases and buy in greater quantities if he could convince them that they were getting the better end of the transaction.  Even the wording and format incorporated innovation as Daggett deviated from standardized language concerning prices to promote “Cheaper than the Cheapest” goods and inserted a headline describing his “CHEAP STORE!”  At a glance, Daggett’s advertisement may look like all the others to modern readers, but on closer examination it becomes clear that Daggett sought to create a distinctive notice that would garner greater attention.

October 18

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

Connecticut Journal (October 18, 1771).

“Much cheaper to the buyer than can be purchased at Retail in Boston or New-York.”

Several purveyors of goods inserted advertisements in the October 18, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  Each of them made some sort of appeal to price in their attempts to entice consumers into acquiring goods from their shops.  Levi Ives of Derby, for instance, advised readers that he stocked a “good Assortment of GOODS, which he will sell on very moderate Terms.”  Most advertisers made even bolder claims about their price.

That was the case for John Sherman.  He “acquaint[ed] the PUBLIC” that he had just received a “fresh supply of GOODS … which he intends to sell at the very lowest advance.”  Unlike the “moderate Terms” offered by Ives, this pledge implicitly suggested to prospective customers that they would not find better bargains in the vicinity.  The partnership of Morgan and Shipman made a similar statement, declaring that they were “determined to sell as cheap as any Person in Town.”  They matched the prices set by Sherman and other competitors in New Haven.

The estate of Stephen Whitehead Hubbard did not limit their comparison to the prices set by local merchants and shopkeepers.  That advertisement commenced with a pronouncement that the “English and India GOODS” would be sold “at PRIME COST.”  In a nota bene, the executors proclaimed that because the goods “were bought on the best Terms by Wholesale, consequently [they] will be afforded much cheaper to the buyer than can be purchased at Retail in Boston or New-York.”  The estate acknowledged that it operated within a regional marketplace in which consumers and retailers both looked to major ports for the best deals.

Price was one of the most common marketing appeals made in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, but advertisers devised a variety of means of deploying the strategy.  Sometimes they simply promoted reasonable prices, but other times they implicitly or explicitly made comparisons to local and regional competitors as they sought to convince consumers to visit their shops instead of others.

July 31

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (July 29, 1771).

“Now Selling very Cheap.”

In the decades prior to the American Revolution, purveyors of goods and services regularly incorporated appeals to price into their advertisements.  They did so often enough, in fact, that many delivered appeals to price in standardized or formulaic language in their newspaper notices.  In the July 29, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, Joseph Gardener informed prospective customers that he sold a variety of textiles “at the very lowest Rates” and “upon the most reasonable Terms.”  Those phrases frequently appeared in the introductions and conclusions to advertisements, before and after lists of goods that demonstrated the choices available to consumers.

Some advertisers, on the other hand, experimented with other means of enticing customers with low prices.  The proprietors of the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse in King-Street” stocked a “General Assortment of Ironmongery, Braziery and Cutlery Ware.”  To attract attention, they made their appeal to price the headline for the entire advertisement: “Now Selling very Cheap.”  Near the end of the advertisement, the proprietors also stated that their inventory “will be Sold much lower than those Articles are usually Sold in this place.”

The headline appeared in the largest font and preceded everything else in the advertisement.  Other headlines tended to focus on the advertiser or the merchandise.  For instance, “Joshua Gardner” appeared in the largest font in that advertisement, as did “Richard Clarke & Son” in an advertisement for tea, spices, and other groceries.  Another advertisement bore a headline proclaiming “IRISH LINNENS” for sale at Bethune and Prince’s store.  On the same page, the headline for Joseph Mann’s advertisement drew attention to the “CHOCOLATE” he ground and sold.  Another advertisement for a stolen anchor demanded inspection with a headline that promised “Eight Dollars Reward.”

The proprietors of the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse recognized an opportunity to deviate from the usual practices concerning headlines in newspaper advertisements.  They made low prices the focal point of their notice with a headline, attempting to hook readers with that appeal and encourage them to examine the rest of the advertisement in greater detail.  Even when advertisements consisted entirely of text without images, advertisers and printers experimented with graphic design to deliver messages to consumers.

June 15

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

Providence Gazette (June 15, 1771).

“He will sell as cheap … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.”

Purveyors of goods and services frequently made appeals to price to entice prospective customers, but some made much bolder claims than others.  Consider how advertisers sought to leverage price to their advantage in the June 15, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.

William Eliot stocked a variety of textiles “to be sold cheap.”  Similarly, John Fitton sold flour, pork, and peas by the barrel, “all cheap for Cash” (or in trade for “good Melasses”).  In addition to promising low prices, other advertisers insisted that they set the lowest prices for their wares.  The partnership of Nicholas, Joseph, and Moses Brown, for instance, carried “a fine Assortment of Hard Ware and other GOODS, which they will sell on the lowest Terms.”  Coy and Waterman specialized in painting supplies, having “furnished themselves with a compleat Assortment of Painters Colours, which they will sell at the lowest Prices.”

Other advertisers made even more colorful proclamations about prices.  At his shop at the Sign of the Turk’s Head, Paul Allen supposedly offered some of the best bargains anywhere in the colonies.  He trumpeted that “he will sell on as low Terms … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.”  Allen informed prospective customers that his prices matched the best deals available in Boston, Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, and other towns and cities.  Joseph Nash made the same comparison, declaring that he sold his “neat Assortment of GOODS … as cheap … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.”  Allen and Nash echoed an appeal John Morton and James Morton made in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy the previous day.  The Mortons promised prospective customers that they could acquire their merchandise “as cheap as in New York or Boston.”

The vast majority of merchants and shopkeepers mentioned low prices in their newspaper advertisements, though some were more creative than others in doing so.  Advertisers like Allen and Nash attempted to attract customers with reassurances that they had the best deals anywhere, not just prices that were low enough to compete in the local marketplace.  In the process, they prompted readers to imagine themselves participating in a consumer revolution taking place throughout the colonies and beyond.  Acquiring goods connected readers of the Providence Gazette to colonists in faraway places, giving them common experiences through their experiences in the marketplace.

June 12

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (June 10, 1771).

“Sold as low as at any Store or Shop in Town.”

Advertisements for consumer goods in eighteenth-century newspapers frequently included appeals to price.  In the June 10, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, William Bant informed his “Friends and Customers” that he sold a “General Assortment of English and India GOODS … at the very lowest Rates.”  Similarly, Lewis Deblois sold cutlery, hardware, and other goods “at the very lowest Price.”  Joshua Isaacs set “reasonable Terms” for the imported goods he sold.  In many instances, advertisers made only brief reference to the price of their merchandise, but some, like Joshua Gardner, underscored price in their attempts to entice customers.

Gardner stocked a “fine Assortment of English Goods” that he acquired from London, Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, and other towns.  After listing several items, he declared that “the above-mention’d Goods are purchased upon the best Ter[m]s.”  In turn, he passed along the savings to his customers, pledging that everything in his inventory “shall be Sold as low as at any Store or Shop in Town.”  Prospective customers, he proclaimed, would not find better bargains anywhere in Boston.

In addition, Gardner inserted a special “NOTE” to retailers, informing “THOSE Persons who purchase to Sell again” that they “may be supply’d by the Piece, Half-piece or Quarter-piece, Dozen, Half-dozen or Quarter-dozen, at the same advance as if they bought large Quantities.”  Many wholesalers promoted discounts for purchasing in volume in their advertisements, but Gardner went beyond that deal.  He offered retailers an opportunity to purchase in smaller quantities at the same rates as if they placed larger orders.  Such an offer distinguished him among wholesalers who advertised in Boston, perhaps making his wares more attractive to shopkeepers in the city and surrounding towns.

Although many advertisers resorted to formulaic language when making appeals to price, others experimented with both the rates they charged and how they described prices to prospective customers.  Gardner devoted as much space in his advertisement to discussing his prices as he did to listing his goods, making his notice unique among those inserted by Bant, Deblois, Isaacs, and many other merchants and shopkeepers.