January 24

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

Jan 24 - 1:21:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 21, 1768).

“If any one lowers their price, I am determined to do so.”

Joseph Wood advertised a “large and neat assortment” of imported textiles in the January 21, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies, he made an appeal to price, pledging to sell “as low as any imported into this province.” His competitors in Philadelphia and counterparts in other towns frequently deployed the same language, extending sweeping promises that they did indeed offer the lowest prices that customers would encounter. Wood, however, inserted an innovation intended to increase consumer trust in his claim: price matching. When it came to the same items of the same quality sold by others in the city, “if any one lowers their price, I am determined to do so too.” This flexibility demonstrated to readers that Wood recognized that prospective customers had many choices when it came to acquiring goods and that he was eager to make the necessary accommodations to attract their business in order to avoid losing them to competitors.

In addition to elaborating on some of the standardized language used by advertisers making appeals to price, Wood also enhanced the appeal to quality in his notice. He did not suggest that readers should take him at his word that the textiles he sold “are of the very best kind” or “the finest sort.” Instead, he acknowledged a practice adopted by some underhanded retailers, proclaiming that he did not similarly attempt to deceive his customers. His textiles had not been “high pressed and glazed to deceive the eye.” Their quality would “bear examination.” Inviting prospective customers to test his claims by examining these fabrics for themselves had the additional advantage of getting them through the door. Once they visited his shop at the corner of Market and Second Streets they would more fully appreciate the variety, price, and quality of his merchandise.

Wood combined a list-style advertisement that previewed his “very good assortment of cloths” with a nota bene that incorporated innovations on popular appeals that often relied on formulaic language. He sacrificed space that he might otherwise have devoted to further detailing his inventory in favor of clarifying the usual appeals to address the concerns of skeptical consumers.

August 18

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

Aug 18 - 8:18:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 18, 1767).

“They will be warranted to be equal, if not superior in quality, to any WINES that has been imported this season.”

Samuel Peronneau advertised “A large parcel of genuine Made[i]ra Wines” in the supplement that accompanied the August 18, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. On the same page, William Hulme promoted the “MADEIRA, VIDONIA and LISBON WINES, BRANDY and GIN” he sold, along with “RUMS, from Jamaica, Barbados, and the Northward.” Elsewhere in the issue, several shopkeepers advertised other alcoholic beverages. James McCall included “bottled beer, cyder, ale, and perry” among a list of dozens of imported items in stock at his shop. Samuel Grove carried “best Taunton ale, [and] cyder,” while Greenland and Jones sold “best Bristol bottled beer, [and] Philadelphia ditto in whole and half barrels.” Other merchants and shopkeepers regularly advertised beers, wines, and liquors in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers printed in Charleston in the late 1760s. Residents of Charleston had many options when it came to acquiring alcohol.

Amid this sea of choices, Peronneau attempted to distinguish his offerings from those presented by his competitors. He confidently stated that his wines were “Of the best London, York, and Jamaica qualities” and boldly pledged that they “will be warranted to be equal, if not superior in quality, to any WINES that has been imported this season.” Some competitors made passing comments about the quality of their beverages, but Peronneau elaborated on why potential customers could trust his assurances in that regard. He did not sell whatever happened to be shipped to him by faraway associates. Instead, he contracted “a gentleman on the spot” to examine “every pipe.” In each instance, that gentleman “spared no pains in the choice of them.” In effect, Peronneau had a quality control agent overseeing the merchandise that entered his warehouse. Ultimately, that “gentleman” worked on behalf of Peronneau’s clients, his efforts mutually benefitting the retailer and the customers rather than the suppliers.

Whether they sold wine or other imported goods, most advertisers did not provide much information about the processes through which they acquired their inventory. Peronneau, however, had a system that distinguished his wines from others on the market. This allowed him to include specific details that further developed his appeal to quality, one of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements. Rather than make vague and general statements about the quality of his merchandise, Peronneau offered potential customers specific details explaining why they should believe that he did indeed stock wine “equal, if not superior in quality” to any others they could purchase locally.