May 1

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 1, 1771).

“Lower Terms than can be at any Shop or Store in the Province.”

Although “Sadler and Jockey Cap-Maker” Richard Sharwin signed his entire name at the end of his advertisement in the April 29, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, he deployed the mononym “SHARWIN” as a headline to draw attention.  The mononym suggested that consumers should already be familiar with his reputation, but he also declared that he was “From LONDON” to further underscore his importance for readers who were not familiar with his work.  Sharwin proclaimed that he made a variety of items, “the several Materials and Workmanship the best of their Kind.”  From “hunting Sadles with Hogskin seat” to “Pelm and Snaffle Bridles with Silver plated Bits” to “Velvet Jockey Caps,” the items he produced in his shop were “as Neat as can be Imported.”  Sharwin assured prospective customers that when they shopped locally, they still acquired goods of the same quality as those that arrived from London.

Sharwin also tended to price in his advertisement, pledging that he sold his wares “upon lower Terms than can be at any Shop or Store in the Province.”  Advertisers commonly asserted their low prices, but not nearly as often did they encourage consumers to compare their prices to those of their competitors.  Sharwin not only did so but also listed prices for welted saddles (“from 8 to 10 Dollars”) and plain saddles (“from 6 to 8 Dollars”), allowing readers to do some comparison shopping without even visiting his shop on King Street.  They could judge for themselves whether he offered bargains.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans provided prices in their advertisements only occasionally, making Sharwin’s invitation to compare prices all the more notable.  Prospective customers could use the prices for welted saddles and plain saddles as a barometer for how much he charged for the dozens of other items listed in his advertisement since Sharwin set prices for “every Article in proportion.”

All in all, Sharwin incorporated several standard elements of eighteenth-century advertising into his own advertisement while also experimenting with less common marketing strategies.  Like many other advertisers, he emphasized consumer choice by listing an assortment of goods, touted his connections to London, and underscored quality and price.  He enhanced his advertisement with a mononym for a headline, stating the prices for some items, and trumpeting that his competitors could not beat those prices.  Sharwin crafted an advertisement that was not merely a rote recitation of the usual appeals made to consumers.