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.