What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“By far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.”
In their attempt to incite consumer demand and attract customers, Joseph and William Russell filled their advertisement for “English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS” with superlatives. Not content to rely on adjectives commonly used in retail advertisements (“large, neat, and compleat”) to describe their assortment of goods, they proclaimed that their inventory was “by far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.” Potential customers did not need to even entertain the notion of browsing in other shops because the Russells were certain to carry all the items they needed and wanted.
In case their selection alone did not entice consumers, the Russells guaranteed the lowest prices in Providence. They promised to sell “as CHEAP, if not CHEAPER, than any Person in this Town,” a claim that both Jonathan Russell and Thompson and Arnold disputed in their advertisements on the following page. The former advised consumers that he was “determined to sell at the very cheapest rate,” while the latter declared that they were “determined to sell as low as can be bought in any Shop or Store in this Town, or any other in New-England.” The Russells expressed confidence in their ability to charge the lowest prices because “they purchased [their goods] in England themselves.” Six weeks earlier they published a full-page advertisement that provided more explanation. William Russell had just returned from a trip to England and “brought over with him a large, neat, and compleat Assortment of … GOODS … which he purchased from the first Hands.” Eliminating English merchants from their supply chain allowed the Russells to pass along savings to their customers.
For readers not yet convinced to patronize the Russells’ shop, they also presented an argument that their business promoted the local welfare and customers could consider buying from them an act of civic responsibility. The shopkeepers stated that since “their Trade tends greatly to the Benefit of this Town, and the Country round” that “they doubt not but all the good People … will favour them with their Custom, instead of such Shops as send all the Money they receive out of the Government.” In the late 1760s a trade imbalance between the colonies and England contributed to a scarcity of specie as retailers engaged in trade with English merchants. By acquiring their merchandise directly the producers, “from the best Hands” in England, the Russells remitted less specie to associates on the other side of the Atlantic. In addition, they imported their wares “directly from LONDON,” but some of their local competitors acquired their merchandise via Boston and New York, enriching neighboring colonies at the expense of Rhode Island.
The Russells argued that customers who chose their shop enjoyed multiple advantages. They immediately benefited from the large selection and low prices, but their decisions as consumers also had ramifications for the collective economic welfare of Providence and the surrounding area.