What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Faxson will work very cheap for Cash or other good Pay.”
In the early 1770s, Jospeh Bass sold a variety of goods at his shop next door to the printing office in Portsmouth. He opened an advertisement in the November 2, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette by noting that he offered his wares “CHEAP for CASH,” a common refrain among shopkeepers from New England to Georgia. Many specified that they desired cash payments because they had already extended generous amounts of credit to their customers. Indeed, credit helped make possible the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century, but it also often put retailers and other suppliers of goods and services in precarious positions. In the same issue that Bass advertised his merchandise, Jacob Treadwell promoted a “General ASSORTMENT of GOODS, at the very lowest Price for Cash.” William Torrey sold loaf sugar and molasses “for Cash only.”
Yet cash and credit were not the only means of buying and selling goods available to colonists. Many continued to barter. James McMaster and Company, for instance, placed a notice seeking pot ash and flax seed. In exchange, they gave “Cash, or English-Goods,” allowing those who did business with them to select from among textiles, housewares, and hardware in stock at their store. Christopher Faxson, a tailor, also inserted an advertisement in the same edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. He stated that he charged “sixteen Shillings Lawful Money” for “a plain Suit of Cloaths,” but he did not insist on cash like some of the other advertisers. Instead, he advised prospective customers that he “will work very cheap for Cash or other good Pay.” Faxson signaled that he would accept a variety of forms of payment, such as shop goods or produce, from clients willing to negotiate on terms. Most advertisers preferred cash or credit for their transactions with customers, but others continued to present barter as an option, likely making for interesting bookkeeping practices.