June 3

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

Jun 3 - 6:3:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 3, 1769).

“He will engage to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence.”

When he advertised “ European and East-India GOODS” in the Providence Gazette in early June 1769, Thomas Greene resorted to two of the most popular marketing strategies of the eighteenth century: an appeal to consumer choice and an appeal to price.

He did not elaborate much on the choices he made available to prospective customers, but he did promise a “General and compleat Assortment” to anyone who visited his shop “near the Great Bridge.” Other advertisers sometimes provided extensive lists of their inventory, but many settled for “General and compleat Assortment” or some variation as a means of signaling choice to consumers. Elsewhere in the same issue Jonathan Russell promoted a “compleat Assortment,” Clark and Nightingale described a “new and compleat Assortment,” and Thurber and Cahoon hawked a “large and general Assortment” of imported goods. Greene’s choice of “General and compleat Assortment” did not much distinguish his advertisement from others, but it did demonstrate his awareness that customers expected some sort of assurances about choice or else they were unlikely to patronize his shop.

Greene put more effort into distinguishing his low prices from those of his competitors. Each deployed some form of standardized language to make the point to readers. For Russell, it was “the very cheapest Rate,” while Clark and Nightingale opted for “the lowest rate” and Thurber and Cahoon edged them out with “the very lowest Rates.” In contrast to these general statements, Greene made a firmer commitment to win over prospective customers. He pledged “to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence,” assuring readers that they would not find better deals anywhere else. In effect, Greene offered the eighteenth-century version of a price match guarantee. Prospective customers could do some comparison shopping around town, but in the end Greene vowed that he would match any deals when readers chose to make their purchases from him. In so doing, he stood to increase his share of the market while luring customers away from his competitors.

Greene’s appeal to choice may have been generic, but his appeal to price was not. It was an innovative and crafty way of setting his advertisement apart from others that ran simultaneously in the Providence Gazette.

January 28

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

Providence Gazette (January 28, 1769).

“He determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.”

Thomas Greene’s advertisement for “A fresh Assortment of DRY-GOODS” ran in the Providence Gazette for the first time on January 28, 1769. In it, he listed twenty different kinds of textiles, including “kerseys, serges, cotton velvets, Scotch plaid, Irish linens, garlix, dowlas and checks.” He also carried stockings, handkerchiefs, and shoes as well as “a great number of other articles in the dry-good way.” Greene supplemented this merchandise with imported grocery items, including “tea, chocolate, raisins, … rum, sugar and melasses.” While not as extensive as other advertisements that sometimes appeared in the Providence Gazette, Greene’s notice enumerated sufficient items to suggest to customers that they could choose from among an array of merchandise at his store “just below the Great Bridge.”

In addition to consumer choice, Greene also made an appeal to price. When he concluded his list of wares, he proclaimed that “he determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.” In so doing, he indicated his willingness to participate in a price war with other purveyors of dry goods located in the city. Although not unknown, such forceful language was not as common as more general invocations of low prices. Samuel Chace’s advertisement for “A NEW and general Assortment of English and Indi GOODS” in the same issue, for instance, stated that he would “sell cheap,” but did not make any implicit comparisons to the prices charged by any of his competitors. Samuel Chace’s advertisement had been running in the Providence Gazette for three months; William Chace, on the other hand, had inserted a new advertisement the previous week. In it, he declared that “he is determined to sell” his “good Assortment of DRY GOODS” for prices “as cheap, if not cheaper, than any of their Kind are to be sold in Providence.” Furthermore, he assured prospective customers that he “doubts not but they may lay out their Money to their Satisfaction” as his shop, also located “Just below the Great Bridge.”

Greene and Chace were nearby neighbors and competitors. Only a week after Chace launched an advertisement that made exceptional claims about the prices he charged, Greene published his own advertisement to inform prospective customers that they were just as likely to enjoy the same bargains at his store. Their notices appeared in the same column, with two short advertisements appearing between them, making it easy for readers to compare their appeals and place them in conversation with each other. Savvy consumers already sought out the best prices, but these competing advertisements further encouraged comparison shopping.