March 2

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

Mar 2 - 3:2:1770 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 2, 1770).

“For SALE at William Neilson’s Store.”

In addition to advertising his wares in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, and the New-York Journal, William Neilson also inserted a notice in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  Yesterday I examined the iteration of the advertisement that appeared in the March 1, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, focusing on the nota bene about his prices remaining the same as before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  The version that ran in the Connecticut Journal listed many of the same goods, but did not deploy copy identical to the advertisement in the New-York Journal.  Most significantly, it did not include the nota bene about prices.  Why not?

After further investigation, I discovered that the nota bene was not part of the advertisement when it first appeared in any of newspapers printed in New York.  It first ran in the February 22, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal without the additional note offering assurances that Neilson did not take advantage of the nonimportation agreement to engage in price gouging.  The advertisement did not appear in the new issues of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, published four days later.  Instead, it made its next appearance in the March 1 edition of the New-York Journal, now with the nota bene.  On March 5 the advertisement – identical copy, including the nota bene – did appear in the other two New York newspapers.  The staggered appearance of the advertisements and the addition of the nota bene suggest that Neilson felt some urgency to inform prospective customers and the rest of the community that he did not jack up his prices.  Perhaps he had heard rumors or been confronted directly, prompting him to advertise more widely than he originally intended.  By the time he made that determination, it may have been too late to update the copy he sent to the Connecticut Journal.

Rather than merely noting a benefit to his customers, the nota bene that eventually appeared at the conclusion of Neilson’s advertisements may very well have been an exercise in reputation management.  Rarely did merchants and shopkeepers update their advertisements in the 1760s and 1770s.  They usually submitted copy that ran for weeks or even months.  Yet Neilson made an addition to his advertisement and then published the revised version in its entirety in two more newspapers, increasing the funds he expended on advertising.  If his reputation was at stake, he may have considered doing so a necessity well worth the additional expense.

March 1

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

Mar 1 - 3:1:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (March 1, 1770).

“Sold on as low terms, as before the non-importation took place.”

On the first day of March 1770, an advertisement in the New-York Journal informed prospective customers that a “large Assortment” of goods “Remains for SALE, at WILLIAM NEILSON’s STORE.”  Those goods consisted primarily of textiles, everything from “stript and printed linens” to double milled linseys” to “flower’s and border’d printed handkerchiefs.”  Neilson asserted that consumers could have any of this merchandise “Cheap for READY MONEY.”

That was not the only appeal that Neilson made to price.  He concluded the advertisement with a nota bene that informed both prospective customers and the rest of the community that “The above goods will be sold on as low terms, as before the non-importation took place.”  In other words, Neilson did not take advantage of the current political situation to inflate prices.  To protest duties levied on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea in the Townshend Acts, merchants and shopkeepers in New York signed nonimportation agreements, pledging to abstain from importing a much wider array of goods from England for as long as Parliament left those duties in effect.  Neilson’s use of the phrase “Remains for SALE” could have implied that he received all of his merchandise prior to the nonimportation agreement; the nota bene much more explicitly invoked the intersection of commerce and politics.

Colonists suspected some merchants and shopkeepers stocked up on imported goods in advance of the agreement.  Some purveyors of goods may have seen the boycott as an opportunity to reduce surplus inventories, making a virtue of purchasing goods that had lingered on shelves and in storehouses for quite some time.  If this did contribute to a scarcity of goods over time, it had the potential to result in higher retail prices.  That Neilson found it necessary to include his nota bene suggests that conversations about those very circumstances were taking place in New York at the time he placed his advertisement.  Participating in the nonimportation agreement required sacrifices of both purveyors of goods and consumers.  Neilson proclaimed that paying higher prices need not be one of the sacrifices made by his customers.