What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“They daily expect by the NANCY, Capt. JORDAN, from London, two very large and compleat assortments of goods.”
Like many merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies, Atkins and Weston indicated the source of their inventory in their newspaper advertisement. They informed readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that that had “just imported from LONDON, per the Captains BALL, RAINIER, and ALEXANDER, a variety of Goods.” This was boilerplate, part of a formula for the first sentence of many advertisements, but it became a standard part of marketing in eighteenth-century America because it addressed several factors that motivated colonists to participate in a transatlantic consumer revolution.
In proclaiming that they “just imported from LONDON … a variety of Goods,” Atkins and Weston framed the remainder of their advertisement for potential customers. They promised consumer choice among the “variety of Goods” before listing many of them to demonstrate the point. They emphasized a sense of shared identity among residents of the empire’s largest and most cosmopolitan city and colonists in Charleston, South Carolina, and its hinterlands. (Note that the partners operated two shops, one in Charleston and the other in Stono.) Their customers participate in the same “empire of goods” distributed in England. They also asserted that their merchandise was timely, implying that it corresponded to current fashions. An ocean separated consumers in London and Charleston, but this did not have to prevent colonists from keeping up with current tastes and styles.
In addition, listing which captains (and, sometimes, which vessels) delivered the goods to the colonial port allowed for readers to confirm that the merchandise had indeed been acquired recently rather than sitting on shelves or in storage for an extended period. At least some readers would know when certain ships had arrived at port, but any reader could browse the shipping news, usually printed immediately before the advertisements, to learn when ships had entered and departed the harbor.
Atkins and Weston developed an enhancement to this standard introduction. Later in their advertisement they reported that “they daily expect by the NANCY, Capt. JORDAN, from London, two very large and compleat assortments of goods, … and regular importations in future.” Not only did they incite demand for their current inventory, they also encouraged potential customers to anticipate the new wares that would soon become available via the Nancy. Furthermore, promises of “regular importations in future” revealed their confidence in their supply chain while also conditioning readers to assume that Atkins and Weston frequently updated their merchandise even without being exposed to subsequent advertising.