What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A very compleat assortment.”
In the fall of 1767 John Dawson and Company imported a “NEAT cargo of GOODS for the season.” They placed an advertisement in the November 10, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, informing potential customers in Charleston and its hinterland that they carried new merchandise.
Unlike some of their competitors, Dawson and Company did not list any specific items they stocked. In the same issue, John Scott enumerated dozens of items, as did John Edwards and Company. Scott sold everything from “bed blankets” to “black lace” to “gunpowder.” Edwards and Company provided even more elaborate descriptions of their wares, including “striped and floured fashionable silks and ribbons” and “copper-plate and common blue and white chimney tiles.” In a much shorter advertisement, the proprietors of “STOTT’s MANCHESTER WARE-HOUSE” named about a dozen items, such as ribbons, hats, and handkerchiefs. Each of these advertisers made it easy for readers to imagine the wonders they would encounter at their shops.
Dawson and Company, however, relied on a different tactic to incite consumer interest in their merchandise. Rather than presenting potential customers with explicit choices, they stated that the “NEAT cargo of GOODS” they had just imported would be “added to their other stock.” This combination yielded “a very compleat assortment” to satisfy their customers. Dawson and Company did not linger over the particulars; instead, they asserted that “the choice has been carefully attended to,” suggesting that they had devoted special effort in selecting their inventory. Prospective customers, they implied, would find the items they wanted and needed among Dawson and Company’s “very compleat assortment.”
Dawson and Company may not have had the means to make the same investment in advertising as John Scott or John Edwards and Company. In limited space, they advanced an alternate version of the popular appeal to consumer choice, promising that they did indeed stock a vast array of goods even though they did not publish an extensive list in the public prints.