January 3

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

Jan 3 - 1:1:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 1, 1768).

A large and well sorted CARGO of GOODS.”

As part of their efforts to entice potential customers to visit “their store in Broad street” in Charleston, Michie and Robertston emphasized consumer choice in their advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Extending approximately one-third of a column, their advertisement in the January 1, 1768, issue listed dozens of items in their inventory, from “German serges” to “rich black, white, blue and crimson sattin” to “mens, womens and boys cotton, thread and worsted hose.” In addition to textiles and garments, they also stocked housewares and grocery items.

On its own, this list of goods presented prospective customers with a multitude of choices available at Michie and Robertson’s shop, yet the shopkeepers supplemented an implicit appeal concerning their vast selection with explicit descriptions to shape readers’ assessment of their wares and the experience of shopping at their store. Before commencing the list of merchandise, Michie and Robertson first proclaimed that they had imported “a large and well sorted CARGO of GOODS.” Then they inserted further descriptions attesting to consumer choice as they cataloged their wares. For instance, they did not merely enumerate an array of fabrics, but instead promoted “a large sortment of shalloons, callimancoes, durants, camblets, queen’s stuff, harragon, black and blue everlasting, black russet, bombazeens and poplins.” Similarly, they sold “A Variety of very neat London dressed broad cloths with suitable trimmings,” “handkerchiefs of all sorts,” and “a compleat sortment of iron wares.” Their selection was not haphazard or random; customers were bound to find exactly what they needed or wanted among Michie and Robertson’s merchandise.

In taking this approach, Michie and Robertson adopted an advertising strategy that became increasingly popular as greater numbers of colonists participated in the consumer revolution. The length of such list-style advertisements dramatically increased in the second half of the eighteenth century, in part because of their capacity to incite sales. Listing an assortment of goods – informing potential customers of the vast array of possibilities – likely stimulated demand by prompting readers to imagine possessing items they may not have previously considered acquiring (especially when combined with appeals to price and fashion). It also encouraged them to examine the merchandise in person to select items that best suited their own tastes, allowing consumers to exercise their judgment in distinguishing among the many options available.

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