What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Orders from the country will be punctually answered.”
When William Wilson placed an advertisement about “a fresh Assortment of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” in the August 31, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, he listed dozens of the items in his inventory. Wilson stocked everything from “Womens black Silk Gloves and Mitts” to “Steel Coffee-Mills” to “Coopers and Carpenters Adzes.” In addition to the merchandise that he named, he also carried “several other Articles, too tedious to enumerate.” As they contemplated their participation in the consumer revolution that was taking place throughout the British Atlantic world, Wilson invited colonists to imagine the vast array of goods he made available to them. He encouraged them to savor the choices.
Although Wilson addressed “his Friends and Customers,” his advertisement made clear that those “Friends and Customers” did not need to do their shopping in person at his store on Broad Street in Charleston. For those who lived some distance from the busy port, he pledged that “Orders from the Country will be punctually answered.” Customers who placed such orders could depend on the same level of service bestowed on patrons who visited Wilson’s shop. As a convenience to his customers, he offered a precursor to mail order or internet shopping.
That service made the extensive list of goods in Wilson’s advertisement even more imperative to operating his business. His notice in the South-Carolina Gazette doubled as a catalog for much of his merchandise, advising prospective customers “from the Country” which items they could order from afar. Wilson did not merely name items like “playing Cards” and “Womens and Girls Velvet Masks” to impress readers with the variety of goods in stock; instead, he provided a list that ranged from common items to unexpected novelties so customers placing orders became aware of the many possibilities. Wilson’s advertisement included clothing and textiles, accessories, housewares, hardware and tools, and groceries, signaling to those who could not examine the “several other Articles, too tedious to enumerate” that they had a good chance of a favorable response when submitting special requests not listed in his catalog of goods. This shopkeeper’s lengthy list was more than a conspicuous display of consumer goods; it was a critical element of a service he offered for those who wished to place “Orders from the Country.”