What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A fine Assortment of ENGLISH & INDIA GOODS and HARD-WARE.”
When John Appleton advertised the merchandise available at his shop in Salem in the fall of 1772, he resorted to two of the most common appeals deployed by merchants and shopkeepers. He emphasized price and selection. In his advertisement in the October 27 edition of the Essex Gazette, he asserted that he was “determined to sell” his wares “at such very low Rates … as cannot fail to give full Satisfaction to every reasonable Purchaser.” He offered those low prices “by WHOLESALE or RETAIL,” extending the benefit to both consumers and retailers looking to expand their own inventory. Low wholesale prices meant that shopkeepers who acquired goods from Appleton could pass along the bargains to their own customers.
Appleton devoted significantly more space to developing his appeal about selection. He announced that he carried a “fine Assortment of ENGLISH & INDIA GOODS and HARD-WARE” and then provided a lengthy list of goods to demonstrate the range of choices his customers enjoyed. Although he enumerated scores of items, everything from “black & white, plain and flower’d Sattins” to “children’s red Morocco Shoes,” he did not have space in a newspaper advertisement to include everything. The clarification “Some of which are as follows” preceded Appleton’s list of goods. In addition, Appleton mentioned categories of goods, such as “linen, silk and cotton Handkerchiefs of all sorts” and “Door Locks, Hinges and Latches of all sorts,” to further suggest ample choices. He also inserted “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) several times to indicate that he sold even more of certain types of items. The length of the dense advertisement, the longest notice in that issue of the Essex Gazette, also testified to the selection at Appleton’s shop.
Appleton was not alone in making an appeal about consumer. In the same issue, Samuel Flagg promoted a “General Assortment of English and India GOODS,” Stephen Higginson hawked a “Large and general Assortment of English and India GOODS,” and Campbell and Duncan marketed a “compleat Assortment of GOODS.” Five other merchants and shopkeepers used similar phrases to describe their inventory, some of them also mentioning low prices. Appleton distinguished his advertisement from others with a brief elaboration on his low prices and a lengthy catalog of his merchandise.