What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Complete Assortment of GOODS (TEA excepted).”
John Edwards and Company moved quickly to place an advertisement for new merchandise in the South-Carolina Gazette. According to the shipping news in the May 30, 1771, edition, the Heart-of-Oak arrived in port on May 27. That gave Edwards and Company sufficient time to submit a brief advertisement to the printing office. Their notice specified that they had “just imported” a variety of items “in the ship HEART-OF-OAK, Captain HENRY GUNN, from LONDON.” The partners did not provide a list of their “Complete Assortment of GOODS” as a means of demonstrating the many choices available to consumers. Perhaps they did not have enough time to unpack the merchandise before the weekly edition of the South-Carolina Gazette went to press so instead opted to entice prospective customers with promises of new inventory that just arrived in port. Webb and Doughty took a similar approach in their advertisement on the same page as both the shipping news and Edwards and Company’s notice.
Rather than elaborating on their “Complete Assortment of GOODS,” Edwards and Company instead specified a particular item not part of their new inventory. “TEA excepted,” they proclaimed. They did not need to provide more detail for colonial consumers to understand their point. Parliament had repealed most of the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, but the tax on tea remained. Colonists protested the duties through a variety of means, including nonimportation agreements, but most relented and resumed trade with Britain when they achieved most of their goals. Some continued to advocate for keeping the boycotts in place until Parliament repealed all of the offensive duties, but most merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers did not share that view. Edwards and Company sought to have it both ways, importing and selling a variety of merchandise but underscoring that they did not carry the one item still taxed by Parliament. This allowed them to compete with other merchants and shopkeepers to satisfy most of the needs and desires of prospective customers while still signaling that they refused to go back to business as usual without acknowledging the political significance of tea and the duty that remained in place. Edwards and Company offered an alternative to consumers who wanted to support the American cause, at least to some extent, but also wanted to participate in the marketplace once so many options were available once again. This strategy likely enhanced Edwards and Company’s reputation among supporters of the American cause (with the exception of the most adamant) while easing the consciences of their customers, even if it did not achieve complete ideological consistency.
It may not have mattered much to Edwards and Company that they did not publish a lengthy litany of goods that just arrived via the Heart-of-Oak in their advertisement. Singling out tea as an item they intentionally excluded from their inventory, in an advertisement brief enough to make such a notation very visible, likely garnered far more attention and interest in their business.