What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A large and valuable Assortment of Goods.”
Samuel Gordon promoted the “large and valuable Assortment of Goods” he sold at the “IRISH LINEN WARE-HOUSE” in an advertisement in the November 17, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Contrary to the name of his store, Gordon’s inventory extended far beyond textiles. To aid prospective customers in perusing his notice, he identified more than two dozen categories of merchandise, including “MILLINARY,” “SHOES,” “HOSIERY,” “CHINA,” “GLASS,” “LOOKING-GLASSES,” “STATIONARY,” and “PEWTER.” Each of those categories appeared in capitals, indented to form a new paragraph, and followed by a short description or list of goods. The format likely made Gordon’s advertisement easier for readers to navigate than others that featured dense blocks of text. Alexander Gillon’s advertisement, for instance, occupied a similar amount of space and included a similar number of items, but nothing about the format differentiated any of the goods from others.
In contrast, Gordon deployed short passages that invited prospective customers to engage with the various kinds of merchandise he stocked. For “HATS,” he had a “choice of mens fine fashionable hats, felt ditto, ladies riding ditto.” He did not go into greater detail, but instead encouraged readers to imagine the choices and then visit his store to see for themselves. The “STATIONARY” items included a “great choice of pocket-books, quills, wax, wafer, paper of different qualities, and a complete set of large books, viz. ledger, journal, and waste-book.” Gordon composed a longer blurb for “CUTLERY,” mentioning a “great choice of knives and forks, ditto in cases, razors, ditto in cases, … carving-knives, pen-knives,” and related items. He repeatedly used the word “choice” to signal to prospective customers that they ultimately made decisions according to their own taste and budget rather than settling for whatever happened to be on the shelves. Similarly, he used variations that included “large assortment,” “different sorts,” “large quantity,” and “variety.” Many blurbs concluded with “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera), suggesting that far more choices awaited those who entered Gordon’s store.
Gordon did not rely on choice alone in marketing his wares. He also offered a discount to “Merchants who may want any of the above articles.” He extended credit, while promising a “discount of Ten per cent” to merchants who paid their accounts in January. Gordon likely intended that the carefully formatted list of wares would spark interest and then the discount in the nota bene would seem like too good of a bargain for merchants to ignore. The design of the advertisement suggests that Gordon carefully considered his marketing strategy rather than simply publishing an announcement that he had imported goods for sale.