What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JOHN GILES … has brought with him, chosen by himself on the spot; A General assortment of European and East-India goods.”
At a glance, John Giles’s advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal closely resembled the notices placed by other merchants and shopkeepers who imported and sold “A General assortment of European and East-India goods” in Charleston. The introductory lines of this list-style advertisement, however, included an important detail that potentially distinguished Giles’s merchandise from the inventory stocked by his competitors.
Consider the introductory lines in other advertisements in the same issue:
- “MICHIE & ROBERTSON, Have imported, in the Mary, Capt. Gordon, from London, and in the Live Oak, Capt. Lundberry, from Bristol …”
- “RICHARD WALTER, & Co. At DORCHESTER; Have just imported in the Live Oak, Capt. Lundberry, from BRISTOL …”
- “DAWSON and DUDLEY, Have just imported in the Live Oak, Capt. Lundberry, from BRISTOL …”
- “JUST IMPORTED, By JAMES DRUMMON in the QUEEN CHARLOTTE from LONDON …”
- “ROBERT & NATHANIEL STOTT, At their Store in Beadon’s Alley, next to Elliott-Street; have just imported in the Mary, Gordon …”
Each of these variations fit a general pattern employed by advertisers throughout the colonies: inform potential customers of the origins of wares offered for sale, including the ship and captain who transported the goods so readers could determine how recently they had arrived. Elsewhere in their notices, advertisers often underscored that they carried the “newest fashions.” This appeal gained credibility when they demonstrated that their supplies had indeed been “just imported” on the most recently arrived vessels from England.
Like several of his competitors, Giles sold goods transported “in the Ship Mary, Capt. Gordon, from London.” However, he did not receive his “General assortment of European and East-India goods” as the result of corresponding with distant suppliers. Instead, he ventured to London himself to examine what was available. The items he imported, advertised, and sold in his shop had been “chosen by himself on the spot,” a claim that none of his competitors could make. Other retailers may have been at the mercy of choices made by their agents and associates in England. On occasion, American shopkeepers voiced concerns that they received castoff goods no longer en vogue in England; consumers similarly worried that they lagged behind the current fashions on the other side of the Atlantic. Giles alleviated this anxiety by traveling to London to select which merchandise he would sell “at his store in Elliott-street” in Charleston.