Company founder Daniel Appleton (1785-1849) began not as a bookseller, but as a dry-goods merchant in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Little is known of this early operation, and the only sources available are secondary sources. One of those sources is the New International Encyclopedia, Volume I (1902):
"APPLETON, Daniel (1785-1849). An American publisher. He was born in Haverhill, Mass.; first engaged in the dry-goods business there and in Boston, and in 1825 removed to New York to follow the same business. He gradually combined the importing of books with the dry-goods trade, and finally devoted himself entirely to the book business, publishing his first book in 1831. The firm which he established, known ever since as D. Appleton & Co., is continued by his descendants." (Gilman, Peck, Colby, eds., 1902, p. 677)
Another source is the New American Cyclopaedia, Volume I (1858), published by Appleton:
"Appleton, Daniel, the founder of the publishing house D. Appleton & Company, in New York, was born at Haverhill, Mass., in 1785, and died March 27, 1849. He commenced business as a general store-keeper, in his native place. He afterward removed to a larger business field in Boston, and subsequently to New York. In the latter place he commenced the importation of English books, and in the course of years, by his energy of character, established one of the largest importing and publishing houses in the United States, which is now continued by his sons." (Dana, Ripley, eds., 1858, p. 718)
What did the Haverhill store look like? What goods were sold there? Details are sparse, but one can imagine the store was small in size and scope, considering that Daniel Appleton moved to a "larger" business field in Boston. The term "dry-goods" is quite general, and at the start of the 19th century, would have included everything from clothing to housewares, and even medicine. Indeed, it is confirmed in Dana and Ripley's entry that Appleton was a "general store-keeper."
Interestingly, it appears that although he sold general wares, Daniel Appleton focused on the clothing trade early in his career. Grant Overton, in his biographical work Portrait of a Publisher and The First Hundred Years of the House of Appleton 1825-1925 (1925), provides some vivid details of this period:
"The fifth generation born in America, Daniel Appleton, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, is a gentleman wearing a blue coat with bright buttons, a light buff vest and blue trousers or pantaloons - a suit like Daniel Webster's - selected from the excellent stock of his own drygoods store in Haverhill." (p. 4)
The suits sold by Appleton would have likely been imported from places like London. Daniel Appleton's family line traces back to John Appulton (d. 1414) of Waldingfield, Suffolk, England. Furthermore, Daniel's son William Henry Appleton (1814-1899), traveled to England extensively as early as 1831, acquiring works from Lord Byron, William Thackeray, and Tom Moore (Overton 4-5). It seems probable therefore, that early in his career, Appleton would have gravitated toward London as the import source of his goods. Historian Carolyn L. White corroborates this in her book American Artifacts of Personal Adornment, 1680-1820 (2005):
"Dry goods stores were the main locales where people purchased personal adornment, and store merchants touted their wares in newspapers. Store advertisements enumerated a wide ranging collection of available goods and emphasized new shipments received from foreign ports, most frequently London." (p. 23)
Dana, Charles A. , and George Ripley, eds. The New American Cyclopaedia. Vol. I. New York, NY: D. Appleton & Company, 1858.
Gilman, Daniel C., Harry T. Peck, and Frank M. Colby, eds. The New International Encyclopedia. Vol. I. New York, NY: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1902.
Overton, Grant M. Portrait of a Publisher and The First Hundred Years of the House of Appleton 1825-1925. New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1925.
White, Carolyn L. American Artifacts of Personal Adornment, 1680-1820: A Guide to Identification and Interpretation. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2005.