What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“ANCHORS manufactured in America.”
“I have for some time carried on the business here.”
Daniel Offley and Charles Wharton were competitors when it came to selling anchors in Philadelphia. Both of these advertisements appeared in the May 8, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Journal, but the dates affixed to each suggest the course of conversations that took place, certainly in the public prints but possibly face-to-face with potential customers as well. Wharton’s advertisement had been running since late March, but Offley’s appeared for the first time in the May 8 issue. (Guest curator Maia Campbell previously featured the same advertisement from Wharton, which also appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette.)
Wharton incorporated two powerful appeals into his short advertisement. He pledged to sell anchors “at a half penny per lb. cheaper than any other person can or will sell at in this city.” Considering that anchors weighed hundreds or even thousands of pounds, this presented significant savings. Wharton also announced that he his anchors were “manufactured in America.” Like a good number of other merchants, retailers, and artisans in the mid 1760s, he embarked on the first “Buy American” campaign in response to the Stamp Act. (Keep in mind that in March, when the advertisement first appeared, the colonists were not yet aware that the Stamp Act had been repealed – just two days before the date on the advertisement.)
Wharton, a wealthy merchant from a prominent family, sold anchors, but Offley, a smith, “MADE and SOLD” anchors as a significant part of his livelihood. His advertisement suggests that he found it difficult to compete with the well-connected Wharton (though he never named his competitor), but he offered extensive explanations and justifications in order to convince potential customers to purchase his anchors even though they cost more.
Offley stated that he did not have access to the same resources as the manufacturer of anchors “sent to this place” from elsewhere in the colonies. If he could get “shanks, made out of the loop directly from the pig-iron at the forges” he could afford to sell his anchors at the lower price. However, Offley asserted that he made anchors of a higher quality, emphasizing “the care I always take to have them made well.” He also stated that he had “for some time carried on the business here” and practiced it “to the greatest perfection that it has been brought to here.” In addition, he promised that “one of my anchors of four hundred weight, will hold as much as one of the others of five hundred.” In other words, he sold a superior product that made it unnecessary to buy heavier anchors, thus more than covering the half penny per pound discount offered by his competitor.
In addition, Offley repaired anchors, a service not offered by Wharton. He doubled down on his skills as an artisan when he threatened that he would not “mend nor repair any of those that is advertised American made.” Offley warned that if potential customers bought their anchors from Wharton that he had no intention of making repairs at some later time. Instead, he would turn them away.
Wharton advanced a “Buy American” appeal that likely resonated with many readers, but Offley thought about production and commerce on an even more local scale. He had established himself as a smith in Philadelphia, as had others. He did not appreciate a merchant like Wharton infringing on business that he felt should go to local artisans, no matter if Wharton sold products “manufactured in America.” Offley pleaded that “if this branch of manufactory be taken away from this place, it may be a long time before it may be regained.” This would be a loss for “the number of hands that may be employed in it.” In addition, Offley was interested in “keeping the cash in our own province, circulating amongst the laborious part of mankind.”
That final sentence suggests that status played a role in these competing advertisements. Wharton and Offley both saw value in products “manufactured in America,” but the merchant and the artisan ultimately had different goals. Offley suggested that Wharton sought merely to line his own pockets, but purchasing anchors made locally by “the laborious part of mankind” would serve the greater good.