August 7

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

Aug 7 - 8:7:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 7, 1766).

“HAVING lately seen and advertisement … which not only aims at discrediting certain Anchors …”

William Hawxhurst of New York placed an extensive advertisement in response to the charges Daniel Offley made about the anchors sold in Philadelphia in an equally extensive advertisement that appeared in an earlier issue of the Pennsylvania Journal.

Hawxhurst reiterated some of the claims Offley made and then set about dismantling them via a point-by-point rebuttal. He did so not only to defend his own reputation and the quality of the product he sold, but also as “a piece of justice I owe to the public.” Potential customers, Hawxhurst asserted, would benefit once he set the record straight; they deserved to be as well-informed as possible by the producers and suppliers of the goods they contemplated purchasing.

Hawxhurst addressed the process of making anchors, especially forging the necessary iron, in some detail, perhaps exceeding the technical knowledge of most readers of the Pennsylvania Journal (but maybe not that of those most likely to purchase anchors). On the other hand, he then mobilized appeals that any reader would understand.

Rather than choose between “assertions” made by either advertiser, Hawxhurst preferred “to appeal to experience, as a more satisfactory voucher to the public.” To that he end, he proclaimed, “Certain it is, that my iron has gained a high reputation for its purity, both in England and America.” Furthermore, the smith who made Hawxhurst’s iron into anchors had been at the trade longer than Offley. Experience mattered. In addition, Hawxhurst’s ironworks had “furnished anchors for sale at Boston, New-Hampshire, Bermuda, South-Carolina, Virginia, and Jamaica” in addition to New York. Furthermore, he had received no complaints but instead had “heard much of their goodness and superior excellency.” Finally, Hawxhurst had always offered the same sorts of guarantees that Offley promoted, so customers would not gain any advantage by purchasing from them.

Offley had publicly stated that he would refuse to repair any anchors purchased from competitors. Hawxhurst made it clear what he thought of that ploy: “I give the public assurance, that in case of any such accident, my friend in Philadelphia, has orders upon the return of the anchors so failing, or such part of it as remains, to supply another in its stead; so that Mr. Offley may not only be saved the trouble of amending them, but deprived of the pleasure of refusing it.”

Hawxhurst stated that he had “no design to injure” Offley, but found it necessary to “remove the objections and difficulties, which [Offley] has thrown out, with more art, perhaps, than truth.” Both his reputation and his business were at stake, warranting a response that filled approximately two-thirds of a column. Most eighteenth-century advertisers promoted their own products without mentioning competitors, but occasionally some advanced their own businesses by disparaging others.

BONUS: Daniel Offley published a response of a similar length. In the August 7, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Journal, Offley’s advertisement appeared on the first page and Hawxhurst’s on the final page.

Aug 7 - 8:7:1766 Offley Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 7, 1766).

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