What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A great Variety of handsome Pictures … amongst which are several of their Majesties.”
George Parker advertised “a general Assortment of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” recently imported on “Vessels from LONDON and BRISTOL.” His merchandise included “a great Variety of handsome Pictures … amongst which are their Majesties, both plain and in Colours.” Not only did Parker stock goods from the metropolitan center of the British Empire, he also promoted memorabilia that celebrated George III, the ruler and personification of Britain.
In preparation for the work they will be doing on the Adverts 250 Project, yesterday the students in my Revolutionary class read and discussed T.H. Breen’s landmark article, “Baubles of Britain,” and my own chapter, “A Revolution in Advertising.” (Based on the quality of that conversation, I have high expectations for their contributions to this project.) In its consideration of both the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century and the political revolution that began in the 1760s, Breen’s article provided a foundation for consumer culture studies that will be one of the main themes throughout the semester. Drawing on Breen’s narrative, students articulated the close connections between England and the colonies created by consumption practices as well as the politicization of decisions about what to import and purchase (or not import and purchase).
Any time I teach a course that covers the American Revolution, whether an introductory survey or an upper-level seminar, I have a responsibility to emphasize change over time. Many students, like many Americans more generally, think of the events of the revolutionary era as happening simultaneously rather than as a process that unfolded over years. This advertisement helps me to demonstrate that point. Published after the Stamp Act controversy, boycotts of imported British goods, and the repeal of the despised legislation, this advertisement demonstrates an “ASSORTMENT of GOODS” from London found their way to the colonies once again, including “Pictures … of their Majesties” intended to be displayed in public and private spaces.
The goods offered for sale in this advertisement suggest that throughout the 1760s shopkeepers and their customers engaged in resistance to British policies, but they had not yet moved to outright revolution and determination to sever political ties with Britain. Transitioning from resistance to revolution was a long and complicated process. Elsewhere on the same page as Parker’s advertisement, Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, advertised several items he sold, including “Dr. FRANKLIN’s Examination before an August Assembly, relating to the American Stamp-Act.” Advertisements that celebrated colonists’ British identity and others that critiqued Parliament’s overbearing regulation of the colonies appeared side by side.
Americans had not yet made the decision to declare independence – and would not do so for almost another decade. After making that transition, as I argued in my own chapter that my students read and discussed yesterday, American merchandisers offered new sorts of memorabilia that celebrated the new nation, its leaders and heroes of the Revolution, and important events in achieving independence. No longer did advertisements hawk “Pictures … of their Majesties” but instead promoted a variety of prints and medals depicting George Washington and other patriots. Advertisers encouraged a new sort of veneration intended to unite citizens throughout the nation, just as veneration of “their Majesties” via purchasing and displaying prints had been intended to strengthen British identity and unity throughout the British Atlantic world a few decades earlier.
 T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.
Carl Robert Keyes, “A Revolution in Advertising: ‘Buy American’ Campaigns in the Late Eighteenth Century,” in Danielle Coombs and Bob Batchelor, eds., Creating Advertising Culture: Beginnings to the 1930s, vol. 1, We Are What We Sell: How Advertising Shapes American Life … And Always Has (New York: Praeger, 2013), 1-25.