What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“China Ware and Paper, much cheaper than they will come a little while hence.”
In an advertisement placed in the Massachusetts Gazette at the end of October 1767, Caleb Blanchard “Acquaints his Customers in Town and Country, that he has Just Imported … a LARGE and COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT of GOODS, both English & India” that he sold for low prices at his shop on Union Street in Boston. He also listed several other items that he stocked, including cocoa, sugar, tobacco, nutmegs, and cinnamon. Although he had already announced that he charged “the very lowest advance” for his wares, he concluded with another appeal to price. Blanchard proclaimed that he sold “China Ware and Paper, much cheaper than they will come a little while hence.”
Blanchard implied that the prices of china and paper would soon increase, but he did not explicitly state why he was so certain that customers would soon pay more for those particular items. He did not need to do so. Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette “in Town and Country” already knew that that the Townshend Act was set to go into effect in just three weeks on November 20, 1767. Indeed, residents throughout the colonies were aware of the provisions of the Townshend Act, in large part because newspaper printers from Massachusetts to Georgia had published excerpts of the legislation.
Article I of the Townshend Act assessed duties on dozens of different kinds of imported paper, from twelve shillings “For every ream of paper, usually called or known by the name Atlas Fine” to nine pence “For every ream of paper called Demy Second, made in Great Britain” to ten pence halfpenny “For every single ream of blue paper for sugar bakers.” Article II specified that duties on “all other paper” not specifically mentioned should be calculated on the nearest equivalent. Article III defined how many sheets of paper made a quire and how many quires made a ream.
Articles VII and VIII prohibited drawbacks on “china earthen ware.” In other words, merchants could not expect to receive a refund on any taxes they paid for re-exporting imported china. In the end, this would raise prices for consumers since merchants and shopkeepers would pass along the expense to their customers.
Caleb Blanchard did not name the Townshend Act in his advertisement, but that was not necessary to make his appeal to price resonate with consumers. Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette would have been well aware of the impending duties. They would have made the connection on their own. Blanchard depended on public awareness of politics and imperial economic policy in marketing his wares.