What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Every bar that leaves the forges for the future will be stamped.”
Curtis Grubb and Peter Grubb were the victims of counterfeiters! The Grubbs produced and sold bar iron, but someone was passing off an inferior product that masqueraded as bar iron that came from their forge. To address the situation, the Grubbs inserted an advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the December 31, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.
In the process of describing how they had been “gros[s]ly imposed upon” by the impostors who peddled the fraudulent bar iron, the Grubbs also promoted the positive aspects of their own product. The bar iron falsely attributed to the Grubbs “was neither of so good a quality, nor so well drawn, as that which they have heretofore made, and do now make.” The spurious bar iron actually served as an endorsement of sorts: the counterfeiter and the unwitting buyers both acknowledged the quality of the Grubbs’ bar iron. The deception depended on the Grubbs having already established a reputation as producers of bar iron. The incident allowed them to further augment that reputation by publishing their tale in the public prints, positioning themselves as both victims and skilled producers of quality bar iron.
As a remedy to this imposition, the Grubbs devised a new means of protecting the stature of their product: “Notice is hereby given, that every bar that leaves the forges for the future will be stamped.” The Grubbs created a trademark for their bar iron; they literally marked their product to make it easily identifiable for customers who acquired it from third-party sellers. This modification benefited both producers and customers. Preventing further frauds meant that “the public [will] no longer [be] abused.” It also restored the reputation – or, as the Grubbs described it (twice), the “character” – of their bar iron.
When it came to counterfeit merchandise, eighteenth-century advertisements most often flagged the possibility of bogus patent medicines, but other products could also be imitated to the disadvantage of both the original producers and customers duped into buying something other than what they intended. In the case of bar iron, the Grubbs attempted to turn the situation to their advantage. They also devised a trademark that not only marketed their product but also helped to prevent similar incidents in the future.