What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“CLEAN LINEN RAGS.”
Christopher Leffingwell used his advertisement in the January 22, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette to promote the “Quantity of coarse and fine Writing, Printing and Wrapping PAPER” he manufactured, but he simultaneously issued a call for readers to supply him with the rags he needed to produce more paper. Purchasing and producing paper amounted to more than mere commerce. These were political acts in the wake of the Townshend Act imposing new duties on imported paper the previous November.
Leffingwell made that apparent. He described handing over rags to local paper manufacturers as “an entire Saving to the COUNTRY.” He opined that “every Friend and Lover” of America should deliberately and vigorously participate in such an endeavor. They should “readily save every Scrap,” including the smallest rags, that came into their possession with the intention of turning them over to him to be made into paper that would reduce the colony’s dependence on imported paper being taxed by Parliament. Leffingwell paid for the rags he received, acknowledging that “the Price given for them, may to some seem very small.” That attitude, he cautioned, did not recognize the greater purpose. By working together to bolster the production of paper in Connecticut, colonists contributed to “the whole Saving” that became “very considerable.” As Lessingwell “paid in Cash” for rags collected by his neighbors and, in turn, they purchased the paper he manufactured from those rags, they collectively advanced the local economy. They made their colony less dependent on goods imported from Britain while also avoiding sending local cash across the Atlantic as payment of the new taxes from the Townshend Act. Lessingwell’s decision to buy up as many rags as possible, laying out “£. 100 lawful Money” so far, had resulted in saving the same amount which “otherwise might have been entirely lost.” In return for his assistance to the economic welfare of the colony, he requested that readers reward him by continuing to supply him with rags as well as purchasing the paper those rags produced. Leffingwell provided a means for colonists of all backgrounds to engage in resistance to Parliament.
“If the People will furnish me with a sufficient Stock of fine white Rags (which they may easily do) it will enable me to supply them with as good Paper as is imported from Abroad, and as cheap,” Leffingwell proclaimed. Everyone benefited from this scenario. Paper and rags, production and consumption, all took on political significance as Leffingwell challenged colonists to consider the meanings attached to some of the most mundane items they encountered in their daily lives.