What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“BRUSHES of all Sorts, manufactured in BOSTON.”
In an advertisement on the front page of the February 1, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette, John Smith announced that he sold “BRUSHES of all Sorts” at his shop on Newbury Street. Rather than peddling imports from England, Smith emphasized that his brushes had been “manufactured in BOSTON.” In so doing, he situated his advertisement within ongoing public debates about transatlantic commerce and politics. The colonies suffered from a trade deficit that benefited England. To add insult to injury, Parliament imposed new duties on certain imported goods, especially paper, in the Townshend Act that had gone into effect in late November 1767. In response, Bostonians voted at a town meeting to launch new nonimportation pacts. To that end, they also pledged to purchase goods produced in the North American colonies and to encourage domestic manufactures of all kinds in order to reduce their reliance on imported wares.
Smith did not need to offer extensive or explicit commentary on recent events in his advertisement. He knew that prospective customers were well aware of the commercial and political circumstances. After all, the publishers of the Boston-Gazette and most other colonial newspapers consistently inserted news and editorial items that addressed the imperial crisis that continued to unfold. But such problems did not circulate only in print: they were the subjects of daily conversation throughout the colonies. As a result, Smith did not need to purchase a significant amount of advertising space in order to explain why colonists should purchase his brushes rather than any other. He likely believed that simply proclaiming that his brushes had been “manufactured in BOSTON” encapsulated the entire debate and justified selecting his wares over any others. He did offer brief reassurances that they were “equal in Goodness to any imported from Europe” and priced “as low as they can be bought in London,” but the weight of his marketing efforts rested on the place of production. Smith even solicited “Hogs Bristles,” necessary for continuing to make brushes.
In the 1760s, first in response to the Stamp and later in response to the Townshend Act, colonists launched “Buy American” advertising campaigns. Certainly a staple of modern marketing, “Buy American” campaigns have a history that extends back before the first shots were fired during the American Revolution.