What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Lemuel Pattingell … Fabricates and Sells, THE best jerk’d BUTTONS.”
In February 1768, Lemuel Pattingell inserted an advertisement in the New-London Gazette to inform readers that he “Fabricates and Sells, THE best jerk’d BUTTONS.” In addition to their high quality, Pattingell’s buttons were also durable. He proclaimed that they “wear at least twice so long as those Imported.” Potential customers who might have been skeptical of these claimes could examine the buttons for themselves before contacting Pattingell. He announced that “Samples … may be seen at the Printing Office in N. London.” Although brief, this advertisement tapped into concerns about production, consumption, and politics in the colonies and the empire that had gained prominence in the fall of 1767 and continued for months in the public prints.
Colonists found themselves at a disadvantage when it came to a trade deficit with Britain. Many merchants and shopkeepers expressed a preference for dealing in cash rather than credit in their advertisements, hoping to staunch the flow of specie out of the colonies and across the Atlantic. Parliament exacerbated discontent over this situation when it decided to impose new duties on certain imported goods in the Townshend Act. Several weeks before it went into effect in late November 1767, the Boston town meeting voted to initiate a nonimportation agreement to commence at the beginning of the new year. Simultaneously, they also voted to encourage domestic production in whatever way possible, including consuming goods produced in the colonies. As word about these developments spread, both in print and via conversation, other towns adopted similar measures. Consumers’ decisions about which goods to purchase became increasingly politicized as fall became winter.
Pattingell’s advertisement appeared among news and advertisements that advanced those discussions. Elsewhere on the same page of the February 12, 1768, issue of the New-London Gazette, John Armbruester advertised the “Choice GENEVA” he distilled in Norwich. The twelfth and final letter in John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” dominated the first and second pages. Advertisers often liked to suggest that imported goods, including adornments like buttons, possessed cosmopolitan cachet, but that appeal fell out of favor when the imperial crisis intensified and colonists turned to homespun cloth and other goods produced locally. Pattingell’s emphasis on quality and durability addressed the primary concerns of potential customers at the time he placed his advertisement. In turn, that advertisement further shaped public discourse about the politics of consumption, demonstrating to consumers that they could purchase goods made in the colonies rather than relying on imports.