February 28

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Feb 28 - 2:29:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 29, 1768).

“The said Geyer, has thought it necessary to erect the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum.”

In the months after the Townshend Act went into effect and colonists enacted nonimportation agreements in response, some advertisers incorporated implicitly political appeals into their commercial notices. In the February 29, 1768, editions of both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette, for instance, Samuel A. Otis advertised “A variety of Flannels and Hose, fabricated by some of the best Manufacturers in the Province.” When town meetings throughout New England voted to boycott imported goods they simultaneously declared their intentions to encourage “domestic manufactures.” Otis sought to tap into this enthusiasm for goods produced locally, but the conversation was so familiar that he did not need to offer further elaboration.

Henry Christian Geyer, on the other hand, adopted a different strategy. On the same day he inserted an advertisement in the Boston Post-Boy. In it, he rehearsed the recent history of decisions made at town meetings, explaining that he launched a new branch of his business because “not only this Town, but the whole Country, have voted and agreed to encourage all Arts and Manufactures of all sorts and kinds, in order to prevent the great and unnecessary Importations in North-America, and keep what little Money we have among us, without sending the same abroad.” Due to those circumstances, Geyer “thought it necessary to erect the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum, or the making of all sorts of Images, Birds, Cats, Dogs, & all other sorts of curious Animals, all of Plaster of Paris.” Collectors now refer to such ornaments as chalkware.

Colonists did not need these decorative objects in the same whey they needed the textiles and garments advertised by Otis, yet Geyer attempted to incite demand for all sorts of consumer goods, not just the basic necessities. He emphasized that colonists needed to support “all Arts and Manufacturers of all sorts and kinds,” not just those related to food, clothing, and shelter. Nobody needed to refrain from obtaining trinkets to decorate their homes just because they had resolved not to purchase goods imported from England. Instead, Geyer offered an option for continuing to engage in conspicuous consumption and ostentatious displays within the home while simultaneously supporting the economic and political interests of the colonies. Prospective customers must have found his appeals convincing. For the next several years Geyer continued to advertise that he practiced “the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum” and produced all sorts of images and animals to decorate colonial homes.  Click here to examine examples of these images, a pair of portrait medallions of George III and Charlotte.

Note that Geyer also listed his location as “near Liberty-Tree, South-End, Boston.” Even in telling readers where to find him, he injected politics into his advertisement.

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