What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Extending Manufactures, appear to be the only Means of saving an injured and distressed Country.”
When Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark placed an advertisement to “inform the Public, that they have set up the Cutler’s Business, in a Variety of Branches” in Providence in the spring of 1768 they imbued their products with political significance. In the wake of the Townshend Act going into effect the previous November, colonists from New England to Georgia continued to lament Parliament overstepping its authority and subjecting Americans to abuses that threatened to enslave them. Almost every newspaper published in the colonies reprinted a series of “Letters from Farmer in Pennsylvania,” twelve essays in which John Dickinson argued that Parliament could not impose taxes on the colonies for the purposes of raising revenue rather than regulating trade because the colonies were supposed to remain sovereign in their internal affairs. Starting in Boston and spreading far and wide, colonists pledged not to import goods from Britain but instead encourage domestic production to benefit the colonies both politically economically.
In that spirit, Bucklin and Clark proclaimed that “They have set up their Business in Confidence that they shall not want proper Encouragement, at a time when the setting up and extending Manufactures, appear to be the only Means of saving an injured and distressed Country.” The cutlers did not need to comment on the current political situation any more explicitly, especially since news and editorial items printed elsewhere in the same issue of the Providence Gazette provided the necessary context for prospective customers to understand their meaning. Even when considered independently of the other contents of any particular issue in which the advertisement appeared, Bucklin and Clark devised an advertisement that addressed discussions that had been taking place in print and in person for more than six months. Having done so, they expected “Proper Encouragement” for their efforts. They commenced their business for “the public Benefit” and called on “the Well-wishers to American Manufacturers” to purchase their wares. At the same time, they underscored the quality of their cutlery. Manufactured locally, their cutlery was not inferior to any imported from Britain or Ireland. Conscientious consumers, Bucklin and Clark argued, did not have to sacrifice quality when their politics guided their purchasing decisions.