What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“New-England FLOUR MUSTARD … superior in Strength and Flavor to any IMPORTED.”
Although he carried some imported goods at his store on Dock Square in Boston, Thomas Walley emphasized locally produced goods in his advertisement in the December 8, 1768, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. Indeed, even the headline in a larger font than most of the rest of his advertisement proclaimed that many of his wares had local origins: “New-England Flour of Mustard.” Ever since learning of the Townshend Act and new duties placed on certain imported goods, colonists in Boston and throughout Massachusetts had vowed to limit their purchases of English goods as a means of protest. This coincided with concerns about an imbalance of trade that favored Britain over the colonies, prompting interest in encouraging “domestic manufactures” whenever possible as alternatives to imported goods. Some advertisers explicitly promoted the politics of consumption, but others made such arguments implicitly, realizing that declarations that their wares had been produced in the colonies would resonate with prospective customers already primed to recognize the political meanings of their decisions as consumers.
Still, advertisers like Walley made it clear that customers did not have to sacrifice quality for their principles. For most of the “domestic manufactures” in his advertisement, he included some sort of explanation concerning its quality. The “much-admired New-England FLOUR MUSTARD,” for instance, had been “found by repeated Trials of the best Judges to be superior in Strength and Flavor to any IMPORTED.” Walley did not provide further details about these “best Judges,” but he did offer assurances that this product was not unknown or new to the market. Customers could purchase it with confidence that others had already enjoyed and endorsed it. When it came to “PIGTAIL TOBACCO” and “Choice SNUFF,” Walley indicated that his inventory “manufactured in Boston” met the same standards as a well-known brand. The tobacco was “equal to Kippin’s” and the snuff “equal to Kippen’s best.” Similarly, Walley sold “STARCH, manufactured in Boston” that was “the best Sort” and “equal to [imports from] Poland,” known for their quality. Readers may have greeted such proclamations with skepticism, but such assurances may have helped to convince prospective customers to give these products a chance. Walley did not allow the political ramifications of consumer choices to stand alone in marketing his wares. Instead, he paired politics and quality to enhance the appeal of several “domestic manufactures” he made available to consumers in Boston.