What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Imported from LONDON (before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place).”
Cyrus Baldwin hoped for prosperity in the new year, greeting 1770 with an invitation for prospective customers to visit his shop at “the Sign of the Three Nuns and Comb” on Cornhill Street in Boston. His advertisement listed a variety of items in stock, including textiles (“Shalloons, Tammies, Durants” and others), tea, coffee, and “other Articles too many to be here enumerated.” Baldwin made clear that he offered choices to consumers.
He also made clear that he abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted by Boston’s merchants and traders in protest of the duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts. Like other eighteenth-century retailers, he noted that his goods were “Imported from LONDON,” but he carefully clarified that they had arrived in the colonies “before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.” Usually advertisers emphasized how recently their merchandise arrived from London and other English cities, but in this case Baldwin realized that many prospective customers would find items imported more than a year ago more attractive and more politically palatable.
It made sense for Baldwin to take this approach. His advertisement appeared at the bottom of the center column on the first page of the January 1, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Edes and Gill, the noted patriot printers of that newspaper, set the tone for the entire issue with the first item in the first column: “A LIST of the Names of those who AUDACIOUSLY continue to counteract the UNITED SENTIMENTS of the BODY of Merchants thro’out NORTH-AMERICA, by importing British Goods contrary to the Agreement.” This was a regular update that ran in several newspapers printed in Boston. The article accused six merchants and shopkeepers in Boston and another in Marlborough of preferring “their own little private Advantage to the Welfare of America,” labeling them “Enemies to their Country” and promising to view those who “give them their Custom … in the same disagreeable Light.”
Baldwin wanted that neither for himself nor his customers. He needed to make a living, but he did not wish to run afoul of the committee that oversaw the nonimportation agreement or his fellow colonists. To further demonstrate his compliance, he informed prospective customers that he sold “Red Drapery Baize manufactured in this Country, superior in Quality to those imported from England” in addition to goods that arrived from London many months earlier. The imperial crisis continued as a new year and a new decade began. In addition to news items and editorials, many advertisements for consumer goods and services captured the political tensions of the period.