What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A real good INK.”
When it came to opposing the taxes inflicted on the American colonies by Parliament, every small act of resistance mattered. That was the message that Benjamin Jackson delivered in a lengthy nota bene to his advertisement for “New invented PHILADELPHIA INK-POWDER” in the April 5, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Jackson participated in a movement to encourage “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies as alternatives to items imported from Britain. This movement gained popularity at the same time as American merchants and traders signed nonimportation agreements in response to the duties placed on imported paper, glass, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts, hoping to leverage their commercial power to achieve political goals.
“As all our American manufactures (tho’ ever so small),” Jackson proclaimed, “are attended with obvious good consequences to the British colonies in general” consumers had a duty to purchase his ink powder even “tho’ it is but a trifling manufacture.” He suggested that small and repeated acts of resistance would amount to a bold collective statement. Furthermore, “some of the chief ingredients of this excellent Ink-Powder, are the produce of this continent.” Not only did Jackson manufacture his ink powder locally, he also acquired many of the materials he needed from domestic suppliers. His enterprise had ripple effects that benefited producers and consumers alike. Like many others who advertised domestic manufactures, Jackson also assured prospective customers that they need not sacrifice quality nor pay premiums for their political principles. He asserted that he sold his ink powder “as cheap as the European can be imported, and will engage it superior to that in quality.” In addition to substituting for goods no longer shipped across the Atlantic, domestic manufactures addressed a trade imbalance between Britain and the colonies that resulted in a scarcity of specie circulating in the colonies. Jackson noted that buying his product would “help to keep and circulate money amongst us.”
Jackson made various arguments in favor of his ink powder, developing a sophisticated “Buy American” marketing campaign before the American Revolution. Yet his efforts were not themselves innovative. He joined a chorus or producers and retailers who increasingly encouraged American consumers to choose domestic manufactures in the late 1760s and early 1770s.