What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He may take the LIBERTY of craving the continuance of their favours.”
John Mason, an upholsterer who ran a shop at the Sign of the Crown and Cushion in Philadelphia, had a habit of injecting politics into the newspaper advertisements he placed in the late 1760s and early 1770s. He often emphasized the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY” in notices offering his services to consumers. For instance, in an advertisement in the August 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he requested “LIBERTY to inform his friends and customers that he has removed his PROPERTY” to a new location. He then provided a short history of mattresses to argue that those he stuffed with wool were superior to others stuffed with straw or feathers, but after that bit of frivolity he concluded with a jeremiad about Parliament imposing duties on certain imported goods. He proclaimed that “Liberty is the Common Cry” due to the Townshend Acts that would “Deprive [colonists] of our Liberty and property.” Nearly a year later, he placed an advertisement for paper hangings “(not lately imported),” mattresses, and trimmings in the July 19, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. He concluded with a poem that decried New York for abandoning liberty by discontinuing the nonimportation agreement before Parliament repealed all of the duties on imported goods.
A few months later, Mason placed a new advertisement in the November 29, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. He once again accentuated the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY,” though this time he did not include more extensive commentary about the current political climate in Pennsylvania and the rest of the colonies. In this instance, he declared that he “presumes he may take the LIBERTY of craving the continuance” of the “favours” of his “friends and customers in general” in his efforts “dispose of his PROPERTY.” Along with “FURNITURE CHECKS,” the words “LIBERTY” and “PROPERTY” were the only words in all capitals in the body of Mason’s advertisements. Accordingly, they likely attracted attention, priming readers to think about current events as they perused Mason’s notice, especially those already familiar with the outspoken upholsterer’s politics.
At the conclusion of his notice, Mason testified that “it is the distinguishing character of noble and generous minds to employ the industrious.” He then pledged “his utmost endeavours to give general satisfaction.” Although not as explicitly political as the short sermons in some of his earlier advertisements, Mason may have intended for that statement to resonate with conversations about encouraging domestic manufactures as alternatives to imported goods. He suggested that his prospective customers had both an obligation and an opportunity; they had an obligation to support “industrious” colonists and an opportunity to demonstrate their “distinguishing character” and “noble and generous minds” by doing so. Given the contents of the rest of the newspaper as well as the pattern the upholsterer established in his marketing, readers likely recognized Mason’s message in this advertisement even without a more elaborate lecture about politics.