What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“JAPANED WARE … now made and sold by TIMOTHY BERRET, and COMPANY.”
Advertisements for domestic manufactures, goods produced in the colonies, appeared in colonial newspapers with greater frequency when nonimportation agreements remained in effect in response to the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and the Coercive Acts in the 1760s and 1770s. They tapered off, but did not disappear altogether, when colonists resumed regular trade with merchants in Britain. Some advertisers continued to encourage consumers to acquire domestic manufactures, even if doing so did not have the same political valence when tensions between colonists and Parliament eased.
In the summer of 1771, for instance, Timothy Berret and Company advertised “JAPANED WARE” made in Pennsylvania. The partners recognized the popularity and demand for fashionable housewares with patterns carved into thick black varnish, following styles and techniques that originated in Japan. Such items testified to commercial networks that extended far beyond the Atlantic as well as to the cosmopolitanism of consumers who acquired and displayed “JAPANED WARE,” no matter whether made in Britain, the colonies, or elsewhere. Berret and Company adamantly proclaimed their merchandise “Equal in quality to any that can be imported from Great-Britain.” They underscored the point, declaring their wares “no way inferior, either in neatness of workmanship, japaning, painting, or polishing, to any that is made in England.” For those consumers skeptical that Berret and Company achieved the same quality as imported items, the partners had on hand “very neat bread-baskets, tea-boards, and waiters” for sale and inspection.
In an effort to gain more orders for their “new Manufactory,” Berret and Company sought buyers among retailers as well as end-use consumers. They offered discounts, a “great allowance,” to shopkeepers and others “who buy to sell again.” In addition to quality that matched imported goods, they passed along bargains to their customers with prices “as cheap as in England.” Purchasers did not have to pay a premium when acquiring domestic manufactures from Berret and Company instead of imported goods produced in greater quantities.
The “young beginners” in Philadelphia refrained from inserting political commentary into their advertisement, instead choosing to reassure hesitant buyers that the quality and price of their “JAPANED WARE” rivaled anything imported. For many advertisers and consumers, politics did not matter as much in 1771 as they did in 1766 or 1769 or would again in 1774. Several times in the 1760s and 1770s, the marketing appeals in newspaper advertisements, the arguments in favor of purchasing domestic manufactures, shifted depending on current events and the relationship between Parliament and the colonies.