January 12

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 9, 1772).

“Friends to American Manufactures will give the preference to his Parchment.”

Advertising campaigns that encouraged consumers to “Buy American” predate the American Revolution.  During the period of the imperial crisis that eventually culminated in thirteen colonies declaring independence, advertisers promoted “domestic manufactures” as alternatives to good imported from England.  Robert Wood did so in the early 1770s.  He drew attention to “PARCHMENT MADE and SOLD by ROBERT WOOD” in an advertisement in the January 9, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Several printers also stocked and sold Wood’s parchment, making it convenient for consumers to acquire.

Producing parchment in Philadelphia might not seem like a significant act itself, but Wood insisted that “EVERY Manufacture carried on among us, however small” yielded “good consequences to the country in general.”  He did his part to support the local economy and resist the abuses of Parliament (including duties on imported paper and other goods that had only recently been repealed) by making and selling parchment, but he needed consumers as partners to complete the transaction and truly make an impact.  For those who had concerns about the quality of his parchment compared to what they might acquire from merchants and shopkeepers who imported parchment, he asserted that “several of the most eminent Conveyancers in this city” had been purchasing from him “for some time past” and they considered his product “superior to the generality of what is imported.”  Furthermore, he set prices “as low as that imported,” yet another reason to purchase his parchment.

Wood concluded by reminding consumers that their choices in the marketplace had consequences.  He requested that the “friends to American Manufactures … give the preference to his Parchment” over any other, especially imported parchment.  In deploying such a title, “friends to American Manufactures,” Wood implicitly suggested to consumers that making other choices made them opponents of goods produced in the colonies and the welfare of their community.

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