What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The BEST of AMERICAN HAIR-POWDER.”
In the summer of 1772, William Trautwine, a barber who ran a shop “at the sign of the Bleeding Lady and Barber’s Pole” in Philadelphia, took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advertise the “BEST of AMERICAN HAIR-POWDER.” In an age when many entrepreneurs promoted domestic manufactures, goods produced in the colonies, as alternatives to imported items, hairdressers and barbers frequently joined the chorus. For his part, Trautwine encouraged “those gentlemen and ladies who are wellwishers to their country” to “favour him with their custom.” Such “wellwishers” might have had the commercial and economic interests of the colonies in mind, yet such appeals usually had a political valence as well. Especially when colonizers enacted nonimportation agreements in protest of new regulations and taxes passed by Parliament, advertisers editorialists, and others encouraged colonizers to participate in both the production and consumption of domestic manufactures. Such appeals continued during periods of relative calm. Trautwine’s reference to “wellwishers to their country” would not have seemed out of place to readers in July 1772.
Like others who promoted goods produced in the colonies, the barber believed that he needed to convince prospective customers that his product was as good as any they might acquire from merchants and shopkeepers who imported their goods. Consumers did not need to sacrifice quality when they supported domestic manufactures. The barber made his hair powder from “the very best of materials.” Trautwine also proclaimed that his customers “may depend on being supplied with Hair-Powder in quality not inferior to the best which is imported from Europe.” Indeed, it was Trautwine himself who made sacrifices to supply consumers with the “BEST of AMERICAN HAIR-POWDER,” assuming “considerable expence, in providing himself with a mill for that purpose.” He suggested that his investment in support of the political and economic interests of the colonies merited the patronage of consumers in Philadelphia and other readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Trautwine acted on his civic duty when he produced an American alternative to an imported item. In turn, he suggested, consumers had an obligation to do the same by purchasing his product.