What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Chisels … superior in Quality to those imported from Great Britain.”
Abeel and Byvanck sold ironmongery and cutlery in New York in the early 1770s. They listed an array of merchandise in their newspaper notices, but they did not merely inform prospective customers of the goods they offered for sale. In an advertisement in the April 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, Abeel and Byvanck noted the various ways that their business bolstered the nonimportation agreement adopted to protest duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts.
For instance, their inventory included chisels “superior in Quality to those imported from Great Britain, and at a less Price.” The partners did not explicitly state that the chisels were produced in the colonies, but the implication was clear. In presenting the chisels for consideration, Abeel and Byvanck made appeals commonly advanced by others who marketed “domestic manufactures” as alternative to imported goods. They assured consumers that they did not have to sacrifice quality for political principles. While some artisans and shopkeepers declared their merchandise produced in the colonies equal to any imported, Abeel and Byvanck made an even bolder statement when they asserted their chisels were “superior.” Yet customers did not have to pay a premium for that quality. Instead, they could acquire chisels produced in the colonies for lower prices than imported ones. Everything about these chisels seemed to work to the advantage of both consumers and the American cause.
Those chisels may have come from “the Manufactory in this Province.” Abeel and Byvanck noted that they would soon stock “a large Parcel of Sithes [Scythes]” currently under production there. Like the chisels, those scythes were “superior in Quality to those imported.” The partners did not comment on the price, but they had previously framed their entire advertisement in terms that favorably compared the prices they charged in April 1770 to what they charged prior to the nonimportation agreement going into effect. They declared that they set prices “Upon as reasonable Terms, as they sold before the Agreement for not importing Goods from Great Britain.” In other words, Abeel and Byvanck did not engage in price gouging after merchants and shopkeepers ceased replenishing their inventories with imported goods.
Nonimportation agreements ratified in New York and other colonies were the subject of press coverage in the 1760s and 1770s, but that coverage was not confined to news items and editorials. Instead, advertisements for consumer goods and services also endorsed and promoted nonimportation agreements, encouraging colonists to understand the connections between consumption and politics.