What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“It is presumed preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here.”
As fall approached in 1770, the nonimportation agreement remained in effect in Boston. Parliament had repealed most of the duties on imported goods, but taxes on tea remained. Although New York already resumed trade with Britain, debates continued in Boston and Philadelphia about whether that partial victory was sufficient to return to business as usual.
It was in that context that Harbottle Dorr advertised nails and other items in the Boston Evening-Post, grounding his marketing appeals in politics. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he listed the various merchandise available at his shop. He prefaced his list, however, by noting that the items enumerated first were “manufactured in this Town” rather than imported from Britain. Those goods included “choice hammered Pewter Dishes & Plates, Cod and Mackrel Lines, best Copper Tea Kettles, all sizes of Porringers, Quart Pots, [and] Basons,” yet he started with “10d.* and 20d. Nails, warranted tough.” The asterisk directed readers to a short sermon that encouraged them to buy goods produced in the colonies that appeared at the end of the advertisement. “*It is presumed,” Dorr lectured, “preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here, (not only on patriotic Principles, and to discourage the PRESENT Importers, –but) as they really are better in Quality than most English Nails, being far tougher.” Dorr linked several appeals that supporters of the nonimportation agreement often combined. Buying American goods, Dorr and others argued, was not merely a statement of political principles but also a smart choice when it came to quality. Consumers did not need to worry about purchasing inferior goods, in this case nails, when they bought items made in the colonies.
Yet Dorr also stocked imported goods in addition to domestic manufactures, including “all sorts Pad & Door Locks,” “London Pewter Dishes and Plates,” and “good Combs.” He emphasized, however, that those items “have been imported above THREE YEARS.” In other words, Dorr acquired them before the nonimportation agreement went into effect. He had not violated the pact and prospective customers could purchase those items with confidence that they did not act contrary to the nonimportation agreement.
Whether selling domestic manufactures or imported goods, Dorr made politics the focal point of his marketing efforts. Even as some merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers advocated for following New York’s lead in resuming trade with Britain, he challenged them to consider “patriotic Principles” as they made their decisions about commerce. Perhaps sensing that it was only a matter of time before the nonimportation agreement came to an end, he also made additional arguments in favor of nails produced in the colonies, noting their superior quality.