What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The Public will find upon trial, the SNUFF manufactured by them to be equal in Quality, and Flavour, to any imported from Great-Britain.”
In the spring of 1773, the firm of Maxwell and Williams announced that they processed and sold tobacco and snuff to customers in New York. According to their advertisement in the March 25, 1773, edition of the New-York Journal, the partners formerly “carried on a large and extensive trade in the SNUFF and TOBACCO Manufactories” in Bristol. Upon relocating their business in the colonies, they supplied the public with “all sorts of best Scotch and Rappee SNUFF, [and] Pugtail, Rag, and fine mild smoaking TOBACCO.”
Although relative newcomers to New York, Maxwell and Williams enthusiastically joined calls to encourage “domestic manufactures” through purchasing goods produced in the colonies rather than imported from England. Like other artisans who made such appeals, the tobacconists declared that consumers did not have to sacrifice quality when they chose to acquire local goods rather than imported alternatives. “The Public will find upon trial,” Maxwell and Williams confidently asserted, “the SNUFF manufactured by them to be equal in Quality, and Flavour, to any imported from Great-Britain.” They invited consumers to make that determination for themselves.
Maxwell and Williams also sought to distinguish their product from any others produced in New York or other colonies. They not only wished for consumers to support domestic manufactures; they also wanted consumers to support their domestic manufactures in particular. To that end, Maxwell and Williams stated that they “erected … a complete apparatus for carrying on the said business in all its branches.” In addition, their snuff was “made of the best materials, and in a manner superior to any thing of the kind yet attempted in this country.” Only after making all of those pitches did the partners most explicitly call on consumers to purchase goods produced in the colonies rather than imported alternatives, offering competitive prices to make doing so even more attractive. “[A]s an encouragement to those who are inclined to countenance Manufactories set on foot in AMERICA,” Maxwell and Williams trumpeted, they would sell “their SNUFF on lower terms than any can be imported.”
Many entrepreneurs, including tobacconists, launched “Buy American” campaigns prior to the Revolutionary War. Some sought to address a trade imbalance between the colonies and Britain. Others recognized the political dimensions of both production and consumption, leveraging commerce and industry as a means of participating in politics. All of them wished to create new opportunities for the success of their own endeavors by adding support for domestic manufactures to the array of marketing strategies commonly deployed by advertisers.