May 8

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

May 8 - Wharton 5:8:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 8, 1766).
May 8 - 5:8:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 8, 1766).

“ANCHORS manufactured in America.”

“I have for some time carried on the business here.”

Daniel Offley and Charles Wharton were competitors when it came to selling anchors in Philadelphia. Both of these advertisements appeared in the May 8, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Journal, but the dates affixed to each suggest the course of conversations that took place, certainly in the public prints but possibly face-to-face with potential customers as well. Wharton’s advertisement had been running since late March, but Offley’s appeared for the first time in the May 8 issue. (Guest curator Maia Campbell previously featured the same advertisement from Wharton, which also appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette.)

Wharton incorporated two powerful appeals into his short advertisement. He pledged to sell anchors “at a half penny per lb. cheaper than any other person can or will sell at in this city.” Considering that anchors weighed hundreds or even thousands of pounds, this presented significant savings. Wharton also announced that he his anchors were “manufactured in America.” Like a good number of other merchants, retailers, and artisans in the mid 1760s, he embarked on the first “Buy American” campaign in response to the Stamp Act. (Keep in mind that in March, when the advertisement first appeared, the colonists were not yet aware that the Stamp Act had been repealed – just two days before the date on the advertisement.)

Wharton, a wealthy merchant from a prominent family, sold anchors, but Offley, a smith, “MADE and SOLD” anchors as a significant part of his livelihood. His advertisement suggests that he found it difficult to compete with the well-connected Wharton (though he never named his competitor), but he offered extensive explanations and justifications in order to convince potential customers to purchase his anchors even though they cost more.

Offley stated that he did not have access to the same resources as the manufacturer of anchors “sent to this place” from elsewhere in the colonies. If he could get “shanks, made out of the loop directly from the pig-iron at the forges” he could afford to sell his anchors at the lower price. However, Offley asserted that he made anchors of a higher quality, emphasizing “the care I always take to have them made well.” He also stated that he had “for some time carried on the business here” and practiced it “to the greatest perfection that it has been brought to here.” In addition, he promised that “one of my anchors of four hundred weight, will hold as much as one of the others of five hundred.” In other words, he sold a superior product that made it unnecessary to buy heavier anchors, thus more than covering the half penny per pound discount offered by his competitor.

In addition, Offley repaired anchors, a service not offered by Wharton. He doubled down on his skills as an artisan when he threatened that he would not “mend nor repair any of those that is advertised American made.” Offley warned that if potential customers bought their anchors from Wharton that he had no intention of making repairs at some later time. Instead, he would turn them away.

Wharton advanced a “Buy American” appeal that likely resonated with many readers, but Offley thought about production and commerce on an even more local scale. He had established himself as a smith in Philadelphia, as had others. He did not appreciate a merchant like Wharton infringing on business that he felt should go to local artisans, no matter if Wharton sold products “manufactured in America.” Offley pleaded that “if this branch of manufactory be taken away from this place, it may be a long time before it may be regained.” This would be a loss for “the number of hands that may be employed in it.” In addition, Offley was interested in “keeping the cash in our own province, circulating amongst the laborious part of mankind.”

That final sentence suggests that status played a role in these competing advertisements. Wharton and Offley both saw value in products “manufactured in America,” but the merchant and the artisan ultimately had different goals. Offley suggested that Wharton sought merely to line his own pockets, but purchasing anchors made locally by “the laborious part of mankind” would serve the greater good.

April 3

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

Apr 3 - 4:3:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 3, 1766).

“ANCHORS, Manufactured in AMERICA, … cheaper than any other Person can, or will, sell.”

Competition among vendors is certainly not exclusive to our time period, as this advertisement demonstrates. Charles Wharton used two main tactics to grasp the attention of his audience and potential customers, which would have been composed of mainly merchants and sailors. The marketing logic that he used appealed to American pride by mentioning that his anchors were made on home soil (which was especially important considering colonists’ feelings about British products and the Stamp Act), and it also speaks to frugality by proudly proclaiming that his prices are lower than anyone else’s.

The middle section of Wharton’s advertisement is rather assertive. Not only does he say no other person “can” match his prices, but he also writes that no other person “will” match his prices. I suppose, however, that modern advertisers do the same thing. In advocating for a product, advertisers have to be to some extent bold and brutal, willing to convince the public that their product is better at any cost.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

As Maia suggests, competition among vendors could be intense in the colonial era, especially in the larger port cities with growing populations and multiple newspapers disseminating messages aimed at consumers. Today’s advertisement came from the Pennsylvania Gazette, arguably the most successful, most significant, and most famous newspaper printed in America in the eighteenth century. It gained prominence under the direction of Benjamin Franklin (though in April 1766 it was operated by David Hall, his junior partner who took over the printing business many years earlier when Franklin retired to pursue other endeavors), making it the newspaper most recognized by general audiences in addition to scholars of early America, print culture, and journalism.

The Pennsylvania Gazette was so successful that it regularly distributed issues comprised of six pages in 1766. All of the other newspapers consulted for the Adverts 250 Project published only four pages per issue, though some occasionally printed a supplement or extraordinary halfsheet. The first and final pages were printed on one side of a broadsheet, the second and third pages on the other side, and then it was folded in half to create a four-page issue.

The Pennsylvania Gazette did the same, but included an additional halfsheet inserted in the issue. Although this gave the Pennsylvania Gazette half again as much space for content, in general most of that extra space was not devoted to news. Instead, it allowed for greater numbers of advertisements. The first four pages included approximately the same balance of news and advertising as in other newspapers, but the halfsheet was often filled exclusively with advertising, as was the case in the issue that included today’s advertisement. That commercial notice appeared on the first page, among several other advertisements, underscoring Maia’s argument: “competition among vendors is certainly not exclusive to our time period.”