What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He doubts not but every merchant and shop-keeper in this city, and towns adjacent that regard the good of this oppressed country, will encourage such an undertaking.”
Abraham Shelley, a “THREAD-MAKER, in Lombard-street” in Philadelphia, sought to convince colonial consumers that purchasing his wares amounted to a civic duty. In an advertisement in the December 20, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he informed prospective customers that he continued “to make and sell … all sorts of fine coloured thread” that he asserted was “much better, and cheaper, than what is imported from Europe.” Quality and price were important, but Shelley gave consumers additional reasons to purchase his thread. He offered alternatives to imported goods to colonists who had widely pledged to encourage “domestic manufactures” as a means of correcting a trade imbalance with Britain as well as practicing politics through commerce in the wake of duties that Parliament imposed on certain imported goods. Even after colonists ended their nonimportation pacts following the repeal of those Townshend duties, some advertisers continued to proclaim the virtues of domestic manufactures. More than ever, they depended on consumers making conscientious decisions in the marketplace.
When customers selected Shelley’s thread over imported alternatives, they did not have to sacrifice quality or price. They also demonstrated support for American efforts to achieve greater self-sufficiency to protect against subsequent attempts by Parliament to harass the colonies. He asked consumers to take into account “the good of this oppressed country.” In addition, he underscored that his enterprise “supplies a great number of poor women with market money, who, otherwise, with their children, would become a public charge.” Civic responsibility inherent in purchasing thread from Shelley extended beyond politics to poor relief. That meant that consumers could serve their communities in many ways simultaneously when they decided to buy from Shelley, who proclaimed that he “doubts not but every merchant and shop-keeper in this city, and towns adjacent” should acquire thread from him to sell to others. The civic responsibility he described belonged not only to consumers but also to those who sold goods to them. Merchants and shopkeepers also made important decisions in choosing which items to stock in their stores and shops. Quality and price matter, but Shelley believed that civic responsibility further enhanced his appeals to customers.