May 5

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

Essex Gazette (May 5, 1772).

“MULBERRY TREES.”

Loammi Baldwin did much more than advertise mulberry trees for sale in Woburn, Massachusetts, in a notice that ran in the May 5, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette.  He advocated for colonizers in New England to more firmly establish a silk industry and, to that end, offered advice for cultivating mulberry trees.

What was the connection between mulberry trees and silk?  As Bob Wyss explains, the silkworm, a type of caterpillar, “prefers a diet of mulberry leaves.  It produces a cocoon which, when unraveled, can be spun into silk thread.”  Colonizers experimented with silk production in Virginia as early as 1613, “but efforts to build businesses around [silkworms] in American colonies such as Georgia, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania were only marginally successful.”  Efforts expanded into New England when the Connecticut Colonial Assembly “passed legislation offering financial incentives for silk growers” in 1734.  Bolstered by those incentives and newspaper advertisements promoting mulberry trees and silk production, some colonizers in Connecticut met with success in their silk ventures in the second half of the eighteenth century.  In the early nineteenth century, “Connecticut was a national leader in silk production and by 1840 was producing three times as much silk as any other state.”

Baldwin believed that silk production had a lot of potential in neighboring Massachusetts.  “I would spare no reasonable pains,” he declared, to encourage and bring to perfection, the production of so valuable an article as silk.”  He explained that he had already raised silkworms for a few years and “made a machine to winde the silk.”  He found the entire process “less difficult than I imagined.”  Yet readers did not need to take his word for it.  “Some of the raw silk,” Baldwin confided, “I sent to the society for encouraging arts, sciences and commerce in Great-Britain, where it was examined, and found equal to the Italian silk.”  As a result, he had a vision that depended on colonizers purchasing the mulberry trees he advertised.  “I am fully of the opinion,” Baldwin asserted, “that the culture of silk may be effected and brought to at least the state of raw silk, which we may export to great advantage.”  Yet he did not confine that vision merely to producing raw materials.  Instead, he believed that colonizers could “then procure Weavers, and other tradesmen, and carry on the whole manufacture amongst ourselves.”

Both politics and commerce likely influenced Baldwin’s vision.  Within the past several years, colonizers objected to new imperial regulations, including the Stamp Act and duties on imported goods imposed in the Townshend Acts.  In response, they adopted nonimportation agreements and encouraged the production and consumption of “domestic manufactures,” goods made in the colonies, as alternatives to imports from Britain.  In an age of homespun cloth signaling resistance to abuses perpetrated by Parliament, cultivating mulberry trees for the purpose of producing silk had the potential to further safeguard both the political and commercial interests of the colonies.

January 28

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 28, 1772).

“Those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications flourish in AMERICA.”

Robert Bell worked to create an American literary marketplace in the second half of the eighteenth century.  The flamboyant bookseller, publisher, and auctioneer commenced his efforts before the American Revolution, sponsoring the publication of American editions of popular titles that other booksellers imported.  His strategy included extensive advertising campaigns in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  He established a network of local agents, many of them printers, who inserted subscription notices in newspapers, accepted advance orders, and sold the books after they went to press.

Those subscription notices often featured identical copy from newspaper to newspaper.  For instance, Bell attempted to drum up interest in William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in 1772.  Advertisements that appeared in the Providence Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and other newspapers all included a headline that proclaimed, “LITERATURE.”  Bell and his agents tailored the advertisements for local audiences, addressing the “Gentlemen of Rhode-Island” in the Providence Gazette and the “Gentlemen of SOUTH-CAROLINA” in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  In each instance, though, they encouraged prospective subscribers to think of themselves as a much larger community of readers by extending the salutation to include “all of those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications flourish in AMERICA.”

Bell aimed to cultivate a community of American consumers, readers, and supporters of goods produced in the colonies, offering colonizers American editions of Blackstone’s Commentaries and other works “Printed on American Paper.”  Given the rate that printers reprinted items from one newspaper to another, readers already participated in communities of readers that extended from New England to Georgia, but Bell’s advertisements extended the experience beyond the news and into the advertisements.  He invited colonizers to further codify a unified community of geographically-dispersed readers and consumers who shared common interests when it came to both “LITERATURE” and “the Advancement” of domestic manufactures.  To do so, they needed to purchase his publications.

January 16

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

New-York Journal (January 16, 1772).

“He shall receive Encouragement and Assistance from the true Friends of their Country of all Ranks.”

In an advertisement that ran in the New-York Journal for several weeks in January 1772, William Shaffer addressed both the production and consumption of paper.  He issued a call for colonizers to provide him with “all Sorts of Linen Rags and old Paper” that he could use in making new paper, offering “Ready Money” in return.  Shaffer stated that he “continues to manufacture … All Sorts of Paper … to the general Satisfaction of his Customers.”

In addition, he offered an extensive explanation about why current and prospective customers should buy his paper.  The “Establishment of this Manufactory is of great Advantage to the Country,” Shaffer asserted, “by causing the Money that otherwise would be sent out of it, for the Purchase of Paper, imported from abroad, to circulate here, among a great Number of poor People.”  In the recent past, colonizers boycotted paper and other goods imported from Great Britain because Parliament imposed duties, but then resumed trade when Parliament repealed all of the duties except the one on tea.  For Shaffer and others who encouraged “domestic manufactures,” the production of goods in the colonies, that repeal addressed only one problem.  Colonizers continued to face a trade imbalance in which they sent their money across the Atlantic instead of spending it in support of local economies.  Colonial consumers, Shaffer argued, had an obligation to purchase paper and other goods produced locally.

They also had a responsibility to contribute to the production of paper by “supplying [Shaffer] with Linen Rags and old Paper, (Articles absolutely necessary to the Support of this Manufactory, and otherwise of little or no Use).”  This was an endeavor that could be undertaken by “the true Friends of their Country of all Ranks,” though Shaffer imagined different roles based on status.  “Gentlemen and Ladies in Town and Country,” he suggested, should “give proper Orders to their Servants” to collect and save linen rags and old paper and then send it to Shaffer.  In turn, he would “supply Country Merchants, Printers and others in this and the neighbouring Governments … with Paper of all Sorts, at the most reasonable Rates.”  Colonizers did not need to depend on imported paper, Shaffer proclaimed, when he offered a viable alternative, but the production of paper in New York depended in part on their cooperation in providing the necessary materials.  Colonizers could demonstrate that they were “Friends of their Country” by participating in both the production and consumption of paper.

January 12

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 9, 1772).

“Friends to American Manufactures will give the preference to his Parchment.”

Advertising campaigns that encouraged consumers to “Buy American” predate the American Revolution.  During the period of the imperial crisis that eventually culminated in thirteen colonies declaring independence, advertisers promoted “domestic manufactures” as alternatives to goods imported from England.  Robert Wood did so in the early 1770s.  He drew attention to “PARCHMENT MADE and SOLD by ROBERT WOOD” in an advertisement in the January 9, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Several printers also stocked and sold Wood’s parchment, making it convenient for consumers to acquire.

Producing parchment in Philadelphia might not seem like a significant act itself, but Wood insisted that “EVERY Manufacture carried on among us, however small,” yielded “good consequences to the country in general.”  He did his part to support the local economy and resist the abuses of Parliament (including duties on imported paper and other goods that had only recently been repealed) by making and selling parchment, but he needed consumers as partners to complete the transaction and truly make an impact.  For those who had concerns about the quality of his parchment compared to what they might acquire from merchants and shopkeepers who imported parchment, he asserted that “several of the most eminent Conveyancers in this city” had been purchasing from him “for some time past” and they considered his product “superior to the generality of what is imported.”  Furthermore, he set prices “as low as that imported,” yet another reason to purchase his parchment.

Wood concluded by reminding consumers that their choices in the marketplace had consequences.  He requested that the “friends to American Manufactures … give the preference to his Parchment” over any other, especially imported parchment.  In deploying such a title, “friends to American Manufactures,” Wood implicitly suggested to consumers that making other choices made them opponents of goods produced in the colonies and the welfare of their community.

January 11

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

Providence Gazette (January 11, 1772).

“The Names of the Subscribers to any of the above will be printed.”

Robert Bell, one of the most influential booksellers of the eighteenth century, worked to create an American literary market both before and after the American Revolution.  In the early 1770s, he published an American edition of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.  He promoted this project to supporters of “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies.

In an advertisement in the January 11, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, he addressed the “Gentlemen of Rhode-Island, and all those who are animated by the Wish of seeing NATIVE FABRICATIONS flourish in AMERICA.”  Such “FABRICATIONS” included not only printing an American edition but doing so “on American Paper.”  That eliminated two kinds of imported goods, “the last British Edition” that Bell consulted in producing his American edition and paper produced in England.  In turn, this provided employment for papermakers and printers in the colonies.  In addition, those who purchased the American edition acquired it for a bargain price.  Bell indicated that the first volume of the British Edition “is sold for above Six Dollars,” but he charged “the small Price of Two Dollars” for the American edition.  The enterprising bookseller also hawked an “American Edition of ROBERTSON’s History of Charles the Fifth” and accepted subscriptions for another proposed project, “HUME’s History of ENGLAND.”  Colonizers could support the local economy by stocking their libraries with a significant number of American editions.

In the process, they could also receive recognition for their support of “NATIVE FABRICATIONS.”  Bell concluded his advertisement with a note that the “Names of the Subscribers to any of the above will be printed.”  Buyers had the chance to see their names in print in good company with others who had the good taste and intellectual acumen to read (or at least purchase) these works by Blackstone, Robertson, and Hume.  While relatively few friends and acquaintances might see any of these volumes in subscribers’ homes or offices, anyone who perused the lists, often bound into the books, would see who purchased copies of their own.  Bell hoped that a desire to support domestic manufactures would convince colonizers to buy his American editions, but he hedged his bets by also offering the opportunity to have such support publicly acknowledged.

December 18

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Boston Evening-Post (December 16, 1771).

“Benjamin Willard, Clock-Maker.”

Benjamin Willard, one of the most prominent clockmakers in eighteenth-century America, placed an advertisement in the December 16, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post to inform the public that he had moved from Lexington to Roxbury.  He assured customers who had already purchased clocks from him with the intention that he would provide any necessary maintenance that they “still may have the same Care taken by applying to him at Roxbury.”  He also directed customers to his original shop in Grafton, where an employee made clocks “as well as at Roxbury.”  Like many other artisans, Willard promoted domestic manufactures, goods produced in the colonies, as alternatives to imported items.  He declared that consumers acquired clocks made and sold at his shop “on much better Terms than those that are purchased from foreign Countries.”  Accordingly, he advocated that colonists who needed clocks “as well as other kind of Mechanical Performances” should support his workshop, especially since “there have been large Sums of Money sent away for foreign Work which may be retained to the Emolument of this Country.”  The clockmaker referenced trade imbalances with Great Britain that had played a role, along with duties imposed on certain goods, in inspiring nonimportation agreements in Boston and other towns in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

Today, a collection of more than eighty clocks constructed by Willard, his three younger brothers, and three generations of the Willard family are on display at the Willard House and Clock Museum in North Grafton, Massachusetts, the second site mentioned in the advertisement.  Those clocks are exhibited “in the birthplace and original workshop of the Willard clockmakers, along with family portraits, furnishings, and other Willard family heirlooms.”  This public history site allows visitors to “step back in time” (surely the pun was intended!) and “witness a unique and important part of America’s technological, artistic, and entrepreneurial history.”

November 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 14, 1771).

“WATCHES made in Philadelphia.”

When Parliament imposed duties on certain imported goods – glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea – in the Townshend Acts in 1767, colonists responded by adopting nonimportation agreements.  In so doing, they resumed a strategy that helped win repeal of the Stamp Act, using economic leverage in the service of political goals.  At the same time that merchants vowed not to import and sell a wide assortment of items, many colonists also advocated that consumers support “domestic manufactures” by purchasing goods produced in the colonies as alternatives to their imported counterparts.  When Parliament eventually relented and repealed all of the duties except the one on tea, colonial merchants and others resumed trade with Britain.  Imported goods flooded American markets.

Even as consumers eagerly embraced imported goods once again, some American entrepreneurs continued to promote domestic manufactures.  John Sprogell, Jr., for instance, marketed “WATCHES made in Philadelphia” in an advertisement in the November 14, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Like others who advertised goods made in the colonies, Sprogrell promised prospective customers that they would not sacrifice quality.  To that end, he declared that he had “employed journeymen from London” so his shop would produce “the best of WATCHES.”  He offered a guarantee, proclaiming that he would “insure [the watches] for one, two, or three years.”  They would not need any maintenance that would incur “expense to the purchaser,” with the exception of routine cleaning.

As the proprietor of the shop, Sprogell understood that his reputation was on the line.  “The public may be assured,” he asserted, “that he will use his utmost endeavour to give general satisfaction” because “the character of the maker lays at stake.”  Even though the journeymen who labored in the shop did much or all of the work, ultimately the watches were Sprogell’s products.  Inferior work would have an effect on his standing in the marketplace, so even as he arranged a means of providing the same quality as found in London he provided additional security for customers who chose his “WATCHES made in Philadelphia” in hopes that his various pledges and promises would entice them into his shop.

November 10

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Pennsylvania Journal (November 8, 1771).

American FLINT GLASS.”

When Parliament repealed most of the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, leaving only the duty on tea in place, most American merchants counted it as a victory that merited bringing their own nonimportation agreements to end in favor of resuming regular trade with Britain.  Some colonists objected, insisting that they should hold out until Parliament met all of their demands by repealing the duty on tea as well, but they were in the minority.  Merchants and consumers alike welcomed the return to transatlantic business as usual.

That did not, however, prevent American producers from promoting their “domestic manufactures” as alternatives to imported goods.  Henry William Stiegel, for instance, advertised “American FLINT GLASS … made at the factory in Manheim in Lancaster county” in Pennsylvania during the summer of 1771 and into the fall.  Stiegel proclaimed that his product was “equal in quality with any imported from Europe,” reassuring prospective customers that they did not have to sacrifice quality when choosing to support American industry.  He also promised that “merchants, store-keepers and others” could acquire his glass “on very reasonable terms.”  In addition to competitive prices, “Wholesale dealers” received discounts for “buying large quantities.”

Pocket Bottle, attributed to American Flint Glass Manufactory, 1769-1774. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Stiegel also framed purchasing his “American FLINT GLASS” as a patriotic duty for both retailers and consumers, even though the situation between the colonies and Britain was relative calm at the moment.  He declared that “as the proprietor” of the factory in Manheim he “well knows the patriotic spirit of the Americans” and “flatters himself they will encourage the manufactories of their own country” whenever possible instead of purchasing or retailing imported goods.  To help consumers and retailers throughout the region submit orders, Stiegel designated local agents in Philadelphia, Lancaster, and York in Pennsylvania as well as Baltimore in Maryland.

Work attributed to Stiegel and the American Flint Glass Manufactory, including this pocket bottle produced at about the same time he advertised in the Pennsylvania Journal, survives in museums and private collections.  Whether attracted by the quality, price, or invitation to “Buy American,” colonial consumers purchased “domestic manufactures” even as they resumed buying imported goods.  Stiegel managed to garner a share of the market amid the array of choices available. The frequency that he placed notices in newspapers suggests that he apparently believed that advertising aided in that endeavor.

September 18

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Final page of Robert Bell’s subscription notice for Blackstone’s Commentaries that may (or may not) have been distributed with the September 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

“Peaceable, yet active Patriotism.”

Yesterday, the Adverts 250 Project featured Robert Bell’s subscription notice for Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England that Accessible Archives included with the September 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and addressed the difficulty of determining whether the subscription notice originally accompanied the newspaper.  Today, the marketing strategies deployed by Bell merit consideration.

First, however, consider the format of the subscription notice, a four-page flier.  On the first page, addressed “TO THE AMERICAN WORLD,” Bell encouraged prospective customers throughout the colonies to purchase American editions rather than imported books.  It could also have been published separately as a handbill, similar to the second page featuring two advertisements for books “Lately Published” by Bell, “YORICK’S Sentimental Journal Through FRANCE and ITALY” by Laurence Stern and “HISTORY OF BELISARIUS, THE HEROIC AND HUMANE ROMAN GENERAL” by Jean-François Marmontel.  On the third and fourth pages, Bell promoted William Robertson’s “HISTORY of CHARLES the FIFTH, EMPEROR of GERMANY,” a work he widely advertised in newspapers throughout the colonies, and other American editions.  The flier concluded with a note defending “the legality of literary publications in America.”

Both before and after the American Revolution, Bell established a reputation as one of the most vocal proponents of creating a distinctly American literary market served by printers and publishers in the colonies and, later, the new nation.  Bell advanced both political, economic, and cultural arguments in favor of an American book trade during the imperial crisis.  He opened his address “TO THE AMERICAN WORLD” by proclaiming that “THE inhabitants of this continent have now an easy, and advantageous opportunity of effectually establishing literary manufactures … the establishment of which will absolutely and eventually produce mental improvement, and commercial expansion.”  In addition, purchasing books published in America would result in “saving thousands of pounds” by consumers as well as keep the money on that side of the Atlantic.  Colonists could pay lower prices and, in the process, what they did spend would be “distributed among manufacturers and traders, whose residence upon the continent of course causeth the money to circulate from neighbour to neighbour, and by this circulation in America there is a great probability of its revolving to the very hands from which it originally migrated.”  Supporting domestic manufactures, including American publications, would create stronger local economies, Bell argued.

“American Gentlemen or Ladies” had a patriotic duty to lend their “auspicious patronage” to such projects by informing their local bookseller or printer that they wished to become “intentional purchasers of any of the literary works now in contemplation to be reprinted by subscription in America.”  In so doing, they would “render an essential service to the community, by encouraging native manufactures.  In turn, they “deserve[d] … grateful remembrance—By their country—By posterity.”  These subscribers would also contribute to the enlightenment of the entire community, the “MAN of the WOODS” as well as the “MAN of the COURT.”  In the hyperbolic prose he so often used in his marketing materials, Bell declared that “Americans, do certainly know, if universal encouragement is afforded, to a few publications of literary excellence … they will assuredly create sublime sensations, and effectually expand the human mind towards this most rational, and most dignified of all temporal enjoyments.”  In addition, he described himself and other American printers and publishers as engaging in “peaceable, yet active Patriotism” in making inexpensive American editions of several “literary WORKS” available to consumers.

Bell frequently inserted advertisements with similar messages into newspapers from New England to South Carolina, but those were not his only means of encouraging “THE AMERICAN WORLD” to support domestic manufactures and the creation of an American literary market that would result in self-improvement among readers far and wide.  In subscription notices (which may have been distributed with newspapers on occasion), book catalogs, and broadsides, he advanced the same arguments much more extensively than space in newspapers allowed.

August 23

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

New-London Gazette (August 23, 1771).

“THIS Country manufactured Felt Hats.”

As the end of August approached in 1771, Abiezer Smith placed an advertisement in the New-London Gazette to promote hats he made and sold at his shop in Norwich, Connecticut.  He assured prospective customers that he parted with his hats “as cheap as can be bought in the Colony” for items of similar quality.  In addition, he promised that his hats were “made in the best Manner.”  He also suggested that colonists should acquire “this Country manufactured Felt Hats,” a phrase that appeared twice in his notice, rather than the imported alternatives that many shopkeepers kept in stock.

Indeed, Smith devoted nearly half of his advertisement to encouraging retailers and consumers to support local artisans rather than choosing hats made in England.  “If Persons would but duly and properly consider the difference there really is between this County manufactured Felt Hats and those Imported from Great-Britain,” he declared, “they would doubtless conclude that they are much cheaper for the Customer than those that are Imported.”  Yet this was not merely a matter of cost.  He continued by asserting that “certainly there is in this Colony a sufficiency of Hatters to supply it’s Inhabitants with Hats.”   Smith spoke on behalf of all hatters in Connecticut.  Rather than consider other hatters in the colony to be competitors, he made common cause with them in cultivating a market for hats produced locally.  That market depended not only on the selections ultimately made by consumers but also the choices that merchants and shopkeepers made when it came to acquiring and distributing inventory.

Smith limited his arguments in favor of domestic manufactures to price, quality, and supporting the livelihoods of colonists rather than hatters on the other side of the Atlantic.  He did not make explicitly political arguments against Parliament or Great Britain, but within the past decade colonial consumers witnessed (and many supported) nonimportation agreements enacted by merchants in response to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  While those nonimportation agreements had expired at the time Smith placed his advertisement in the New-London Gazette, both merchants and consumers would have been familiar with that context for favoring “this Country manufactured Felt Hats” as well.  Smith allowed potential customers to draw their own conclusions about the politics of purchasing his hats, likely well aware that his advertisement echoed others that much more explicitly linked domestic manufactures and the imperial crisis in the recent past.