October 23

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

Oct 23 - 10:23:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 23, 1769).

“McLean is now at Work on a Watch, the whole of which will be finished in the Province, except the Two Plates and Cases.”

During the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution many advertisers encouraged prospective customers to purchase goods produced in the colonies, launching the first wave of “Buy American” campaigns even before declaring independence. Some colonists expressed concerns about an imbalance of trade with Britain, a situation exacerbated by the taxes imposed on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts in the late 1760s. To remedy the trade imbalance, many colonists vowed to encourage “domestic manufactures” to strengthen local economies. Producing goods in the colonies created jobs while simultaneously providing alternative products for consumers to purchase. The nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Townshend Acts made domestic manufactures even more important. Advertisers increasingly called on prospective customers to give preference to goods produced in the colonies.

John McLean, a “Movement Maker, & Watch Finisher,” joined that movement, at least as much as he was able. In an advertisement that ran in the October 23, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette, McLean informed readers that he was “now at Work on a Watch, the whole of which will be finished in the Province, except the Two Plates and Cases.” Many American watchmakers did not actually make watches in the colonial era. Instead, they imported and sold watches and repaired watches, but the production of watches took place in London, Dublin, and other cities on the far side of the Atlantic. Given the constraints on constructing watches in the colonies, McLean made his best effort to support the American cause by making domestic manufactures available to consumers. His watches were not exclusively American products, but he suggested to customers that a significant portion of their production did indeed take place in Massachusetts, making them more desirable than imported watches.

McLean did not need to make his pitch any more explicitly. Other items in the Boston-Gazette provided context for readers to interpret his advertisement, as did public discourse more generally. The October 23 edition commenced with “A LIST of the Names of those who have AUDACIOUSLY counteracted the UNITED SENTIMENTS of the BODY of Merchants throughout NORTH-AMERICA, by importing British Goods contrary to the Agreement.” Another advertisement on the same page as McLean’s notice emphasized “North-American Manufactures” available at a shop located “Opposite LIBERTY TREE.” Readers knew how to interpret McLean’s pronouncement about working on a watch constructed primarily “in the Province.” They understood the politics he deployed to market his product.

October 19

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

Oct 19 - 10:19:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 19, 1769).

“AMERICAN PAPER HANGINGS, MANUFACTURED in Philadelphia.”

Like many other advertisers, Plunket Fleeson, an upholsterer, launched a “Buy American” campaign in the late 1760s. With increasing frequency, advertisers encouraged their fellow colonists to practice politics in the marketplace as the imperial crisis intensified. The Townshend Act imposed duties on certain imported goods, including glass, lead, paint, tea, and paper. In response, merchants and shopkeepers subscribed to nonimportation agreements, seeking to exert economic pressure on British merchants and suppliers to intervene on their behalf with Parliament. At the same time that nonimportation agreements went into effect, many colonists advocated for “domestic manufactures” as alternatives to imported goods; buying items made in the colonies simultaneously helped to correct a trade imbalance, employed local workers, and made a political statement.

Fleeson joined the chorus of advertisers who encouraged consumers to consider the political ramifications of the purchases they made. In an advertisement in the October 19, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he promoted “AMERICAN PAPER HANGINGS, MANUFACTURED in Philadelphia.” His paper hangings (or wallpaper) rivaled the products that came from England. He described them as “not inferior to those generally imported, and as low in price.” Although many advertisers made similar arguments about their wares and expected prospective customers to make the right connections to current events on their own, Fleeson explicitly spelled out the stakes for readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette. “[A]s there is a considerable duty imposed on paper hangings imported her,” he explained, “it cannot be doubted, but that every one among us, who wishes prosperity to America, will give a preference to our own manufacturers.” Doing so did not have to be a sacrifice. Fleeson underscored that his paper hangings were “equally good and cheap” compared to imported paper hangings. Purchasing them did not put consumers at a disadvantage. They did not pay more, nor did they acquire inferior merchandise. That being the case, there was no reason not to “give a preference to our own manufacture” and aid the American cause in doing so.

Fleeson also listed a variety of other goods available at his upholstery shop, but devoted half of his advertisement to making a political argument about the meaning associated with the “AMERICAN PAPER HANGINGS” he sold at his shop on Chestnut Street. He was one of many advertisers in the late 1760s and early 1770s who aimed to convince prospective customers that their decisions about consumer goods were imbued with political significance.

**********

For a case study on advertisements for paper hangings in the 1760s through the 1780s, see Carl Robert Keyes, “A Revolution in Advertising: ‘Buy American’ Campaigns in the Late Eighteenth Century,” in Creating Advertising Culture: Beginnings to the 1930s, vol. 1, We Are What We Sell: How Advertising Shapes American Life … And Always Has, ed. Danielle Sarver Coombs and Bob Batchelor (Praeger, 2014), 1-25.

October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:9:1769 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 9, 1769).

“NO DUTIES HERE!”

It was hard to miss the appeal to patriotism in an advertisement for the “new Glass-House” that ran in the October 9, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. A nota bene proclaimed, in all uppercase letters, “NO DUTIES HERE!” Readers readily understood that the advertisement referred to the Townshend Acts and the taxes it imposed on several imported goods, including paper, lead, paint, tea, and glass. In response to Parliament overreaching its authority, colonists adopted nonimportation agreements that encompassed a wide array of items, not just those targeted by the Townshend Acts. They also encouraged “domestic manufactures,” producing goods in the colonies as alternatives to imported goods. This offered colonists opportunities to practice politics when they made decisions as consumers. Purchasing glass made in the colonies, for instance, became an act of patriotic virtue.

Producers of many domestic manufactures did not look to their fellow colonists solely as consumers. Some also enlisted them as suppliers of the materials they needed to produce their wares and make them available in the American marketplace. Paper manufacturers, for instance, frequently placed advertisements calling on colonists to supply them with rags, an essential component for making linen paper. Garrit Rapalje, the proprietor of the “new Glass-House,” requested that colonists turn over their “Broken FLINT GLASS” so he could melt it down and transform it into new glass. To underscore the political ramifications of the entire enterprise, he directed his notice to “all Lovers of American Manufacture,” informing them that they had a duty to do “do what lies in their Power, and particularly in this Instance save, collect, and send such broken Glass” as described in the advertisement. Rapalje presented an opportunity to move beyond rhetoric and more actively participate in acts of economic resistance to the political controversies of the period. Broken glass, like linen rags, acquired political meaning in the colonies in the wake of the Townshend Acts.

October 5

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

Oct 5 - 10:5:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 5, 1769).

“For the Encouragement of those who are willing to promote American Manufactories.”

While the Townshend Acts remained in effect, imposing duties on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea imported in the American colonies, the number and frequency of newspaper advertisements promoting “American manufactories” increased. The partnership of Gilpin and Fisher joined the chorus of advertisers encouraging colonists to “Buy American” in the late 1760s. In an advertisement for their “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” in the October 5, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Gilpin and Fisher extolled the quality of their product. They proclaimed that they “spar[ed] no Pains or Expence to render” their snuff “equal to any made here” or, more significantly, “imported from abroad. That was not merely their own puffery but rather the assessment of “some of the best Judges,” though Gilpin and Fisher did not publish their “concurrent Testimonies” nor name those “Judges.” Still, they made their point: consumers did not have to sacrifice quality when purchasing from Gilpin and Fisher’s “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” instead of buying imported alternatives.

Elsewhere in the advertisement, they incorporated another popular element of the “Buy American” motif that emerged in response to an imbalance of trade with Britain, the Townshend Acts, and nonimportation agreements adopted in cities and towns in several colonies. According to many editorials and advertisements, American consumers had a moral imperative to purchase goods produced in the colonies. Doing so would correct the trade imbalance while simultaneously exerting economic resistance to Parliament’s attempts to tax the colonies via import duties. Joshua Fisher and Sons sold the snuff “by the Bottle, Dozen, or Gross,” offering discounts to those who bought in bulk. To convince both consumers and retailers to take advantage of such deals, the tobacconists called on those “willing to promote American manufactories.” The two appeals buttressed each other: purchasing “domestic manufactures” was good politics but also savvy business when getting a bargain for doing so. The “Considerable Allowance” promised to those who purchased by volume likely made products from Gilpin and Fisher’s “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” even more enticing for prospective customers who wanted to practice politics through their decisions in the marketplace.

The imperial crisis and American reactions to it did not unfold solely in the news items and editorials in colonial newspapers. Instead, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others addressed the political issues of the day in their advertisements. The appeals they made to consumers helped to shape American resistance to Parliament’s attempts to raise revenues and regulate commerce in the colonies.

October 2

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

Oct 2 - 10:2:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 2, 1769).

“The approbation of all Free born Souls and true Sons of Liberty.”

Thomas Mewse, “Lately from England,” chose a good time to migrate to Boston and set up shop as a weaver. In the fall of 1769, he ran an advertisement to inform the residents of the city that he intended to produce a variety of textiles, everything from “CAMBLETS of all qualities” to “striped and featherd Broglios” to “plain Baragons.” Mewse made this announcement while the nonimportation agreement to protest the duties levied on certain goods by the Townshend Acts was still in effect. Merchants and shopkeepers vowed not to import textiles and most other consumer goods from London and other English ports, though they continued to sell those items imported before the nonimportation agreement went into effect. Still, neither wholesalers and retailers nor their customers had access to new merchandise, only inventory that had been stockpiled a year or more earlier in anticipation of the nonimportation agreement going into effect at the beginning of 1769.

Not only had those goods lingered on shelves or in storehouses for an extended period, they lacked the cachet of having been made in the American colonies. To address both the Townshend Acts and an imbalance of trade with Britain, colonists vowed to support “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in America, as an alternative to imported goods. Consuming American goods became a badge of honor; advertisers encouraged such thinking (and their own sales) by launching “Buy American” campaigns with greater frequency in the late 1760s. Mewse joined the chorus, proclaiming that his textiles would surely merit “the approbation of all Free born Souls and true Sons of Liberty.” He made a savvy pitch, both informing prospective customers that he made textiles and challenging them to display their commitment to the American cause by purchasing from him.

Lest consumers worry that Mewse’s domestic manufacturers were of inferior quality to imported textiles that had been sitting on shelves for many months, he trumpeted his credentials. The weaver had been “regularly brought up to all these and various other Manufactures in a Capital house.” That made him so confident in his training that he asserted that no other weavers in Boston possessed better qualifications; he “presume[d] that no one is better acquainted with the Arts and Misteries” of weaving grograms, calimancoes, lutestrings, and the many other fabrics listed in his advertisement. Mewse was “determin’d to turn goods out compleatly made and high finished.” Prospective customers, he seemed to promise, would be well satisfied – both as consumers and as patriots – when they chose to acquire textiles from him. He did not need to explicitly invoke the Townshend Acts, the nonimportation agreement, or the movement to encourage domestic manufactures. Such topics were so commonly discussed, in the press and in the town square, that prospective customers understood the full scope of the appeals Mewse advanced to market his wares.

September 17

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

Sep 17 - 9:14:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 17, 1769).

“As cheap … as he did before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”

According to an advertisement he inserted in the September 14, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal, Peter T. Curtenius sold a vast assortment of merchandise at his shop “At the Sign of the Golden Anvil.” He listed an array of textiles, accessories, and accouterments among “many other Articles in the Dry-Good Way,” but he also stocked housewares, hardware, and even a few books and grocery items. In many ways, his lengthy list of the wares he made available resembled other advertisements emphasizing consumer choice that had been running in American newspapers for the better part of two decades.

Yet Curtenius’s advertisement was also the product of a particular moment. It opened and closed with a nod to the politics of the period. In 1769 New Yorkers, like many other colonists, participated in a nonimportation agreement as an economic protest against the taxes levied on imported paper, tea, glass, and other items by the Townshend Acts. Before he even described his inventory to prospective customers, Curtenius pledged that he set prices “as cheap … as he did before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.” In other words, the shopkeeper did not take advantage of the situation to engage in price gouging. Curtenius suggested that as supply of imported goods dwindled that colonists could expect prices to rise, but he pledged to shield his customers from that aspect of the market. This may not have been solely an altruistic sacrifice on his part if he happened to have surplus goods in stock and welcomed an opportunity to rid himself of merchandise that had been taking too long to sell before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.

Curtenius concluded his advertisement with a list of “Goods made at the New-York Air Furnace,” including pots, kettles, and stoves of various sorts. As an alternative to importing goods from Britain, discontented colonists embraced “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies. Instead of consuming imported wares, they encouraged the conspicuous consumption of items made locally. The proprietors of the New-York Air Furnace frequently advertised their products, as did shopkeepers like Curtenius who intermixed politics and commerce. Curtenius assured prospective customers of the quality of the items produced at the New-York Air Furnace, asserting that the hammers in particular “have been found on Proof, to be superior to English Hammers.”

At a glance, the format of Curtenius’s advertisement did not look different from others that regularly appeared in the New-York Journal and other newspapers published throughout the colonies. On closer inspection, however, colonists discovered that Curtenius engaged with the politics of the imperial crisis as a means of marketing his merchandise. He promised that he did not inflate his prices while simultaneously offering consumers alternatives to some of the items they previously imported.

September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 12, 1769).

“GLOVES of our own Manufacture.”

Throughout the colonies advertisers launched “Buy American” campaigns in the late 1760s. Some adopted this marketing strategy during the Stamp Act crisis, but even greater numbers resorted to it when colonists received word that the Townshend Acts would impose new duties on certain imported goods, including paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea. Colonists were already concerned about a trade imbalance with Britain, prompting some to encourage “domestic manufactures” or the production and consumption of goods in the colonies. The Townshend Acts exacerbated the situation, inciting merchants, shopkeepers, and others to draft new nonimportation agreements. They hoped that this method of economic pressure would serve their political goals, just as nonimportation agreements played a role in convincing Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. As long as nonimportation was in effect, domestic manufactures were an especially attractive alternative to goods delivered from across the Atlantic.

William Pool banked on this when he advertised gloves in the September 12, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. He proclaimed that he sold “GLOVES of our own Manufacture, done in the neatest Manner.” Although he did not explicitly compare the quality of these gloves made in the colonies to those imported from Britain, he assured prospective customers that they need not worry about purchasing inferior goods. Other artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants who placed “Buy American” advertisements made similar claims, anticipating what consumers might think about their wares. Pool further described his gloves, stating that they were “such as are generally made use of for Funerals by such Persons as are esteemed Friends to America.” Here he invoked a popular custom in New England: families of the deceased often distributed gloves to mourners at funerals. This ritual caused some controversy, an act of such conspicuous consumption that some critics found it distasteful. Yet those who continued the ritual did not want the gloves they passed out to reflect poorly on them or the departed. Once again Pool offered assurances, letting prospective customers know that they could distribute these gloves with confidence. He made this pledge to colonists as consumers and, perhaps more significantly, as “Friends to America.” In so doing, he expressed an obligation to provide patriots with merchandise of the best quality. They had earned such treatment through their political allegiances.

August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:10:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 10, 1769).

“At present it seems peculiarly the interest of America to encourage her own manufactories.”

In August 1769, Richard Wistar took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to advertise the products he manufactured at his “GLASS-WORKS” in Philadelphia. His inventory included “BOXES of WINDOW GLASS, consisting of the common sizes” as well as “most sorts of bottles,” containers for mustard and snuff, and other specialty glassware. Wistar also offered to cut glass windows of “uncommon sizes.”

To encourage prospective customers to purchase his wares, Wistar emphasized that “the abovementioned glass is of American manufactory” and then launched into a political lesson that matched the discourse circulating throughout the colonies in newspapers and in conversations in taverns, coffeehouses, and town squares. Glass produced in the colonies was “consequently clear of the duties the Americans so justly complain of,” duties imposed on certain imported goods by Parliament in the Townshend Acts. Wistar continued his lecture: “at present, it seems peculiarly the interest of America to encourage her own manufactories, more especially those upon which duties have been imposed, for the sole purpose of raising a revenue.” Those goods included paper, tea, lead, paints, and, most significantly for Wistar, glass.

In response, colonists revived a strategy they had previously pursued to resist the Stamp Act: merchants and shopkeepers vowed not to import goods from Britain. In order for their economic resistance to have greater political impact, they did not limit their boycott to only those goods indirectly taxed by the Townshend Acts. Instead, they enumerated a broad array of goods that they would not import or sell until the duties had been repealed. Simultaneously, they issued calls for the encouragement of “domestic manufactures” and argued that consumers could demonstrate their own politics in the marketplace by making a point of purchasing goods produced in the colonies. Neither producers nor consumers alone would have as much of an impact as both exercising their civic virtue through “encourage[ing] her own manufactories,” as Wistar reminded readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Colonists certainly imbibed political arguments in news articles and editorials in newspapers, but they also encountered them in advertisements. In the service of selling goods and services, savvy entrepreneurs mobilized politics during the period of the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution. They directed consumers away from some products in favor of purchasing others, challenging them to consider the ramifications of their activities in the marketplace.

July 30

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

Jul 30 - 7:24:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 24, 1769).

“If the Patriotic Americans, should approve, large Quantities can readily be furnished.”

In the summer of 1769, Isaac Adolphus turned to the public prints to propose a new venture. In an advertisement in the July 24, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, he invited fellow colonists to visit his house to examine “some Patterns of Hosiery” that he proposed to make in larger quantities if those samples met with approval. To incite interest, he sketched out some of the most important aspects of the enterprise, positioning his hosiery as a viable alternative to imports from Britain. In so doing, Adolphus made appeals to both quality and price, two of the most common marketing strategies in the eighteenth century. He pledged that his hosiery was “superior in Goodness to British Goods of the Kinds.” Prospective customers did not have to settle for inferior quality if they chose to support local production. Furthermore, they did not have to pay a premium for that support. Adolphus’s hosiery was “equal in Price” to wares imported from England.

Beyond quality and price, Adolphus placed production and consumption of his hosiery in a political context. He called on “Patriotic Americans” to examine his wares and make determinations for themselves. Merchants, traders, and others in New York had instituted a nonimportation agreement in response to new duties levied by the Townshend Acts. The success of the nonimportation strategy depended in part on colonists both producing goods themselves and consuming those domestic manufactures. Yet not everyone acceded to the plan. A detailed account of haberdasher, jeweler, and silversmith Simeon Cooley flagrantly violating the nonimportation agreement appeared on the same page as Adolphus’s advertisement. After other colonists asserted considerable pressure, Cooley eventually apologized to his “Fellow Citizens” and attempted to make amends in order to avoid the further “Contempt and just Resentment of an injured People.” Cooley had appeared in New York’s newspapers with some regularity in July 1769.

Adolphus recognized an opportunity to enlist “Patriotic Americans” as customers for the hosiery he produced. Yet he was not willing to risk too much on the venture until he had better assurances of success. He presented himself and his wares as an alternative to men like Cooley and their “British Goods of the Kinds” he produced locally, but he delayed making “large Quantities” until he had enough orders to justify the investment of time and resources. Adolphus recognized an opportunity in the marketplace, but he used his advertisement to further gauge his prospects for success. In that regard, his advertisement facilitated rudimentary market research in the eighteenth century. The nonimportation agreement, calls to encourage domestic manufacturers, and news of Cooley’s violations all primed the pump for “Patriotic Americans” to react positively to Adolphus’s hosiery once they had an opportunity to examine it for themselves.

July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 21, 1769).

“BOard and Deck NAILS, here manufactur’d.”

Noah Parker depended on the public’s familiarity with current events when he placed his advertisement for “NAILS” in the July 21, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. For more than a year, colonists in New England and beyond had been addressing two significant issues at the intersection of commerce and politics: a trade imbalance with Great Britain and new laws enacted by Parliament that levied duties on certain goods imported into the colonies. Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others devised remedies for the situation. First, they called for the encouragement of “domestic manufactures” or local production of goods usually imported. To be effective, local production required local consumption, making all colonists responsible for successful outcomes as producers, consumers, or both. Purchasing domestic manufactures kept money within the colonies and prevented funds from flowing to the other side of the Atlantic. These efforts became enmeshed with nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of the Townshend Acts. By refusing to import goods until Parliament repealed the offensive acts, colonists aimed to exert economic pressure to achieve political purposes. Domestic manufactures were an important alternative to imported goods, especially once committees formed to enforce nonimportation agreements.

In the 1760s, nails almost invariably appeared among the imported hardware listed in newspaper advertisements from New England to Georgia. Even merchants and shopkeepers who did not stock much other hardware frequently noted that they stocked nails at their shops and stores. Parker presented an alternative for both retailers and consumers, proclaiming that his “BOard and Deck NAILS” were “here manufactur’d.” Realizing that prospective customers were often skeptical of the quality of locally produced goods, he offered assurances that these nails “have been proved far to exceed any imported.” Not only were these nails as good as any imported from England, they were better! How could customers go wrong by acquiring domestic manufactures that exceeded their imported counterparts in quality? Parker did not belabor the point, likely considering it unnecessary. After all, tensions between Parliament and the colonies were the talk of the town and the subject of article after article in the public prints. Though succinct, Parker’s advertisement resonated with public discussions about the significance of domestic manufacturers and nonimportation agreements.