October 23

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

Oct 23 - 10:20:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 20, 1768).

Imported by him in the last Vessels from Europe.”

Peter T. Curtenius sold a variety of goods “At the Sign of the Golden Anvil” in New York in the fall of 1768. He advertised “a fresh Assortment” of textiles and hardware in the New-York Journal, advising that they had been “imported by him in the last Vessels from Europe.” The timing was important. The September 8 edition reported that the city’s merchants had met on August 27 to adopt a series of resolutions concerning imported goods. Until Parliament repealed duties on paper and glassware, the merchants vowed to cease trading with Great Britain … yet this nonimportation agreement had certain parameters. The merchants stated that they “will not send for … any other Goods than what we have already ordered.” This allowed for the arrival of merchandise that had been ordered prior to August 27 and the stockpiling of those goods. Merchants made a political statement while simultaneously stockpiling goods and minimizing the effects on their own finances.

Almost two months had passed when Curtenius’s advertisement appeared in the October 20 edition of the New-York Journal, but it had first been published three weeks earlier in the September 29 issue. Given the amount of time required for ships to transmit orders across the Atlantic and return with their cargoes, any items imported “in the last Vessels from Europe” at the end of September must have been ordered before merchants in New York adopted their nonimportation agreement.

Demonstrating that he had abided by those resolutions may have been particularly important for Curtenius. After listing his imported wares, he devoted a paragraph to goods “made at the New-York Air Furnace,” including “Pots, kettles, pie pans and baking ovens.” Even as he sold imported goods, Curtenius joined a movement that promoted production and consumption of “domestic manufactures” as a means of asserting greater economic independence from Great Britain. He would have undermined the political meaning of ironmongery produced in New York if he had marketed goods that departed from the provisions of the nonimportation agreement. To make those items even more attractive to prospective customers, Curtenius also underscored the quality of some of them. When it came to hammers made at the New-York Air Furnace, for instance, he asserted that they “have been found upon proof to be superior to the English hammers.” Customers did not have to sacrifice quality when choosing to buy products that made a political statement.

Elsewhere in the October 20 edition of the New-York Journal, “A CITIZEN’ lamented the landing of troops in Boston and other measures intended “to humble and molify our refactor, (or as they will be stiled) rebellious Spirits.” Colonists could hardly read advertisements for consumer goods and services without thinking of the political ramifications associated with their own habits and decisions concerning consumption. Even as Curtenius deployed formulaic language about the vessels that transported his goods, that language took on new meaning for readers in the wake of new developments in the realm of politics.

October 6

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

Oct 6 - 10:6:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 6, 1768).

“Encouraging all our own Manufactures.”

Shopping became an increasingly political act during the years of the imperial crisis that culminated with the American Revolution. As a means of resisting Parliament’s attempts to overstep its authority, colonists joined nonimportation agreements in the 1760s, first in response to the Stamp Act and later in response to the Townshend Act. They hoped to apply economic pressure to achieve political goals, drafting English merchants harmed by the boycotts to advocate on their behalf. At the same time, colonists also envisioned that “domestic manufactures” would reduce their dependence on goods imported from Britain. In the late 1760s advertisers increasingly addressed this public discourse as they devised “Buy American” campaigns in their advertisements.

Much of Benjamin Jackson and John Gibbons’s advertisement for their “Mustard and Chocolate Store” in Philadelphia expressed such concerns. The partners acknowledged that “there now seems a noble and magnanimous Disposition diffused, and daily diffusing itself more and more, amongst the British Colonies in America, of encouraging all our own Manufactures.” Jackson and Gibbons joined in that call. Because they were “desirous to contribute thereto all in their Power as Individuals,” they proclaimed that they sold their “flour of Mustard … at very low Profits by Wholesale Quantities.” They considered it their civic obligation to make their product as affordable as possible, even if that meant less profit for their own business. In turn, they hoped that this would “induce the true patriotic Merchants, Masters of Vessels, &c. trading to and from New-York, Boston, West Indies, Halifax, &c. to favour them with their Orders.” Jackson and Gibbons did their part, but the scheme depended on others, especially those who supplied “Flour of Mustard” to other colonies, participating as well. If they did, Jackson and Gibbons imagined their plan “would be a Means of annually vending some, perhaps several Hundred, Bushels of Mustard-seed, that might be raised here with little Trouble, and be as a net Gain to the Province.” That would shift the balance of trade that previously favored England. Even a “trifling article” like mustard could have a significant impact on commerce and, in turn, politics if enough suppliers and consumers opted for a product produced in the colonies.

Furthermore, Jackson and Gibbons directly addressed the provisions of the Townshend Act later in the advertisement. “For the Sake of those that are not inclined to encourage the Duty on Glass,” the partners had acquired “a Quantity of neat Earthen Jars” to package their wares. This had the advantage of “helping out own Earthen Ware” industry while depriving Parliament of revenues from the taxes placed on imported glassware. This also yielded additional savings for consumers since the earthenware jars cost “One Shilling per Dozen cheaper than Glass.” The partners still offered “neat Glass Bottles, as usual,” as an option, but they encouraged consumers to make decisions that reduced the demand for those containers.

Jackson and Gibbons made many of their customary appeals to price and quality in their lengthy advertisement, but they also devoted significant space to convincing potential customers – consumers, wholesalers, and retailers – about the political ramifications of their commercial decisions. They offered a means for “true patriotic” colonists to follow through on the rhetoric so often expressed in conversation and in the news and editorial items that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.

October 1

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

Oct 1 - 10:1:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 1, 1768).

The Establishment of Manufactories is essentially necessary to the Well-being of the British Colonies.”

Resistance to the Townshend Act played out in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods published in the fall of 1768. Two types of boycotts – nonimportation agreements and nonconsumption agreements – were among the most effective means of resistance adopted by colonists during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Colonists sought to leverage their economic power to achieve political goals. As Americans throughout the colonies prepared to participate in a new nonimportation agreement set to go into effect on January 1, 1769, John White, a “Tallowchandler and Soapboiler, from London,” joined an increasingly familiar refrain of artisans who promoted goods produced in the colonies.

White placed an advertisement in Providence Gazette to inform readers in “Town and Country” that he had “set up a Manufactory … in the main Street of the Town of Providence.” The tallow chandler and soap boiler devoted a significant portion of his advertisement to advancing an appeal that resonated with contemporary discussions about politics and the relationship between Parliament and colonies. “At a Time when the Establishment of Manufactories is essentially necessary to the Well-being of the British Colonies,” White proclaimed, “it is hoped and expected that a suitable Encouragement will not be found wanting in a people, who, upon all Occasions, have manifested a high Regard to the true Interests of their Country.” He did not merely announce the availability of locally produced soap and candles; he framed purchasing those items as the civic responsibility of colonists, a means of demonstrating that they indeed “manifested a high Regard to the true Interests of their Country.” Lest any should suspect that they might do so at the expense of acquiring quality goods, White offered assurances that his soap and candles were “wrought as well as they are done in London, or any Part of Europe.” Prospective customers did not need to fear sacrificing quality when they made consumer choices inspired by political ideals.

Individual colonists ultimately made their own decisions about their consumption habits during the imperial crisis. However, several constituencies attempted to persuade, cajole, shame, and sometimes even bully colonists into observing boycotts of imported goods. Friends and neighbors encouraged and watched each other, especially as the Sons of Liberty, colonial legislators, and other political leaders gained greater visibility in promoting nonimportation agreements. Coverage of their activities often appeared among the news items in colonial newspapers. Yet elsewhere in those same newspapers artisans and others who sold locally made goods placed advertisements that joined in the chorus, launching their own appeals in support of domestic manufactures in hopes of shaping consumer demand in the colonies.

September 22

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

Sep 22 - 9:22:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 22, 1768).

“All the branches of the American stocking manufacture.”

On the first day of fall in 1768 Thomas Bond, Jr., took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to promote the “STOCKING MANUFACTORY” he operated “at his house in Second-street.” He informed prospective customers that he “carries on all the branches of the American stocking manufacture.” In that regard, his advertisement differed from most others for consumer goods that appeared in the September 22 issue. Many advertisers sought to entice readers to purchase their imported wares, including several whose notices appeared in the same column. Williams and Elridge, for instance, advertised that they stocked “A NEAT and general Assortment of DRY GOODS” imported from London. Jonathan Browne, William and Andrew Caldwell, Maise and Miller, and Randle Mitchell similarly noted that they received their extensive inventories via ships from London and other English ports. Most of those advertisements occupied only half as much space as Bond’s notice.

To compete with merchants and shopkeepers who stocked so many imported goods, Bond purchased additional space in the advertising pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to convince prospective customers that he offered a selection of stockings and caps that rivaled what they would find in other shops. Bond had “now on hand, a quantity of excellent worsted, cotton, thread, milled yarn, and milled worsted stockings, of various colours and sizes.” In their advertisements, retailers often underscored that they offered a vast array of merchandise to their customers. Appeals to consumer choice became one of the most popular marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. Bond applied that strategy to his own “domestic manufactures” as he attempted to carve out his own spot in the local market. Although he did not carry the same “LARGE assortment of Goods” as other retailers, he did offer ample choices among the items that were his specialty. In advancing this claim, he encouraged colonists to conceive of the products of “the American stocking manufacture” as just as appealing as those that came from distant ports in England. He did not belabor the point, perhaps believing that current discourse in newspapers and in the streets already primed prospective customers to think about the advantages of purchasing goods produced in the colonies.

September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (September 12, 1768).

“Those Persons who are desirous of Promoting our Own Manufactures.”

Enoch Brown mixed politics and commerce when he drew attention to his supply chain in an advertisement in the September 12, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Eighteenth-century advertisers frequently mentioned and even promoted the origins of the goods they sold, but prior to the 1760s they placed a premium on demonstrating that they carried imported goods. In the advertisement printed immediately above Brown’s notice, John Andrews noted that he had imported his inventory “in the last Ships from London and Bristol.” Further down the column, Moses Deshon announced that a “Variety of European” goods would be sold at public auction later in the week. In several other advertisements spread throughout the rest of the issue merchants and shopkeepers introduced their wares as “Imported from London.”

Brown did not make such proclamations. Instead, he tied his merchandise to recent calls to reduce and eliminate dependence on imported goods as a means of resisting Parliament’s ongoing efforts to raise revenues by imposing taxes within the colonies. In addition, colonists were concerned about an imbalance of trade that benefited Britain at the expense of the colonies. Nearly a year earlier the Boston town meeting had voted to encourage “domestic manufactures” as an alternative to importing goods from London and other English cities. Residents of other cities and towns throughout the colonies followed Boston’s lead, either through formal ballots or newspaper editorials that spread the word. By the fall of 1768, the residents of Boston and other urban ports were preparing for non-importation agreements set to go into effect in January 1769.

In his advertisement, Brown encouraged consumers to get an early start. He requested that “those Persons who are desirous of Promoting our Own Manufactures” supply him with “all Sorts of Country-made Cloths.” Brown would then either sell those items on commission or barter for “West-India Goods,” such as sugar, molasses, and rum. This advertisement also informed prospective customers that they could put their political principles into practice by visiting Brown’s store and purchasing textiles produced locally rather than patronizing the shops of his competitors who were attempting to sell goods imported from England before the new agreement went into effect.

Brown was part of the first wave of marketers who deployed “Buy American” appeals, advancing this strategy even before the colonies declared independence. As the imperial crisis intensified, more advertisers adopted this approach. Once the fighting ended, however, many retailers returned to promoting the European origins of their wares. Yet in the 1780s and 1790s those advertisements increasingly appeared alongside “Buy American” advertisements, following a course first plotted by Enoch Brown and other advertisers in the wake of the Stamp Act, Townshend Act, and other attempts to tax the colonies.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 25, 1768).

“Superior to any imported from Europe, for strength, evenness, fineness and cheapness.”

Consumers in Philadelphia had access to vast arrays of imported goods in the late 1760s, but Abraham Shelley, a “THREAD-MAKER, in Lombard-street, near the New-Market,” sought to convince readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette to purchase thread produced in his workshop. He offered a variety of merchandise: “all sorts of fine coloured threads, housewife and stocking ditto.” Prospective buyers did not need to fear that Shelley’s thread lacked in quality when compared to imported alternatives. Instead, he proclaimed, his thread was “superior to any imported from Europe” in a variety of ways: “for strength, evenness, fineness and cheapness.” This was due in part to the skill of the hands who worked in Shelley’s shop; they had been “bred to the business,” acquiring knowledge and experience of the trade over time.

As evidence of the quality of his thread, Shelley informed prospective customers that unscrupulous characters had attempted to pass off other threads as his own, an attempt to benefit from his reputation that had the potential to damage it by distributing inferior goods. He reported “that formerly some persons in this city bought threads at vendue, and sold them as [Shelley’s] manufacture.” To prevent further deceptions, he clarified that “all his sewing threads are made up 18 threads in each skane, and 65 inches round.” Those purchasing from third parties could confirm the specifications for themselves.

This was especially important since Shelley did not intend to undertake retailing the thread produced in his workshop himself. Instead, he invited “merchants and shopkeepers of this city, and towns adjacent” to purchase his thread in volume for resale in their stores and shops. His commentary on the “character of his goods” targeted not only end users but also middlemen and –women who distributed consumer goods to their own customers. Their livelihoods depended on stocking wares that those who visited their shops found satisfactory. Shelley assured them that they would not experience difficulty selling his threads or complaints after making sales. When it came to thread, retailers were accustomed to dealing in imported goods that arrived in shipments with textiles, ribbons, buttons, and other adornments for apparel, but Shelley encouraged them to invest in locally produced threads instead. The high quality of the thread from his shop minimized the risk of purchasing it for retail.

July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 16, 1768).

“They have set up the CUTLERS Business in Providence.”

When Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark opened a new workshop they placed an advertisement to inform prospective customers that they had “set up the CUTLERS Business in Providence.” They called on the residents of the city and its environs to support their new endeavor, explaining the benefits to both consumers and the local economy. The workshop produced “all Sorts of Cutlers Ware used in this Country,” making it unnecessary to rely on imported goods. Indeed, Bucklin and Clark condemned the shoddy cutlery exported to the colonies, a state of affairs that they suggested readers already knew all too well: “When they consider how much this Country hath been abused by bad Wares sent hither for Sale, they are but the more encouraged in their Undertaking.”

In contrast, the workmen who labored in their shop made razors, scissors, knives of various sorts, medical instruments, and “many other Articles” that were “far exceeding in Quality any thing of the Kind imported from Great-Britain.” To that end, they had hired “two Workmen from Europe, who are compleat Masters in the Business” who could “grind and put in Order all the aforementioned Articles, in the best and most expeditiopus Manner.” Bucklin and Clark were so confident of the quality of their wares that they offered a guarantee. The partners pledged that “they will warrant them to be good,” but also promised that if in the instance of any of their products “proving defective” they “will receive them again.”

Bucklin and Clark concluded with an argument simultaneously commercial and political. “It is hoped,” they stated, “that when this Country labours under the greatest Embarrassments and Difficulties, in importing the Manufactures of Great-Britain, their Business will be encouraged, and their Work preferred to such as is imported, as the whole Cost will be saved to the Country.” Bucklin and Clark asserted that the superior quality of their cutlery was only one reason that potential customers should purchase it rather than imported wares. They also declared that consumers had an obligation to make responsible choices that had both commercial and political ramifications. The colonies suffered a trade imbalance with Great Britain; purchasing domestic manufactures helped to remedy that. In addition, passing over imported goods in favor of obtaining locally produced wares made a political statement in the wake of the Townshend Act and other abuses by Parliament. Bucklin and Clark underscored that seemingly mundane decisions about which knives to purchase actually had extensive repercussions.

June 18

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

Jun 18 - 6:18:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 18, 1768).

“Lessening the unnecessary Importation of such Articles as may be fabricated among ourselves.”

Edward Spalding (sometimes Spauldin), a clockmaker, placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette fairly frequently in the late 1760s. In fact, he ran a notice for four weeks in August 1766 when the newspaper resumed publication after the repeal of the Stamp Act and the printer resolved other concerns related to the business. He had also inserted a notice in one of the few “extraordinary” issues that appeared while the Stamp Act was still in effect.

Although Spalding sometimes recycled material from one advertisement to the next, at other times he submitted completely new copy that addressed current political and commercial issues, attempting to leverage them to the benefit of his business. In June 1768, for instance, he linked the clocks and watches made and sold in his shop with efforts to achieve greater self-sufficiency throughout the colonies as a means of resisting the Townshend Act and other abuses by Parliament. To that end, he opened his advertisement by announcing two recent additions to his workshop. First, he had “just supplied himself with a compleat Sett of Tools.” He also “engaged a Master Workman” to contribute both skill and labor. As a result, Spalding advised potential customers that he was particularly prepared “to carry on his Business in a very extensive Manner.”

Artisans often invoked that standardized phrase when making appeals about their skill and the quality of the items produced in their workshop, but Spalding did not conclude his pitch to potential patrons there. Instead, he mobilized that common appeal by explaining to prospective customers that since he produced clocks and watches of such high quality – in part thanks to the new tools and “Master Workman” – that they did not need to purchase alternatives made in Britain only because they assumed imported clocks and watches were superior in construction. Spalding took on the expenses of new tools and a new workman in his shop “to contribute his Mite towards lessening the unnecessary Importation of such Articles as may be fabricated among ourselves.” That appeal certainly resonated with ongoing conversation about domestic production that appeared elsewhere in colonial newspapers in 1768.

Ultimately, Spalding placed the responsibility on consumers: “To this Undertaking he flatters himself the Public will afford all die Encouragement.” It did not matter if leaders advocated in favor of “local manufactures” and artisans heeded the call if colonists did not choose to purchase those products. Spalding wished to earn a living; the imperial crisis presented a new opportunity for convincing customers that they had not a choice but instead an obligation to support his business.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (June 9, 1768).
“Choice N.E. Flour of Mustard.”

Thomas Walley’s advertisement in the June 9, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette included an interesting mixture of imported and locally produced wares. He first promoted the imported goods: figs, tea, sugar, coffee, rice, and other groceries. Then he shifted attention to two products produced in New England: “choice Starch made in BOSTON” and “choice N.E. Flour of Mustard.” In describing each as “choice,” Walley indicated that they achieved the same quality as imported goods. He further underscored that the starch was “equal to Poland.”

He devoted significantly more space to mustard seeds, inserting a nota bene that made the advertisement half again as long. Walley had previously advertised “Choice New-England Flour of Mustard … which by repeated Trials is found to be extraordinary good, therefore needs no further Recommendation.” In his new advertisement he called on colonists not only to purchase mustard produced locally but also to participate in making it available as an option for all consumers. He offered cash for mustard seed, but he encouraged “Persons in the Country [to] endeavour to raise and save more Mustard Seed than they have done heretofore” for reasons other than financial gain. He depicted such efforts as “serving their Country” since “N.E. Flour of Mustard” was “certainly found to be preferable to any that is imported.” In what ways was it preferable? Walley did not mean solely the quality or taste. Instead, he invoked a movement to encourage “domestic manufactures” and the consumption of goods produced in the colonies as a means of resistance to abuses perpetrated by Parliament, including the Townshend Act that had gone into effect the previous November. Over the past several months, newspapers throughout the colonies published or reprinted the resolutions of, first, the Boston Town Meeting and, in response, other towns that determined to decrease their dependence on goods imported from or via Britain.

Walley’s advertisement demonstrates that the idealism did not always keep pace with the practical realities. After all, he deployed “Choice Turkey FIGS” recently imported as the headline for an advertisement that eventually turned its attention to goods produced in the colonies. A series of advertisements encouraged colonists to drink “LABRADORE TEA” instead of imported “Best Bohea Tea,” but the demand for imported teas continued. Colonists could not produce some of the groceries listed in Walley’s advertisement. The merchant realized that was the case. Still, he encouraged colonists to modify their behaviors concerning products that were readily available, such as “Starch made in BOSTON,” as well as participate in bringing greater quantities of others, especially “N.E. Flour of Mustard,” into the local marketplace.

April 16

GUEST CURATOR:  Kurt Falter

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

Apr 16 - 4:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 16, 1768).

“To be SOLD … tea kettles, skillets, spiders, &c.”

This advertisement probably seems strange to many modern readers, especially the reference to “spiders” for sale. According to Alice Ross, the term “spider” refers to a “three-legged, long-handled frying pan” commonly used during the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.  The Oxford English Dictionary describes a spider as “a kind of frying-pan having legs and a long handle.” Until the kitchen stove came about, all cooking in a home was done on the only source of heat: the fireplace. The spider skillet’s legs allowed the user to place the cookware right on top of a burning fire. Before the cooking stove, cookware often had either legs or special rungs to hang pots over the fire. Given its function, most families with a hearth or fireplace most likely had a spider skillet. Ross notes that an advertisement published in the Pennsylvania Packet in 1790 mentioned spider skillets, but this advertisment demonstrates the use of spider skillets nearly a quarter century earlier. Although “spiders” are now unfamiliar to most consumers, they are still used for outdoor excursions, such as camping.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to spider skillets, Amos Atwell sold “a variety of other articles, of American and European manufacture” at his shop “On the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence.”  A blacksmith as well as a retailer, Atwell likely made some of the items listed in his advertisement.

Yet he did not publish his notice solely for the purpose of selling goods.  He also indicated that he wished “to hire a journeyman” to assist in his shop.  Like other artisans who placed employment advertisements, Atwell stressed that he would consider candidates who “can be well recommended for virtue and sobriety,” but he was interested in more than just the credentials and reputation of any journeyman blacksmith that he might welcome into his shop.  Atwell sought assistance “extending this branch of American manufacture,” echoing a common theme from news reports published in the Providence Gazetteand throughout the colonies for the past several months.  Due to an imbalance of trade with Britain, a situation exacerbated by new taxes levied by the Townshend Act, colonists had resolved to import fewer English goods in favor of consuming goods made in the colonies.  Meeting demand, however, required significantly increasing production in the colonies.  As an act of resistance, colonists pledged to promote domestic manufactures.

In hiring a journeyman “capable of extending this branch of American manufacture” Atwell signaled his stance to prospective consumers.  He was not the only advertiser in the April 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette who did so. In the same column as his notice, cutlers Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark proclaimed that they recently established their shop with the expectation of receiving “due Countenance from the Well-wishers to American Manufactures” during “a Time when the setting up and extending Manufactures, appear to be the only Means of saving an injured and distressed Country.”  Bucklin and Clark made their argument much more explicitly than Atwell did, perhaps priming readers to recognize the similar, yet more subtle, appeal made by the blacksmith.  Prospective customers should patronize his shop, Atwell implied, because he was heeding the call to increase American production and, in turn, reduce dependence on imported goods.