March 13

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

Mar 13 - 3:13:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 13, 1770).

“A CHINA MANUFACTURE.”

In January 1770 an advertisement for “New China Ware ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  In it, the “CHINA PROPRIETORS in PHILADELPHIA” advised both retailers and consumers that they had set up production of porcelain “as good … as any heretofore manufactured at the famous factory in Bow, near London, and imported into the colonies.”  This enterprise aimed to provide colonists with alternatives to imported merchandise; both imported goods and “domestic manufactures” assumed new political significance when merchants and shopkeepers adopted nonimportation agreements to protest the duties levied on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea in the Townshend Acts.

Two months later an advertisement about the “CHINA MANUFACTURE … now erecting” in Philadelphia appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  The proprietors, G. Bonnin and G.A. Morris, had two purposes in placing that notice:  recruiting workers and marketing their wares.  They reiterated the claims they made in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, proclaiming that “the Clays of America are productive of as good PORCELAIN as any hitherto manufactured in, and imported from England.”  Given those resources available to them, the proprietors also needed “Workmen skilled in the different branches of Throwing, Turning, Moulding, Pressing, and Handling.”  In a nota bene at the conclusion of the advertisement they proclaimed that “None will be employed who have not served their Apprenticeships in England, France, or Germany.”  Bonnin and Morris eschewed imported goods, but they still wished to draw on skills that had been learned on the other side of the Atlantic.  The quality of the “Clays of America” alone did not yield finished goods that competed with those produced in England.  To assist in acquiring the skilled workers they needed, the proprietors designated a local agent in Charleston.  They instructed “such in South-Carolina as are inclined to engage” that they would be “assisted in procuring their Passages to Philadelphia by Mr. EDWARD LIGHTFOOT.”

In addition to seeking workers, Bonnin and Morris made an appeal to prospective customers, “those who are inclined to encourage this Undertaking.”  They did not explicitly state that consumers had a duty to purchase goods produced in the colonies, but given the news and commentary that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper the proprietors likely depended on readers making such connections between consumption and politics.  Bonnin and Morris both invoked a sense of urgency and suggested existing demand for their wares, requesting customers “to be expeditious in forwarding their Commands” while also clarifying that “all Orders will be obeyed in Rotation” with “the earliest executed first.”  In so doing, they again repeated marketing strategies incorporated into their earlier advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

Bonnin and Morris’s efforts to produce “domestic manufactures” and promote them to consumers were not merely local or even regional endeavors.  They looked far beyond Philadelphia and the Middle Colonies when recruiting workers and customers, further strengthening networks of both print and consumption that increasingly contributed to a sense of an imagined community that stretched from New England to Georgia.

February 5

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

Feb 5 - 2:5:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 5, 1770).

“All the Books in this Catalogue are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.”

Robert Bell, one of the most industrious booksellers in eighteenth-century America, owed his success in part to savvy advertising. His advertisement for an “Auction of Books” in the February 5, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, for instance, incorporated two significant marketing strategies intended to incite consumer demand.

Bell began by announcing that he had just published a “CATALOGUE of new and old BOOKS” that prospective customers could acquire “gratis at the Place of Sale.” Bell likely intended that distributing the catalog would get people through the door. When they came to pick up a catalog many might decide to view the merchandise. Then they carried away a catalog as a reminder of the books they had examined. In passing out catalogs, Bell also enhanced the dissemination of information about his merchandise beyond the reach of his newspaper advertisement. Prospective customers who obtained catalogues could share them with members of their household as well as friends and neighbors. Bell did not rely on a single medium to attract attention to his “Auction of Books.” Instead, he had multiple marketing media in circulation.

He also addressed the politics of consumption, concluding his advertisement with a note about the origins of the books he offered for sale. “[A]ll the Books in this Catalogue,” he assured prospective customers, “are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.” Although colonial printers produced some American imprints, the most books in the colonies were imported from England prior to the American Revolution. Bell sought to mediate that reality by focusing on the fact that his books had been imported before merchants, shopkeepers, and others enacted a boycott of imported goods to protest the duties levied on certain imported goods in the Townshend Acts. Rather than focus on where those volumes had been produced he instead emphasized when they had arrived in the colonies. Still, he did make an appeal to the place of production when he could, noting that some of his books were indeed “American Manufacture.” To underscore the importance of these distinctions, he addressed prospective customers as “Lovers and real Practisers of Patriotism,” challenging all readers to consider the political meanings of consumer goods.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements have sometimes been dismissed as mere announcements that made no effort at marketing. Bell’s notice, however, demonstrates that some advertisers engaged in savvy marketing campaigns … and that consumers were exposed to their efforts to shape the colonial marketplace.

January 26

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

Jan 26 - 1:26:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 27, 1770).

Hopes to be able, if duly encouraged, shortly to supply the Country.”

In an advertisement in the January 26, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette, Aaron Cleveland made some big claims about the hats that he made at his “FELT MANUFACTORY” in Norwich. He asserted that his hats would “out wear any Three of the same Price that are Imported,” a bold statement about the quality and durability of his goods produced in the colonies compared to more familiar alternatives shipped from the other side of the Atlantic.

Although Cleveland stated that he placed his advertisement “to acquaint the Publick” of his new enterprise, he made particular overtures to “the Merchants in the several adjacent Towns,” apparently hoping to sell in volume to others who would then assume the risk and responsibility for further distributing his felt hats and retailing them to consumers. Nonetheless, he accepted all sorts of customers, selling the hats “Singly or by the Dozen.”

Cleveland testified that he wanted to do his part to serve the colonies in their efforts to leverage commerce for political purposes. In protest of the duties Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts, colonists adopted nonimportation agreements and pledged to support “domestic manufactures” as a means of reducing their reliance on Britain for goods that they needed or wanted. Cleveland suggested that the quality of his felt hats provided “sufficient Argument for his Encouragement, without mentioning the Inconveniences attending Importation,” yet in even alluding to imported goods he encouraged both retailers and consumers to consider the political implications of their decisions about acquiring inventory and making purchases. Cleveland could do his part for the cause only “if duly encouraged.” The successful production of goods in the colonies, the encouragement of domestic manufactures, required a receptive market comprised of consumers who purchased those wares. Cleveland challenged readers to consider their responsibilities, indeed their duty, as consumers in the political battle waged against Parliament.

January 21

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

Jan 21 - 1:18:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 18, 1770).

“Every lover of his country will encourage … American manufactures.”

Benjamin Randolph, one of Philadelphia’s most prominent and successful cabinetmakers, was also a savvy advertiser. He inserted notices in the city’s newspapers, but he also distributed an elegant trade card that clearly demonstrated the influence of Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (1754). Known for his furniture, Randolph also promoted other carved items produced in his shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” including “a quantity of wooden BUTTONS of various sorts.”

Buttons often appeared among the extensive lists of imported merchandise published in advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers. When consumers purchased textiles and trimmings to make garments, they also acquired buttons. At a time when colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, Randolph offered an alternative to buttons from England. He made it clear to prospective customers that purchasing his buttons served a political function; doing so signaled support for the American cause. Rather than depend on consumer’s familiarity with current events and popular discourse about the political meaning of goods, Randolph plainly stated, “[E]very lover of his country will encourage [his buttons by purchasing them], as well as all other American manufactures, especially at this time, when the importation of British superfluities is deemed inconsistent with the true interest of America.” Randolph encouraged colonists to reject the “Baubles of Britain,” as T.H. Breen has so memorably named the consumer goods produced on the other side of the Atlantic and sent to American markets. Randolph made a bid not only for support of the items he produced but also others made in the colonies, showing solidarity with fellow artisans as they did their part in opposition to Parliament.

Such efforts, however, did not depend solely on Randolph and other artisans. Ultimately, consumers determined the extent of the effectiveness of producing “American manufactures” through the decisions they made about which and how many items to purchase and which to boycott. Randolph had “a quantity” of buttons on hand, but producing more depended on the reception he received from the residents of Philadelphia and its hinterlands. He would “keep a general assortment of them” but only “if encouraged.” Consumers had to demonstrate that they would partner with him in this act of resistance once Randolph presented them with the opportunity.

January 15

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

Jan 15 - 1:15:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 15, 1770).

“Dealers will meet with the usual encouragement.”

As colonists greeted a new decade, the “proprietors of the CHINA WORKS, now erecting in Southwark” took to the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advertise their new enterprise. They sought to provide consumers an alternative to the porcelain “manufactured at the famous factory in Bow near London, and imported into the colonies and plantations.” In addition to bolstering the colonial economy, the proprietors likely had an eye on the politics of the day, especially the nonimportation agreements adopted to protest the duties on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea imposed by the Townshend Acts. While they eschewed goods made in England and transported across the Atlantic, American consumers were primed to acquire similar wares produced in the colonies, especially if they had a reasonable expectation of similar prices and quality. To that end, the proprietors assured prospective customers that “the clays of America are productive of as good PORCELAIN” as the merchandise that came from Bow. Furthermore, they intended to “sell upon very reasonable terms.” Indeed, they reiterated both points, concluding the notice by proclaiming that their wares were “warranted equal to any in goodness and cheapness, hitherto manufactured in or imported from England.”

The proprietors addressed multiple audiences in their advertisement. They called on skilled workmen to seek employment as well as “such parents as are inclined to bind their children” as apprentices to contact them as soon as possible. The advertisement served as a general notice to consumer, but the proprietors included notes specifically for retailers. They pledged to “take all orders in rotation, and execute the earliest first.” More significantly, they aimed to convince merchants and shopkeepers that stocking up on this porcelain would be a good investment that yielded profits because the proprietors would not undersell them when dealing directly with consumers. They asserted that “Dealers will meet with the usual encouragement,” implying discounts for merchants and shopkeepers who purchased by volume. The proprietors then explicitly stated that dealers “may be assured that no goods under thirty pounds worth will be sold to private persons, out of the factory, at a lower advance than from their shops.” Considering that pledge was the only copy throughout the entire advertisement that appeared in italics, the proprietors intended for retailers to take notice. After all, they stood to achieve significantly larger transactions with merchants and shopkeepers who then assumed the risk of dispersing the porcelain to consumers.

The imperial crisis of the late 1760s and early 1770s helped to frame the entrepreneurial activities of colonists who launched new commercial endeavors, the “domestic manufactures” so often invoked in public discourse when discussing the trade imbalance with Britain and the duties on certain imported goods. Yet those who answered the call to produce goods in the colonies realized that it was not enough merely to make them available to consumers. The “proprietors of the CHINA WORKS” and other entrepreneurs realized that they needed to convince both consumers and retailers to embrace their wares in practice as well as in the ideology that circulated in conversations and in the press. Newspaper advertisements allowed them to make a case that emphasized cost, quality, and employment opportunities. Others went into even greater detail, outlining procedures designed to persuade them to stock “domestic manufactures” in their own shops.

December 9

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

Dec 9 - 11:9:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 9, 1769).

“A Nail Manufactory at the Furnace Hope.”

The proprietors of the “Nail Manufactory at the Furnace Hope” placed an employment advertisement in the December 9, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. They sought “experienced Nail-Makers” who wished to be “usefully and advantageously employed” at the furnace in Scituate, “about 12 Miles from Providence.” The proprietors operated the furnace and aimed to establish a nail manufactory at a time that many colonists advocated for “domestic manufactures” as an alternative to goods imported from Britain. The nail manufactory had the potential to produce an important commodity for domestic consumption while simultaneously employing “A NUMBER” of colonists. The plan resonated with popular discourse of the period.

This “WANTED” advertisement appeared immediately below “A CARD” in which an unnamed “Daughter of Liberty” expressed an even more radical vision for the colonial economy. She addressed a “laudable Plan for building a Market-House,” expressing doubts about the eventual success of the venture. She suggested a different venture, making a “Proposal for … a Manufactory, for the Encouragement of Industry, and Employment of the Indigent and Indolent of both Sexes.” Rather than hiring experienced artisans, this manufactory would create jobs for vulnerable and marginalized colonists who did not necessarily possess specialized skills. The unnamed Daughter of Liberty envisioned a manufactory that would employ “both Sexes,” thus providing opportunities and income for women as well as men.

The author of this “CARD” described such a manufactory as “an Edifice which may be thought more immediately adapted to the Times,” predicting that it “would in a great Measure tend to avert the impending Ruin that threatens us.” Colonists could have thought of the “impending Ruin” in at least two ways. Given that the author identified herself (or perhaps himself) as a Daughter of Liberty, perhaps the “impending Ruin” referred to what would happen if the colonies did not develop their own industry and produce more of the goods they needed rather than rely on imports from Britain. The colonies experienced a trade deficit, a situation further exacerbated when Parliament imposed taxes on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts. That could have gone from bad to worse if Parliament decided on further taxation and regulation of commerce in the colonies. Yet the unnamed author may have had social rather than political concerns in mind, fearing the proliferation of “Indigent and Indolent” people who consumed too many resources on their way to becoming burdens that the community could no longer support. The author may have intended for readers to reach both conclusions, giving the “CARD” a political valence as a means of dressing up the less-than-charitable aspects of the commentary about the “Indigent and Indolent” in Rhode Island.

December 7

“EQUAL, if not SUPERIOR, to any imported from ENGLAND. Witness our Hands.”

Dec 7 - 12:7:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 7, 1769).

When colonists adopted nonimportation agreements to protest duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts, many also advocated encouraging “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies. In turn, readers encountered newspaper advertisements that marketed goods made locally or elsewhere in North America rather than imported from England with greater frequency in the late 1760s. Advertisers often asserted that their domestic manufactures were equal or even superior in quality to imported goods. Some even proclaimed that reputable judges had affirmed their claims.

An advertisement that ran in the December 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette included an actual testimonial for “STEEL” (or iron) produced by Humphreys and Zane. Twenty-two residents of Philadelphia signed the testimonial, collectively endorsing Humphreys and Zane’s steel for readers. One, John Fox, even included his occupation, cutler, to give greater weight to his endorsement. As an artisan who worked with metal, he was particularly well positioned to assess the quality of steel produced locally.

The testimonial first reported that the signers had “made use” of various kinds of “COUNTRY STEEL,” having good experience with some but “a great Deal otherwise” with others. After acknowledging that some steel produced in the colonies did not meet their standards, the signers declared that “upon a late Trial of the STEEL, made by HUMPHREYS and ZANE, we have used it for different Kinds of Work; some of us have tried it in the very best of edged Tools, and do find that it is EQUAL, if not SUPERIOR, to any imported from ENGLAND.” Readers who needed to acquire steel or items made of iron did not have to sacrifice quality when choosing Humphrey and Zane’s steel or items made from it. This eliminated one of the potential pitfalls associated with encouraging domestic manufactures.

While other advertisers made general references to their domestic manufactures receiving accolades from qualified judges, Humphreys and Zane were among the first American advertisers to market their product with a testimonial. They did not ask prospective customers simply to trust their assurances concerning the quality of their product. Instead, they marshaled nearly two dozen artisans and others who staked their own reputations in promoting “STEEL, made by HUMPHREYS and ZANE.”

December 3

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

Dec 3 - 11:30:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (November 30, 1769).

All the above is the Produce & Manufacture of North-America.”

John Gore sold paint and supplies at his shop at “the Sign of the PAINTERS ARMS, in Queen-Street” in Boston in the late 1760s and early 1770s, a curious time to peddle those products. In addition to imported paper, tea, glass, and lead, the Townshend Acts imposed duties on imported paint. In response to such taxes, colonists in Boston and other cities and towns organized nonimportation agreements that covered a vast array of goods. They intended to use economic pressure to convince Parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts.

Given how politics affected commerce, Gore quite carefully enumerated the items he offered for sale at his shop. He led his advertisement with linseed oil, turpentine, varnish, lacquer, and “very good red, black and yellow Paints.” He then explicitly stated that “All the above is the Produce & Manufacture of North-America.” In other words, he had not violated the nonimportation agreement; prospective customers could safely purchase those items from him without sacrificing their own political principles. Furthermore, he demonstrated his commitment to the cause by offering “domestic manufactures” as an alternative to imported goods. In addition to the Townshend duties, colonists in Boston and elsewhere expressed concern about a trade imbalance with Britain. Many advocated producing goods in the colonies as a means of reducing dependence on imports. Buying and selling goods produced in North America thus served several purposes, including boosting local economies and providing employment for the colonists who made those goods. Advertisers often listed such outcomes when they simultaneously encouraged consumers to purchase domestic manufactures to achieve political purposes. Although Gore did not do so in this advertisement, he likely expected that many readers would make such arguments on his behalf, having encountered them so often in public discourse.

Selling goods produced in the colonies, however, did not prevent Gore from peddling imported goods as well. After first promoting merchandise from North America, Gore then noted that he also carried “An Assortment of Colours” but carefully explained that they had been “imported before the Agreement of the Merchants for Non-importation took Place.” Gore still had inventory imported from England to sell. Rather than take a loss, he stated the terms under which he had acquired those goods. Their presence alongside “the Produce & Manufacture of North-America” quietly testified to the fact that even though colonists attempted to devise appropriate substitutes for many imported goods they were not positioned to sustain themselves. Political rhetoric did not necessarily reflect the realities of commerce, production, and consumption in eighteenth-century America. Gore structured his advertisement to assert as much political virtue as possible in an imperfect situation.

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.