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.

April 3

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

Apr 3 - 4:1:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (April 1, 1768).

“Gun-Flint Cutter to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, in the Kingdom of Ireland.”

First in response to the Stamp Act and later in the wake of the Townshend Act, some American merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans cast their advertising appeals in terms of the politics of production and consumption. They sought to convince prospective customers that their decisions about which goods to purchase and which establishments to patronize had a political valence. In so doing, they echoed the calls to boycott imported goods and instead to encourage domestic manufactures published in the news and editorial items that appeared elsewhere in colonial newspapers.

John Morris’s advertisement in the April 1, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal suggests that some artisans who resided on the other side of the Atlantic became aware of this discourse and opted to mobilize it for their own benefit. Morris, a “Gun-Flint Cutter to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, in the Kingdom of Ireland,” announced that he was “willing to come and establish that Branch in any of his Majesty’s Colonies or Plantations in America, if properly encouraged.” In an attempt to frame his advertisement to achieve an enthusiastic response, he addressed it to “the Society of Gentlemen, for the Encouragement of Arts in the different Provinces of America.” Many colonists might have been hesitant to import a variety of goods as a means of resistance when Parliament overstepped its authority, but Morris reasoned that they would welcome an artisan whose labor would make valuable contributions in the domestic marketplace. To underscore this benefit, Morris signed himself as “A Friend to Liberty and Freedom,” indicating his sympathy for the colonists’ cause.

He did not, however, make his case in stronger terms than popular opinion permitted. Morris carefully positioned his work, stating that “the Safety and Protection of his Majesty’s Royal Person, His Dominions and Subjects in general” depended on the efforts of gunflint cutters. He provided a service to king and country. While migrating to the colonies might yield some particular advantages for certain of the monarch’s subjects who wished “for the Encouragement of the Arts in the different Provinces of America,” Morris was not advocating anything more radical than strengthening the economic position of the colonies within the empire. Colonists had called for resistance to abuses by Parliament, but they did not yet seriously entertain notions of revolution or independence. The “Honourable House of Representatives” of Massachusetts, one the colonies that led resistance efforts, underscored that point in a letter to “the Right Honourable the Earl of SHELBURNE, one of his Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State,” a letter that circulated in colonial newspapers (including the April 2, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette). Legislators from Massachusetts argued in favor of strengthening local government, but also that they were “not insensible of their security and happiness in their connexion with, and dependence on, the mother state.” Furthermore, “they have reason to believe [these] are the sentiments of all the colonies.”

Morris marketed his occupation and willingness to migrate to the American colonies in terms that matched the current political situation. He was an astute enough observer of the rhetoric currently in use in the colonies that even from across the Atlantic he was able to replicate both the sentiments and the appeals advanced by artisans and other advertisers who already resided “in the different Provinces of America.”

April 2

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

Apr 2 - 4:2:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 2, 1768).

Extending Manufactures, appear to be the only Means of saving an injured and distressed Country.”

When Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark placed an advertisement to “inform the Public, that they have set up the Cutler’s Business, in a Variety of Branches” in Providence in the spring of 1768 they imbued their products with political significance. In the wake of the Townshend Act going into effect the previous November, colonists from New England to Georgia continued to lament Parliament overstepping its authority and subjecting Americans to abuses that threatened to enslave them. Almost every newspaper published in the colonies reprinted a series of “Letters from Farmer in Pennsylvania,” twelve essays in which John Dickinson argued that Parliament could not impose taxes on the colonies for the purposes of raising revenue rather than regulating trade because the colonies were supposed to remain sovereign in their internal affairs. Starting in Boston and spreading far and wide, colonists pledged not to import goods from Britain but instead encourage domestic production to benefit the colonies both politically economically.

In that spirit, Bucklin and Clark proclaimed that “They have set up their Business in Confidence that they shall not want proper Encouragement, at a time when the setting up and extending Manufactures, appear to be the only Means of saving an injured and distressed Country.” The cutlers did not need to comment on the current political situation any more explicitly, especially since news and editorial items printed elsewhere in the same issue of the Providence Gazette provided the necessary context for prospective customers to understand their meaning. Even when considered independently of the other contents of any particular issue in which the advertisement appeared, Bucklin and Clark devised an advertisement that addressed discussions that had been taking place in print and in person for more than six months. Having done so, they expected “Proper Encouragement” for their efforts. They commenced their business for “the public Benefit” and called on “the Well-wishers to American Manufacturers” to purchase their wares. At the same time, they underscored the quality of their cutlery. Manufactured locally, their cutlery was not inferior to any imported from Britain or Ireland. Conscientious consumers, Bucklin and Clark argued, did not have to sacrifice quality when their politics guided their purchasing decisions.

February 28

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

Feb 28 - 2:29:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 29, 1768).

“The said Geyer, has thought it necessary to erect the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum.”

In the months after the Townshend Act went into effect and colonists enacted nonimportation agreements in response, some advertisers incorporated implicitly political appeals into their commercial notices. In the February 29, 1768, editions of both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette, for instance, Samuel A. Otis advertised “A variety of Flannels and Hose, fabricated by some of the best Manufacturers in the Province.” When town meetings throughout New England voted to boycott imported goods they simultaneously declared their intentions to encourage “domestic manufactures.” Otis sought to tap into this enthusiasm for goods produced locally, but the conversation was so familiar that he did not need to offer further elaboration.

Henry Christian Geyer, on the other hand, adopted a different strategy. On the same day he inserted an advertisement in the Boston Post-Boy. In it, he rehearsed the recent history of decisions made at town meetings, explaining that he launched a new branch of his business because “not only this Town, but the whole Country, have voted and agreed to encourage all Arts and Manufactures of all sorts and kinds, in order to prevent the great and unnecessary Importations in North-America, and keep what little Money we have among us, without sending the same abroad.” Due to those circumstances, Geyer “thought it necessary to erect the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum, or the making of all sorts of Images, Birds, Cats, Dogs, & all other sorts of curious Animals, all of Plaster of Paris.” Collectors now refer to such ornaments as chalkware.

Colonists did not need these decorative objects in the same whey they needed the textiles and garments advertised by Otis, yet Geyer attempted to incite demand for all sorts of consumer goods, not just the basic necessities. He emphasized that colonists needed to support “all Arts and Manufacturers of all sorts and kinds,” not just those related to food, clothing, and shelter. Nobody needed to refrain from obtaining trinkets to decorate their homes just because they had resolved not to purchase goods imported from England. Instead, Geyer offered an option for continuing to engage in conspicuous consumption and ostentatious displays within the home while simultaneously supporting the economic and political interests of the colonies. Prospective customers must have found his appeals convincing. For the next several years Geyer continued to advertise that he practiced “the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum” and produced all sorts of images and animals to decorate colonial homes.  Click here to examine examples of these images, a pair of portrait medallions of George III and Charlotte.

Note that Geyer also listed his location as “near Liberty-Tree, South-End, Boston.” Even in telling readers where to find him, he injected politics into his advertisement.

February 24

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

Feb 24 - 2:24:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 24, 1768).

“GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.”

Although brief, Jacob Polock’s advertisement on the front page of the February 24, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette incorporated several appeals intended to incite demand among prospective customers. Polock promoted only three items – tea, mustard, and kettles – but he associated a specific marketing strategy with each, rather than merely announcing that he offered those goods for sale.

First, Polock highlighted his “EXCELLENT GREEN TEA, at 15s. per lb.” Here Polock succinctly made two appeals, first emphasizing the quality of the tea and then providing a price. Most merchants and shopkeepers did not indicate prices for their merchandise in their newspaper advertisements; Polock, on the other hand, let readers know what they could expect to pay in advance of visiting his shop. Tea was such a popular commodity that most prospective customers likely already had a sense of what constituted a good deal, allowing them to assess whether Polock offered a bargain.

By publishing a price, Polock set the maximum amount he would charge for a pound of tea, but that did not preclude him from giving discounts at the time of sale, especially for customers who bought in volume or purchased other items. Any time Polock lowered the price when interacting directly with customers he cultivated a good impression for having extended a better deal than the prices published in the newspaper.

Polock also sold “GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.” Here he offered consumers the ability to make choices. In choosing among the “different qualities” of mustard customers could make selections based on both cost and personal preferences, not unlike modern shoppers picking the type of mustard they most enjoy from a condiments shelf stocked with all kinds of variations.

Finally, Polock carried “IRON TEA KETTLES of Rhode Island manufacture.” In response to deteriorating relations with Britain that resulted from a trade deficit and the imposition of new taxes via the Townshend Act, many colonists resolved to purchase fewer imported goods while simultaneously encouraging domestic manufactures. Merchants and shopkeepers frequently advertised teapots and other accessories imported from England, but Polock instead participated in a rudimentary “Buy American” campaign when he noted that his tea kettles had been produced in the colonies. He challenged consumers to consider the political ramifications associated with the goods they chose to purchase.

Polock’s advertisement might appear rather simple at a glance, but careful consideration reveals that he inserted several appeals intended to resonate with readers and encourage colonists to consume his merchandise.