February 27

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

Boston Chronicle (February 27, 1769).

“ABOUT TWENTY PIECES of fine IRISH LINEN, just imported in fine Order.”

This advertisement offers insight into sought-after items in colonial America, such as linens, sheeting, and other types of cloth. John Gerrish promoted textiles, many of which had symbolic importance associated with status. Networks of importing and selling textiles in colonial America added to the material culture that expanded as part of the consumer revolution. The rise of consumer society brought about universal participation by nearly all colonists, to one extent or another. Drawing on a “language of goods,” colonists could assess others based on their clothing and other possessions. Assessing social meaning focused on whether the apparel matched their character and status, especially as the importation and circulation of textiles increased and prices went down.

According to N.B. Harte in “The British Linen Trade with the United States in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” even though the “production of linen was the most widespread industrial activity in America during the colonial period … large amounts of linen were imported from across the Atlantic.” As Harte mentions, colonists produced their own linen yet at the same time remained dependent on imports from the British Isles. The linen industry suggested the potential for a break from Britain, as Americans made some their own consumer goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Chloe concludes with a tantalizing possibility. Drawing on discussions about economic resistance to the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and other abuses by Parliament from our Revolutionary America class, she invokes plans envisioned by colonists who wanted to establish greater commercial independence from England even if they were not yet prepared to declare political independence. In addition to new taxes and new regulations imposed by Parliament, colonists lamented an imbalance of trade with England in the late 1760s, giving them another reason to promote both production and consumption of local goods.

Yet as the advertisement Chloe selected demonstrates, colonists imported large quantities of textiles. “IRISH LINEN” was one of several sorts of fabrics up for bids at John Gerrish’s “PUBLIC VENDUE-OFFICE” in Boston. The auctioneer also listed “Cotton Checks,” “Striped Holland,” “Kersies,” “Serges,” and other kinds of imported cloth readily recognized by colonial consumers. Those who advocated for production and consumption of “domestic manufactures” thus had to overcome at least two obstacles. On the production side, they needed to expand the capacity for producing textiles. After all, colonists imported so many linens and other fabrics because they did not produce sufficient quantities themselves. On the consumption side, they needed to shift tastes away from some of the finer fabrics that denoted wealth and status. Affixing a political meaning to homespun cloth was part of that process.

Even if colonists could accomplish the latter – and they had some success in doing so, at least for short periods during particularly tense relations with Parliament – the former remained idealistic rather than practical. Editorials promoting domestic manufactures ran in newspapers throughout the colonies. Many artisans, shopkeepers, and other advertisers responded by incorporating such messages into their notices aimed at prospective customers. Yet even when consumers were willing to consider local alternatives to imported textiles, the colonies did not have the capacity to produce sufficient quantities to meet their needs. Rhetoric and reality deviated, but that did not necessarily diminish the power of the rhetoric as colonists considered their own consumer choices and assessed other for they choices they made.

 

January 6

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 6, 1769).

Printed on Paper made in New-England.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, found themselves in a predicament at the beginning of 1769. They could not acquire paper of the same size as they usually printed the newspaper, forcing them to publish it on smaller broadsheets. As a result, the first issue of the new year consisted of two columns per page rather than three, significantly reducing space available for news and advertising.

The Fowles could have avoided this inconvenience if they had been willing to print the New-Hampshire Gazette on paper imported from England. They explained the situation to readers in a notice that appeared as the first item in the January 6 edition. First, they extended an apology for distributing an issue “on so small a Paper.” Then they noted that “For some Time past it has not only been printed on paper made in New-England, but some of it our of the very Rags collected in Portsmouth.” At various times, the Fowles had encouraged colonists to donate, barter, or sell rags for the purpose of making paper. Their efforts paralleled those of others who manufactured paper in the colonies, including an emphasis on the politics of domestic consumption. The Fowles declared that they were “determined to make use of as little as possible on which the Duties must be paid,” referring to indirect taxes imposed by Parliament via the Townshend Act. In their own act of resistance, they “declined sending to London for any, for some Time” and instead “spared no Pains to get such as is manufactured here.” They anticipated that supplies of larger broadsheets produced locally would soon become available once again, but for the moment they once again apologized and extended “the Compliments of the Season” to their subscribers and other readers.

This notice implicitly reminded colonists of an important role they could play in opposing the Townshend Act: turning their linen rags over to printers and paper manufacturers. Those who already did so likely read issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette printed on paper produced from some of their own rags. More explicitly, the Fowles linked the production of their newspaper to the politics of the period, asserting that even their choice of paper had ramifications. They boycotted imported paper in order to avoid paying the duties, choosing instead to join the movement for the production and consumption of domestic goods. Each time colonists read or placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette, they indirectly participated in that movement as well.

December 18

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

New-York Journal (December 15, 1768).

“Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers at New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charles-Town, South-Carolina.”

A subscription notice for publishing “THE WORKS OF THE CELEBRATED JOHN WILKES, Esq” appeared among the advertisements in the December 15, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Wilkes, a radical English politician and journalist considered a friend to American liberties, was widely recognized in the colonies, so much so that the publishers of the New-England Town and Country Almanack inserted his portrait as the frontispiece and emphasized its inclusion as part of their marketing efforts. News concerning Wilkes regularly appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies. As the imperial crisis unfolded, Wilkes became a hero to Americans who opposed Parliament’s attempts to tax and otherwise interfere in colonial affairs. Printers and booksellers sensed that a market for his collected works might exist, but it required proper cultivation.

Such was the purpose of the subscription notice. It deployed several strategies intended to incite demand. Among them, it constructed what Benedict Anderson has described as an “imagined community” of readers, a community drawn together through their engagement with the same printed materials despite members being geographically dispersed. The advertisement noted that “Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers at New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charles-Town, South-Carolina.” Readers of the New-York Journal who encountered this advertisement and purchased Wilkes’s works would participate in an endeavor that was more than merely local. They would join with others in faraway places, people they likely would never meet but who were exposed simultaneously to the same ideas and ideals through common acts of purchasing and reading Wilkes’s works. The notice indicated that there were “but a few Sets left unsubscribed for,” suggesting that the community was already vast and those who had not yet reserved their copies risked their own exclusion. To further evoke a common sense of identity, the subscription notice pledged that “The Paper for this Edition was manufactured, and all the Printing performed in this Country.” This was an American edition, produced by colonists for colonists from New England to the Lower South.

In marketing this three-volume set of Wilkes’s works, the publisher resorted to more than invoking the politics of the imperial crisis. This subscription notice sought to foster a sense of belonging among prospective subscribers, suggesting that they formed a community that transcended residence in one colony or another. That common identity gave colonists a shared political purpose, but it also facilitated selling books.

December 11

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (December 8, 1768).
New-England FLOUR MUSTARD … superior in Strength and Flavor to any IMPORTED.”

Although he carried some imported goods at his store on Dock Square in Boston, Thomas Walley emphasized locally produced goods in his advertisement in the December 8, 1768, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. Indeed, even the headline in a larger font than most of the rest of his advertisement proclaimed that many of his wares had local origins: “New-England Flour of Mustard.” Ever since learning of the Townshend Act and new duties placed on certain imported goods, colonists in Boston and throughout Massachusetts had vowed to limit their purchases of English goods as a means of protest. This coincided with concerns about an imbalance of trade that favored Britain over the colonies, prompting interest in encouraging “domestic manufactures” whenever possible as alternatives to imported goods. Some advertisers explicitly promoted the politics of consumption, but others made such arguments implicitly, realizing that declarations that their wares had been produced in the colonies would resonate with prospective customers already primed to recognize the political meanings of their decisions as consumers.

Still, advertisers like Walley made it clear that customers did not have to sacrifice quality for their principles. For most of the “domestic manufactures” in his advertisement, he included some sort of explanation concerning its quality. The “much-admired New-England FLOUR MUSTARD,” for instance, had been “found by repeated Trials of the best Judges to be superior in Strength and Flavor to any IMPORTED.” Walley did not provide further details about these “best Judges,” but he did offer assurances that this product was not unknown or new to the market. Customers could purchase it with confidence that others had already enjoyed and endorsed it. When it came to “PIGTAIL TOBACCO” and “Choice SNUFF,” Walley indicated that his inventory “manufactured in Boston” met the same standards as a well-known brand. The tobacco was “equal to Kippin’s” and the snuff “equal to Kippen’s best.” Similarly, Walley sold “STARCH, manufactured in Boston” that was “the best Sort” and “equal to [imports from] Poland,” known for their quality. Readers may have greeted such proclamations with skepticism, but such assurances may have helped to convince prospective customers to give these products a chance. Walley did not allow the political ramifications of consumer choices to stand alone in marketing his wares. Instead, he paired politics and quality to enhance the appeal of several “domestic manufactures” he made available to consumers in Boston.

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.