What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“My customers are therefore requested to be upon their guard against such deceptions.”
Counterfeit hams! In an advertisement that ran in the March 22, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Joseph Borden warned consumers against purchasing hams that unscrupulous retailers passed off as his product. That warning comprised half of his advertisement.
Borden opened his notice by advising prospective customers that he supplied the “best Salt-peter’d HAMS, flitch BACON, or JOWELS.” He did not give his location, only that he raised hogs outside of Philadelphia. Francis Hopkinson in Front Street accepted orders on his behalf and then communicated them to Borden. In turn, Borden delivered the hams, bacon, and jowls to customers “as soon as the distance will permit.”
Below his signature, Borden inserted a nota bene to advise consumers to beware of counterfeit hams. “I have not this year, not any preceeding year,” he asserted, “sent Hams to Philadelphia to be stor’d and retail’d. Whoever, therefore, offers any for sale as mine, would impose upon the public – my customers are therefore requested to be upon their guard against such deceptions.”
Borden’s notice suggests two possibilities. Others may have been trafficking in counterfeit hams, hoping to benefit from Borden’s reputation. If that was the case, Borden sought to protect both his reputation and his share of the market by insisting that consumers accept no substitutes. Alternately, neither Borden nor consumers had been victims of such trickery. Instead, Borden may have invented the tale of hams being sold as his, intending to enhance his reputation and incite demand by suggesting that his hams were so widely recognized for their quality that his business became a casualty of counterfeiters. Borden did not actually accuse any merchants and shopkeepers in Philadelphia of attaching his name to their hams, but he did present the scenario for consumers to contemplate.
Whether or not counterfeit hams were circulating in Philadelphia in the late 1760s and early 1770s, Borden apparently believed that consumers would consider such a scheme plausible. After all, manufacturers of patent medicines sometimes warned against imitations in their advertisements. Artisans occasionally did so as well. Borden followed their lead in declaring that pork was also a product subject to counterfeiting.