GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
In this advertisement John Allman and Company sold tobacco pipes. Also in this advertisement they looked for people to employ in the pipe factory. Their business depended on a crop from the southern colonies: tobacco. For some of the southern colonies, especially Virginia, the tobacco business had been the economic lifeblood for much of the colonial period. With all this tobacco exported from the southern colonies, consumers also needed pipes to smoke the tobacco. According to Ivor Noël Hume, the manufacturers of those tobacco pipes made them out of a lot of materials, such as silver, brass, pewter, iron, and even lead. But the material they preferred to use most of the time was clay. Tobacco pipe makers used clay all the way until the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, clay pipes were easily breakable and usually broke almost as fast as they were made. Consumers continued to use them because they were much cheaper to make than silver, brass, and iron pipes.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
When John Allman and Company advertised “TOBACCO PIPES made here, equal in Goodness to any imported,” in the April 7, 1769, edition of Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, they joined a larger movement dedicated to promoting domestic manufactures in the colonies. In the late 1760s colonists decried a trade imbalance with Britain that sent too much of their specie across the Atlantic and made it increasingly difficult to conduct business. That prompted many to call for producing more goods locally rather than depending on imports. In the wake of the Stamp Act, colonists boycotted goods from Britain. Combined with other acts of resistance, such as petitions from colonial assemblies and public demonstrations, those boycotts convinced Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. Just a couple of years later, however, Parliament instituted the Townshend Acts. Colonists objected to paying duties on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea. They once again resorted to boycotts and promoting domestic manufactures. This time far more colonists made calls for producing goods locally, both in editorials and advertisements.
Allman and Company did not need to invoke the Townshend Acts for readers to understand their intent in this advertisement. Their rhetoric made it clear that they tapped into continuing discourses about commerce, politics, production, and consumption. Allman and Company invited the patronage of “the Well wishers to our own Manufactories.” Even as they pursued their own livelihood, they depicted producing tobacco pipes as a public service, arguing that prospective customers should offer their “Encouragement” to both the Allman and Company and the welfare of “this Country.” To do their part, Allman and Company was determined “to carry on the above Business in an extensive Manner” in order to produce sufficient tobacco pipes to meet demand without any local consumers having to purchase imported alternatives. Prospective customers did not need to worry about price or quality; Allman and Company’s tobacco pipes were “cheap” and “equal in Goodness to any imported.” In addition, their production further supported the local economy. As Bryant notes, the partners aimed to hire more workers “in the Pipe Manufactory.” Given the competitive price and quality, how could conscientious colonists not choose to make a political statement by purchasing Allman and Company’s tobacco pipes over any others?