February 1

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

Feb 1 - 2:1:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 1, 1768).

“BRUSHES of all Sorts, manufactured in BOSTON.”

In an advertisement on the front page of the February 1, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette, John Smith announced that he sold “BRUSHES of all Sorts” at his shop on Newbury Street. Rather than peddling imports from England, Smith emphasized that his brushes had been “manufactured in BOSTON.” In so doing, he situated his advertisement within ongoing public debates about transatlantic commerce and politics. The colonies suffered from a trade deficit that benefited England. To add insult to injury, Parliament imposed new duties on certain imported goods, especially paper, in the Townshend Act that had gone into effect in late November 1767. In response, Bostonians voted at a town meeting to launch new nonimportation pacts. To that end, they also pledged to purchase goods produced in the North American colonies and to encourage domestic manufactures of all kinds in order to reduce their reliance on imported wares.

Smith did not need to offer extensive or explicit commentary on recent events in his advertisement. He knew that prospective customers were well aware of the commercial and political circumstances. After all, the publishers of the Boston-Gazette and most other colonial newspapers consistently inserted news and editorial items that addressed the imperial crisis that continued to unfold. But such problems did not circulate only in print: they were the subjects of daily conversation throughout the colonies. As a result, Smith did not need to purchase a significant amount of advertising space in order to explain why colonists should purchase his brushes rather than any other. He likely believed that simply proclaiming that his brushes had been “manufactured in BOSTON” encapsulated the entire debate and justified selecting his wares over any others. He did offer brief reassurances that they were “equal in Goodness to any imported from Europe” and priced “as low as they can be bought in London,” but the weight of his marketing efforts rested on the place of production.  Smith even solicited “Hogs Bristles,” necessary for continuing to make brushes.

In the 1760s, first in response to the Stamp and later in response to the Townshend Act, colonists launched “Buy American” advertising campaigns. Certainly a staple of modern marketing, “Buy American” campaigns have a history that extends back before the first shots were fired during the American Revolution.

January 13

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

Jan 13 - 1:13:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (January 13, 1776).

“To be sold at the STORE of John Smith … A general Assortment of GOODS.”

Advertisements like this one from John Smith make me reassess (or, at least, temper) one of the central arguments of my work on advertising in eighteenth-century America.  I contend that the consumer revolution that took place in the late colonial period, during the American Revolution, and into the era of the Early Republic was supply driven, whereas others argue that it was generated by consumer demand.  I have spent a lot of time and spilled a lot of ink making the case that newspaper advertisements and other marketing media were developed to incite demand among potential customers, that producers, suppliers, and retailers invoked a variety of appeals and devised incentives to encourage potential customers that they wanted and needed to purchase their goods and services.

Smith’s rather simple advertisement is certainly not the best example offering support for such claims.  At first glance, it seems to amount to little more than an announcement.  However, I am not willing to abandon my argument concerning the significance of supply (rather than demand) in the consumer revolution.  Consider other advertisements that appeared in the same issue.  Many make appeals to price or quality or fashion.  Some provide extensive lists to underscore the choices available to potential customers.  Indeed, even the relatively banal reference to “A general Assortment of GOODS” does make an appeal by hinting at the possibility of many choices among Smith’s merchandise.  Smith’s advertisement may not be flashy by modern standards — or the standards of the nineteenth century or even the final decades of the eighteenth century — but it does suggest that even many of the most rudimentary advertisements used language meant to engage readers and encourage them to make purchases.

Jan 13 - Boston Evening-Post - Full Page
Final Page of the Boston Evening-Post (January 13, 1766).