November 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 14, 1771).

“WATCHES made in Philadelphia.”

When Parliament imposed duties on certain imported goods – glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea – in the Townshend Acts in 1767, colonists responded by adopting nonimportation agreements.  In so doing, they resumed a strategy that helped win repeal of the Stamp Act, using economic leverage in the service of political goals.  At the same time that merchants vowed not to import and sell a wide assortment of items, many colonists also advocated that consumers support “domestic manufactures” by purchasing goods produced in the colonies as alternatives to their imported counterparts.  When Parliament eventually relented and repealed all of the duties except the one on tea, colonial merchants and others resumed trade with Britain.  Imported goods flooded American markets.

Even as consumers eagerly embraced imported goods once again, some American entrepreneurs continued to promote domestic manufactures.  John Sprogell, Jr., for instance, marketed “WATCHES made in Philadelphia” in an advertisement in the November 14, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Like others who advertised goods made in the colonies, Sprogrell promised prospective customers that they would not sacrifice quality.  To that end, he declared that he had “employed journeymen from London” so his shop would produce “the best of WATCHES.”  He offered a guarantee, proclaiming that he would “insure [the watches] for one, two, or three years.”  They would not need any maintenance that would incur “expense to the purchaser,” with the exception of routine cleaning.

As the proprietor of the shop, Sprogell understood that his reputation was on the line.  “The public may be assured,” he asserted, “that he will use his utmost endeavour to give general satisfaction” because “the character of the maker lays at stake.”  Even though the journeymen who labored in the shop did much or all of the work, ultimately the watches were Sprogell’s products.  Inferior work would have an effect on his standing in the marketplace, so even as he arranged a means of providing the same quality as found in London he provided additional security for customers who chose his “WATCHES made in Philadelphia” in hopes that his various pledges and promises would entice them into his shop.

January 18

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

Jan 18 - 1:18:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 18, 1768).

“THE Publisher of this Paper … shall ever esteem it his Duty to serve and oblige them.”

As was his privilege as the printer and publisher, William Goddard placed his advertisement first among those inserted in the January 18, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, which happened to be issue “NUMB. 53” of its publication. The newspaper had just completed its first full year! Goddard used the occasion for reflecting on publication and distribution during the previous year and promoting the newspaper, especially certain improvements, as he continued to supply the public with new issues.

Goddard opened his advertisement with an expression of gratitude to subscribers and other readers for their “generous Encouragement,” especially recommendations for “the Improvement of his Paper.” He pledged to continue serving them “to the utmost of his Ability” and offered “Proof” that he listened to their suggestions. He pledged to continue publication “upon the same extensive Plan” in terms of content and schedule, but planned to alter the dimensions of each issue to “Quarto Size … which will render it much more convenient … to his kind Readers and Friends.” Goddard suggested that the smaller size would make the issues much more manageable for reading than the broadsheet issues distributed by competitors. He requested that potential subscribers enthusiastic about this modification “transmit their Names and Places of Abode, as soon as possible” so he could print sufficient copies to meet demand for future issues.

Goddard also acknowledged that the Pennsylvania Chronicle had faltered at various times during its first year of publication. He noted that he had experienced difficulty “obtaining faithful and capable Journeymen” to work in his printing office. As a result he had hired “the most inartifical of the Profession … which made it impossible for him to execute or dispatch the Paper in the Manner he could have wished.” Goddard resolved to improve on that. He had just hired, “at a great Expence, a regular and valuable Set of Hands” with the necessary skill and experience that would allow him to publish and deliver the newspaper “with much greater Regularity and Expedition.”

The publisher concluded by offering premiums to his customers. Realizing that some had “preserved the Paper for binding” rather than discarding issues after reading them, he promised to issue a title page and print a notice “when it is ready to be delivered.” He also proposed, but did not promise, a table of contents, “if Time permits.” He also offered back issues for free, allowing anyone who had misplaced one to complete the set before sending it off to the binder. In making it possible for readers to compile complete runs of the first year of publication Goddard also encouraged them to continue to purchase subsequent issues in order to maintain their collections.

All in all, Goddard proclaimed that the Pennsylvania Chronicle had experienced a good first year. Yet he also proposed improvements that would allow his newspaper to compete with the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal, both of which had been published in Philadelphia for decades. He acknowledged some of the difficulties that had an impact on serving customers to the best of his ability, but bookended that portion of his advertisement with plans to publish a more convenient size at the start and premiums, both title pages and back issues, at the conclusion. Goddard knew that colonists passed newspapers from hand to hand, sharing issues beyond just the subscribers. As he commenced a new year of publication, he worked to retain his initial subscribers as well as attract new subscribers who previously read copies acquired from others.