July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:6:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 6, 1769).

“Ready Money, for clean Linen RAGS.”

By the first week of July in 1769, John Keating’s advertisement for the “NEW-YORK Paper MANUFACTORY” became a familiar sight in the New-York Journal. Keating called on colonists, especially “ALL Persons who have the Welfare of their Country at Heart,” to collect clean linen rags and turn them over to the paper manufactory to be made into paper. He offered “Ready Money” for rags, but encouraged readers to deliver rags “not so much for the Money they will immediately fetch” but instead for “the Benefit which will accrue to the Public in general” if the manufactory received enough rags “to make a sufficient Quantity of Paper, for our own Consumption.”

This was particularly important in the late 1760s because the Townshend Acts levied duties on imported paper. As part of their resistance efforts, colonists boycotted a vast array of imported goods, not just those subject to the new taxes, and encouraged “domestic manufactures” or local production as an alternate means of acquiring goods while simultaneously bolstering the colonial economy. Keating argued that consumers who purchased paper from the New-York Paper Manufactory kept “Sums of Money” in the colony that were otherwise “annually remitted” across the Atlantic. Furthermore, the manufactory employed “Numbers of poor People” who kept that money “in a circulating State” in the colony, rather than lost to merchants, manufacturers, and Parliament in Britain. Keating deployed a “Buy American” campaign during the imperial crisis, before thirteen colonies declared independence.

In its most recent iteration, Keating’s advertisement appeared in the New-York Journal at least once a month since its first insertion on February 9, 1769. It also ran on February 16, March 23, April 20, May 18, June 8, and July 6. This copy for this iteration, for the most part, replicated a similar advertisement that ran in the summer of 1768. Over the course of a year, Keating was consistent in the message he communicated to colonists, encouraging them to participate in both the production and consumption of paper from the New-York Paper Manufactory.

The sporadic appearance of his advertisement in the New-York Journal raises questions about the arrangements Keating made with John Holt, the newspaper’s printer. Holt and others who worked at his printing office kept the type set over the course of several months, intending to insert the advertisement repeatedly. It ran once a month, but not on a regular schedule, such as in the first issue of the month. Did it appear when Keating ran low on rags and instructed Holt to run the advertisement once again in hopes of obtaining the materials he needed to operate his business? Did Holt insert Keating’s advertisement when running low on other content and needing to fill space? Did the two offer in-kind services to each other, such a supply of paper in exchange for advertising? Did Holt charge reduced advertising rates for Keating? After all, as a printer, Holt had a particular interest in having access to paper that may have prompted him to cultivate a relationship with the proprietor of the New-York Paper Manufactory.

By itself, any insertion of Keating’s advertisement tells a story of politics and the production and consumption of paper when colonists answered the Townshend Acts with nonimportation agreements. The repeated insertion of the advertisement, however, hints at another story about the business practices at both the New-York Journal and the New-York Paper Manufactory. Ledgers and correspondence, if they still exist, might shed more light on Keating’s advertising campaign. Without additional sources, the sporadic yet frequent insertion of the same advertisement for the New-York Paper Manufactory in the New-York Journal over the course of several months testifies to a message regularly communicated to readers while obscuring some of the decisions made by both the printer and the paper manufacturer in the process of presenting arguments in favor of supporting this local enterprise.

May 2

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 2 - 5:2:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 2, 1769).

“CASH is given for clean Linen Rags, coarse and fine.”

This was a common advertisement seen in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century. This advertisement published in the Essex Gazette on May 2, 1769, attempted to get people to save their rags. It was a common practice to simply throw away old linen rags; however, they were extremely important in the creation of paper. As the American colonies began boycotting goods from Great Britain, they needed to create their own paper instead of importing it. This put a great stress on newspaper printers who needed sources for paper.

It is easy to take for granted how accessible perfectly white paper is today, but 250 years ago it was not easy to create. In order to produce a piece of paper that was free from spots and speckles, according to “Paper Through Time,” papermakers needed crystal clear water that was free from metals like iron and other debris. In order to filter the water, papermakers needed an abundance of clean linen rags to act as filters. This was the first reason that they needed so many rags; the second is that the rags were also used as part of the paper. Paper products 250 years ago were not wood products as much as they were linen. This makes the advertisement so interesting in American history because it not only shows the types of products they were producing, but also the extent that people were going to in order to keep their money out of English hands.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Advertisements calling on readers to collect clean linen rags did indeed appear in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century, but these familiar notices, as Patrick notes, took on new significance during the imperial crisis. The Revenue Acts of 1767, one of the Townshend Acts, taxed paper, along with glass, paint, and lead. In the late 1760s, collecting rags to produce paper became a political act.

The day before this advertisement ran in the Essex Gazette, a similar notice appeared on the first page of the Newport Mercury. “CASH is given,” it stated, “for clean Linen RAGS, at the Printing-Office, For the PAPER-MANUFACTURE in this Colony.” This advertisement more explicitly invoked local production, perhaps hoping that an additional nudge would prompt greater diligence on the part of concerned readers looking for ways to resist ongoing abuses by Parliament.

A couple of days later, an overview of a nonimportation agreement then in effect ran on the front page of the May 4 edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. It reminded readers that the “Merchants & Traders in the Town of BOSTON” had met the previous August and “entered into an Agreement not to send for or import any Good from Great-Britain … from January 1769 to January 1770.” Furthermore, the “Merchants and Traders in other Towns in this Province, and at New-York” had devised similar agreements. Draper reprinted the original “ARTICLES of the Agreement entered into by the Merchants in August last,” concluding with the fifth article. It stated, “That we will not from and after the First of January 1769, import into this Province any Tea, Paper, Glass, or Painters Colours, until the Act imposing Duties on those Articles shall be repealed.”

In this context, linen rags were not merely trash to be discarded. They became political symbols. Collecting them allowed colonists from various backgrounds to express political views as they engaged in an act of resistance. Although the gentry dominated colonial assemblies, the laboring poor found their political voices through other means, including collecting rags to encourage the production and consumption of paper produced in the colonies. Women also embraced this means of supporting American interests, transforming mundane housework into acts that reverberated with political meaning. A two-line notice about rags might appear insignificant at first glance, but it was enmeshed in expansive debates about the relationship between Parliament and the colonies.

January 22

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

Jan 22 - 1:22:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 22, 1768).

“CLEAN LINEN RAGS.”

Christopher Leffingwell used his advertisement in the January 22, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette to promote the “Quantity of coarse and fine Writing, Printing and Wrapping PAPER” he manufactured, but he simultaneously issued a call for readers to supply him with the rags he needed to produce more paper. Purchasing and producing paper amounted to more than mere commerce. These were political acts in the wake of the Townshend Act imposing new duties on imported paper the previous November.

Leffingwell made that apparent. He described handing over rags to local paper manufacturers as “an entire Saving to the COUNTRY.” He opined that “every Friend and Lover” of America should deliberately and vigorously participate in such an endeavor. They should “readily save every Scrap,” including the smallest rags, that came into their possession with the intention of turning them over to him to be made into paper that would reduce the colony’s dependence on imported paper being taxed by Parliament. Leffingwell paid for the rags he received, acknowledging that “the Price given for them, may to some seem very small.” That attitude, he cautioned, did not recognize the greater purpose. By working together to bolster the production of paper in Connecticut, colonists contributed to “the whole Saving” that became “very considerable.” As Lessingwell “paid in Cash” for rags collected by his neighbors and, in turn, they purchased the paper he manufactured from those rags, they collectively advanced the local economy. They made their colony less dependent on goods imported from Britain while also avoiding sending local cash across the Atlantic as payment of the new taxes from the Townshend Act. Lessingwell’s decision to buy up as many rags as possible, laying out “£. 100 lawful Money” so far, had resulted in saving the same amount which “otherwise might have been entirely lost.” In return for his assistance to the economic welfare of the colony, he requested that readers reward him by continuing to supply him with rags as well as purchasing the paper those rags produced. Leffingwell provided a means for colonists of all backgrounds to engage in resistance to Parliament.

“If the People will furnish me with a sufficient Stock of fine white Rags (which they may easily do) it will enable me to supply them with as good Paper as is imported from Abroad, and as cheap,” Leffingwell proclaimed. Everyone benefited from this scenario. Paper and rags, production and consumption, all took on political significance as Leffingwell challenged colonists to consider the meanings attached to some of the most mundane items they encountered in their daily lives.

March 6

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

mar-6-361767-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 6, 1767).

“CASH will be given for any Quantity of Linnen, Cotton, or Sail Cloth RAGS.”

Printers regularly issued calls for rags in their newspapers throughout the eighteenth century. Most were brief, consisting of just a few lines announcing “cash for rags.” Others, like today’s advertisement, were more extensive, specifying which types of rags were desired and the prices awarded for each.

The shorter advertisements often flummox my students. The longer ones, on the other hand, provide sufficient context for figuring out why printers in early America so valued rags, one of the most important raw materials for creating the supplies they needed to pursue their trade. Encountering such notices provides wonderful opportunities for discussing how we are removed from the eighteenth century in a variety of ways.

First, we live in a world in which most paper we use was manufactured from wood pulp. Most students have not even conceived of an alternative prior to reading advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette and other newspapers from colonial and Revolutionary America. Here it becomes important to note that even though students are reading these advertisements, they are consulting digital surrogates to do so, keeping them removed from the eighteenth century in important ways even as they seek to better understand the period. Although they have access to the text printed in newspapers – and can even see its format and layout on the page thanks to digital images that provide more than mere transcriptions – they do not actually touch any of the pages from the original publication. In the absence of the material text they miss out on the tactile sensations that would provide clues that paper production has significantly changed in the past quarter millennium.

The more extensive calls for rags also demonstrate how we are removed from the language of consumer culture so fluently spoken in the eighteenth century. Today’s advertisement advised that “CASH will be given for any Quantity of Linnen, Cotton, or Sail Cloth RAGS, at the Rate of one Copper a Pound for all coarse and Check, and two Coppers a Pound for white RAGS, any Thing finer than Oznabrigs.” The printers assumed that readers could identify the many different kinds of fabrics used in early America and advertised for sale elsewhere in their newspapers. They assumed that readers could make distinctions among them, such as determining which were “finer than Oznabrigs.” Although today’s notice did not attempt to sell any goods or services it depended in part on familiarity with consumer culture.

August 10

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

Aug 10 - 8:9:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 9, 1766).

“READY MONEY given for Line Rags of any Sort, old Sail Cloth and Junk.”

Printers regularly inserted calls for rags (intended to be used in making paper) in their newspapers, but this appeal was much more extensive than most that appeared during the eighteenth-century.

The proprietors of the Providence Paper Manufactory accepted “Linen Rags of any Sort, old Sail Cloth and Junk.” Furthermore, they listed the prices they would give for each item, even dividing the rags between those “fine than Oznabrigs” and others “coarser than Oznabrigs.” In the process, they also used terminology that would have been familiar to eighteenth-century readers. Colonists would have readily recognized “Oznabrigs” as a type of coarse and plain fabric and “Junk” as old rope that was beyond its usefulness.

The advertisement listed several locations where readers could exchange “Linen Rags of any Sort, old Sail Cloth and Junk” for “READY MONEY.” They could visit the printers or the proprietors of the “Paper Manufactory” in Providence as well as Jonathan Wilson in Newport or another printer, Benjamin Mecom, in New Haven.

Finally, the advertisement concluded with an interesting proposition for subscribers to the Providence Gazette. The rags, sail cloth, and junk could be exchanged for the newspaper itself, as payment “in lieu of Cash.” This established an interesting relationship between the printer of the Providence Gazette and subscribers who traded in their rags. Eventually those subscribers could expect those rags to be returned to them, transformed into linen paper with news and advertisements printed on it.

When it came to paper, the cycle of advertising and consumption in colonial America had a far reach. A colonist could see an advertisement for textiles and make a purchase. After using and wearing out those textiles, he or she could hand them over to the Providence Paper Manufactory or the printers of the Providence Gazette in exchange for more newspapers with additional advertisements for textiles that could be purchased to replace those that had been reduced to rags. At some point in the cycle, colonists could read advertisements for textiles they would purchase printed on linen paper made from textiles that had previously worn or possessed.