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