September 18

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

Final page of Robert Bell’s subscription notice for Blackstone’s Commentaries that may (or may not) have been distributed with the September 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

“Peaceable, yet active Patriotism.”

Yesterday, the Adverts 250 Project featured Robert Bell’s subscription notice for Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England that Accessible Archives included with the September 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and addressed the difficulty of determining whether the subscription notice originally accompanied the newspaper.  Today, the marketing strategies deployed by Bell merit consideration.

First, however, consider the format of the subscription notice, a four-page flier.  On the first page, addressed “TO THE AMERICAN WORLD,” Bell encouraged prospective customers throughout the colonies to purchase American editions rather than imported books.  It could also have been published separately as a handbill, similar to the second page featuring two advertisements for books “Lately Published” by Bell, “YORICK’S Sentimental Journal Through FRANCE and ITALY” by Laurence Stern and “HISTORY OF BELISARIUS, THE HEROIC AND HUMANE ROMAN GENERAL” by Jean-François Marmontel.  On the third and fourth pages, Bell promoted William Robertson’s “HISTORY of CHARLES the FIFTH, EMPEROR of GERMANY,” a work he widely advertised in newspapers throughout the colonies, and other American editions.  The flier concluded with a note defending “the legality of literary publications in America.”

Both before and after the American Revolution, Bell established a reputation as one of the most vocal proponents of creating a distinctly American literary market served by printers and publishers in the colonies and, later, the new nation.  Bell advanced both political, economic, and cultural arguments in favor of an American book trade during the imperial crisis.  He opened his address “TO THE AMERICAN WORLD” by proclaiming that “THE inhabitants of this continent have now an easy, and advantageous opportunity of effectually establishing literary manufactures … the establishment of which will absolutely and eventually produce mental improvement, and commercial expansion.”  In addition, purchasing books published in America would result in “saving thousands of pounds” by consumers as well as keep the money on that side of the Atlantic.  Colonists could pay lower prices and, in the process, what they did spend would be “distributed among manufacturers and traders, whose residence upon the continent of course causeth the money to circulate from neighbour to neighbour, and by this circulation in America there is a great probability of its revolving to the very hands from which it originally migrated.”  Supporting domestic manufactures, including American publications, would create stronger local economies, Bell argued.

“American Gentlemen or Ladies” had a patriotic duty to lend their “auspicious patronage” to such projects by informing their local bookseller or printer that they wished to become “intentional purchasers of any of the literary works now in contemplation to be reprinted by subscription in America.”  In so doing, they would “render an essential service to the community, by encouraging native manufactures.  In turn, they “deserve[d] … grateful remembrance—By their country—By posterity.”  These subscribers would also contribute to the enlightenment of the entire community, the “MAN of the WOODS” as well as the “MAN of the COURT.”  In the hyperbolic prose he so often used in his marketing materials, Bell declared that “Americans, do certainly know, if universal encouragement is afforded, to a few publications of literary excellence … they will assuredly create sublime sensations, and effectually expand the human mind towards this most rational, and most dignified of all temporal enjoyments.”  In addition, he described himself and other American printers and publishers as engaging in “peaceable, yet active Patriotism” in making inexpensive American editions of several “literary WORKS” available to consumers.

Bell frequently inserted advertisements with similar messages into newspapers from New England to South Carolina, but those were not his only means of encouraging “THE AMERICAN WORLD” to support domestic manufactures and the creation of an American literary market that would result in self-improvement among readers far and wide.  In subscription notices (which may have been distributed with newspapers on occasion), book catalogs, and broadsides, he advanced the same arguments much more extensively than space in newspapers allowed.

April 15

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

Boston-Gazette (April 15, 1771).

“The most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers often included introductory remarks about the origins of their imported goods in their newspaper advertisements.  In the April 15, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, for instance, William Jones advertised goods “JUST IMPORTED In the Ship LYDIA, JAMES SCOTT, Master, from LONDON.”  Similarly, Hugh Tarbett marketed goods “Imported in the Snow Jenny, Hector Orr, Master, from Glasgow.”  Both followed a format familiar to both advertisers and readers.  Samuel Eliot did so as well, announcing that he carried goods that he “has now IMPORTED in the Ships just arrived from LONDON.”  Eliot added an additional note that he sold those goods “after a long Suspension of Business by his strict Adherence to the late Non Importation Agreement.”  John Hancock did the same.  Like Jones and several others who advertised in that issue, Hancock received goods via the Lydia.  He proclaimed that he offered those items to customers “after the most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement during its Continuance.”

Eliot and Hancock both signaled their support of the patriot cause and suggested that consumers should purchase goods from them, now that trade with Britain commenced again, because they had faithfully obeyed the boycotts enacted in protest of duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  Hancock’s version of events, however, did not match coverage in the Boston Chronicle in the summer of 1769.  The committee of merchants who oversaw compliance with the nonimportation agreement singled out John Mein, loyalist printer of the Boston Chronicle, for continuing to import and sell British goods.  In turn, Mein published an exposé of prominent merchants who publicly claimed to support the nonimportation agreement yet continued to receive goods from Britain.  On August 21, 1769, he listed the cargoes of several ships, the owners of those vessels, and the merchants who ordered and received the goods.  That coverage included a “Manifest of the Cargo of the Brigantine Last Attempt, … Owner, JOHN HANCOCK,” a “Manifest of the Cargo of the Brigantine Lydia, … Owner, JOHN HANCOCK,” and a “Manifest of the Cargo of the Brigantine Paoli, … Owner JOHN HANCOCK.”  Mein called on the “PATRIOTIC GENTLEMAN” who owned those vessels to provide the public with more information.  Over the next two months, Mein continued his critique of Hancock and other patriot leaders.  In late October, he published character sketches that included one for “Johnny Dupe,” a jab at Hancock for duping the public by continuing to profit from importing goods despite claiming to support the boycott.  Not long after that, a mob attacked Mein.  He fled Boston, leaving the Boston Chronicle in the hands of his partner, John Fleeming.  The newspaper folded less than a year later.

Hancock’s claim that he sold an “Assortment of Goods” received from London only after “the most strict Compliance with the Non-Importation Agreement during its Continuance” was a polite fiction, at best.  He attempted to deploy patriotism as part of his marketing strategy, asking supporters of the American cause to endorse his version of events despite evidence to the contrary published in the Boston Chronicle two years earlier.  After all, that incident resulted in the disgrace and flight of a loyalist printer, not the prominent merchant and vocal supporter of the patriot cause.  When it came to marketing, image mattered, perhaps even more than reality.

**********

The Massachusetts Historical Society provides access to the August 21, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle via their online collections.

February 20

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 18, 1771).

“We hope to meet with encouragement from the patriotic gentlemen and ladies of this city.”

In January and February 1771, Russel and Moore ran advertisements informing the residents of Philadelphia and its hinterlands that they had “a fine stocking loom a making, in order to weave silk on, in all its different branches.”  That included “breeches and jacket patterns, stockings, mitts, caps, and gloves” adorned with “all different figures and flowers, such as have not heretofore been manufactured in America.”

Russel and Moore launched an enterprise that they framed for consumers as building on other efforts to create commercial opportunities in the colonies.  For quite some time, colonists from New England to Georgia attempted to produce silk.  According to Russel and Moore, “the inhabitants of this city, and places adjacent, have made satisfactory proof or raising raw silk.”  The partners hoped that would inspire others throughout the colonies “to raise such silk in a more extensive manner, which in a short time will find greatly to their advantage.”  For their part, Russel and Moore stood ready “to weave in said loom” and they would “engage to make gentlemen and ladies gloves and mitts” that matched the designs and patterns “wove in any mitt or glove imported from any part of the world.”  Furthermore, they promised the highest standards and quality for the items they produced, predicting it would be “richer in work than any we have seen imported here.”

The partners sought customers among consumers who had been contemplating the benefits of “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies, for several years.  In response to the Stamp Act and, especially, duties imposed on imported goods by the Townshend Acts, colonists both called for producing more goods in the colonies and encouraged the consumption of those goods as alternatives to imports.  Producers and purveyors of those domestic manufactures addressed that discourse in their advertisements, providing further incentive for consumers to follow through on purchasing goods made locally.  They reminded consumers of the political meanings attached to goods and offered reassurances that they would not sacrifice quality when they chose to “Buy American.”

Russel and Moore did so when they noted that produced items that “have not heretofore been manufactured in America” and requested “encouragement from the patriotic gentlemen and ladies of this city, and places adjacent.”  The partners did their part in producing alternatives to imported goods; in turn, “patriotic gentlemen and ladies” needed to do their part as well.  Russel and Moore reiterated the importance of consumers supporting entrepreneurs who produced goods in the colonies.  “[A]s we are the first persons,” they proclaimed, “that have erected a machine in America, for making of ribbed stockings, or any kind of figured work in said branch, we hope the public will endeavour to encourage a manufactory.”  Russel and Moore promised quality, stating that they would “give full satisfaction to every friend of America.”  In making a call for patriotic consumption, the partners joined many other advertisers who promoted domestic manufactures in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

January 27

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 24, 1771).

“All Persons that now choose to encourage American Manufactures.”

On January 24, 1771, Robert Bell continued marketing an American edition of “Robertson’s History of Charles the Fifth” with advertisements in both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In the latter, the flamboyant printer, publisher, bookseller, and auctioneer announced publication of the second volume and promised that the “THIRD VOLUME of this celebrated History is now in the Press, and will soon be finished.”  Bell noted that the second volume was “now ready to be delivered to the Subscribers,” purchasers who reserved copies in advance.  In a nota bene, he advised “SUBSCRIBERS in the Jerseys” to visit Isaac Collins in Burlington or Dunlap Adams in Trenton to retrieve their copies.

Bell also invited those who had not yet subscribed to join the fellowship of their peers who “choose to encourage American Manufactures.”  Both before and, especially, after the American Revolution, Bell was one of the eighteenth-century’s leading proponents of creating a distinctly American literary market in terms of the production of books.  Printers and booksellers imported most of the books they offered for sale, a situation that Bell sought to modify.  In deploying the language of “American Manufactures,” he made this into a political project familiar to both producers and consumers as a result of nonimportation agreements enacted in opposition to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  Yet prospective customers had another reason to choose Bell’s American edition over an imported alternative:  price.  Bell charged one dollar for each volume of Robertson’s history.  In comparison, “the British Edition cannot be imported for less than Four Dollars each Volume.”  Bell’s customers enjoyed significant savings, acquiring the entire set of the American edition for less than a single volume of the British edition.

Bell concluded his advertisement with some of the verbose language that became a hallmark of his marketing efforts over the course of several decades.  Those who wished to become subscribers by sending their names to Bell or other booksellers “may depend upon Ebullitions of Gratitude.”  Bell’s advertisement incorporated several marketing strategies, including the politics of “American Manufactures,” the financial advantages for customers, and his colorful language and personality.

January 9

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 7, 1771).

“ADDRESS To those who possess a PUBLIC SPIRIT.”

When bookseller Robert Bell inserted a notice about upcoming auctions in the January 3, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal, he devoted the second half of the advertisement to promoting an American edition of William Robertson’s multivolume History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V.  He addressed the “real friends to the progress of Literary entertainment, and to the extension of useful Manufactures in a young country.”  Bell advanced a “Buy American” marketing strategy during the period of the imperial crisis that ultimately culminated in the American Revolution.

Later that week, he continued his advertising campaign with another notice in the January 7 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Bell included some of the copy from the earlier advertisement in this much lengthier iteration.  Both versions highlighted the phrase “THE LAND WE LIVE IN” by printing it in all capitals and centering it on a line of its own within the advertisement, drawing attention to Bell’s proposition that consumers who purchased this work also contributed to the “elevation and enriching” of the colonies.  He enhanced that argument with a headline that described the entire advertisement as an “ADDRESS To those who possess a PUBLIC SPIRIT.”  Potential customers, Bell asserted, had an opportunity to engage in acts of consumption that possessed political significance.

At the same time, the bookseller declared that the American edition was a bargain compared to imported alternatives.  He charged “the moderate price of One Dollar each Volume” for the three volumes, noting that the “British edition cannot be imported for less than Twelve Dollars.”  Colonists could acquire the work at a significant savings, a reward for their role in creating a distinctive American marketplace for the production and consumption of books.  Only the first volume had gone to press, so the advertisement also served as a subscription notice.  Bell encouraged “Gentlemen who have rationality enough to consider they will receive an equivalent” to an imported edition to sign on as subscribers, simultaneously flattering and cajoling prospective customers.

Bell informed the “Encouragers of printing this Grand Historical Work” that they “may depend upon ebullitions of gratitude,” but that was only an ancillary reason for purchasing Robertson’s biography of Charles the Fifth.  He presented their own edification and their responsibility for promoting domestic manufactures in the colonies as the primary reasons for buying the first volume and subscribing for the subsequent second and third volumes.

January 3

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

New-York Journal (January 3, 1770).

“The promotion of which vivifieth individuals, and tendeth towards the elevation and enriching of THE LAND WE LIVE IN.”

Robert Bell was one of the most innovative, industrious, and influential booksellers in eighteenth-century America, known for the larger-than-life personality he cultivated and the entertainment he provided at auctions.  Bell’s auctions were events, public spectacles that amused those in attendance.  The bookseller was also known for his work in creating and promoting a distinctly American market for books, especially after the revolution.  He got started on that enterprise, however, several years before the colonies declared independence from Britain.

In the first issue of the New-York Journal published in 1771, Bell launched a new advertising campaign that announced book auctions on Friday and Saturday evenings.  In addition to giving information about the auctions, he devoted half of the advertisement to a nota bene about the “American Edition of Robertson’s Charles the Fifth.”  Rather than purchase imported alternatives, Bell asserted that the “real friends to the progress of Literary entertainment, and to the extension of useful Manufactures in a young country” would acquire the edition produced in the colonies.  Over the course of his career, Bell became known for the verbose and convoluted prose he deployed in his marketing materials.  He used labyrinthine language even by eighteenth-century standards, including in this advertisement for an American edition.  Consumers were already familiar with arguments in favor of domestic manufactures in the wake of boycotting imported goods, but Bell approached the endeavor with more verve than proponents when he trumped that “the promotion” of American products “vivifieth individuals, and tendeth towards the elevation and enriching of THE LAND WE LIVE IN.”  The bookseller advocated on behalf of American commerce and American culture simultaneously, arguing that consumers could enhance both through the decisions they made when buying books.

Bell did not merely present customers with options for reading “Divinity, History, Novels, and Entertainment.”  Instead, he challenged them to think about how their participation in the marketplace could aid the American cause and contribute to the formation of a distinctly American identity.  He intensified those arguments as his career continued, building on marketing strategies from the early 1770s.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (September 3, 1770).

“It is presumed preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here.”

As fall approached in 1770, the nonimportation agreement remained in effect in Boston.  Parliament had repealed most of the duties on imported goods, but taxes on tea remained.  Although New York already resumed trade with Britain, debates continued in Boston and Philadelphia about whether that partial victory was sufficient to return to business as usual.

It was in that context that Harbottle Dorr advertised nails and other items in the Boston Evening-Post, grounding his marketing appeals in politics.  Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he listed the various merchandise available at his shop.  He prefaced his list, however, by noting that the items enumerated first were “manufactured in this Town” rather than imported from Britain.  Those goods included “choice hammered Pewter Dishes & Plates, Cod and Mackrel Lines, best Copper Tea Kettles, all sizes of Porringers, Quart Pots, [and] Basons,” yet he started with “10d.* and 20d. Nails, warranted tough.”  The asterisk directed readers to a short sermon that encouraged them to buy goods produced in the colonies that appeared at the end of the advertisement.  “*It is presumed,” Dorr lectured, “preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here, (not only on patriotic Principles, and to discourage the PRESENT Importers, –but) as they really are better in Quality than most English Nails, being far tougher.”  Dorr linked several appeals that supporters of the nonimportation agreement often combined.  Buying American goods, Dorr and others argued, was not merely a statement of political principles but also a smart choice when it came to quality.  Consumers did not need to worry about purchasing inferior goods, in this case nails, when they bought items made in the colonies.

Yet Dorr also stocked imported goods in addition to domestic manufactures, including “all sorts Pad & Door Locks,” “London Pewter Dishes and Plates,” and “good Combs.”  He emphasized, however, that those items “have been imported above THREE YEARS.”  In other words, Dorr acquired them before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  He had not violated the pact and prospective customers could purchase those items with confidence that they did not act contrary to the nonimportation agreement.

Whether selling domestic manufactures or imported goods, Dorr made politics the focal point of his marketing efforts.  Even as some merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers advocated for following New York’s lead in resuming trade with Britain, he challenged them to consider “patriotic Principles” as they made their decisions about commerce.  Perhaps sensing that it was only a matter of time before the nonimportation agreement came to an end, he also made additional arguments in favor of nails produced in the colonies, noting their superior quality.

August 6

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

Aug 6 - 8:6:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 6, 1770).

“He hopes this will be an additional recommendation to every sincere lover of AMERICA.”

In the summer of 1770, Dennis McReady, a tobacconist on Horse and Cart Street in New York, advertised that he had for sale “a large quantity of the choicest snuff.”  To convince prospective customers to buy his product, he made a “Buy American” argument and proclaimed that his snuff was “equal in quality to any that has ever been imported in this city.”  The city’s merchants had withdrawn from their nonimportation agreement a few months earlier, shortly after receiving word that most of the duties imposed on imported goods in the Townshend Acts had been repealed.  With only the tax on tea remaining, New York’s merchants chose to resume trade with their counterparts in Britain.

Not all New Yorkers universally approved of that decision.  For those who had pursued “domestic manufactures” or local production of alternatives to imported goods, the boycott enhanced their ability to market their wares as symbols of patriotism and support for the American cause.  McReady cautioned prospective customers against turning back to imported goods too hastily, challenging them to try his snuff “manufactured in this country.”  In addition to declaring that his product was equal to snuff that had been processed from tobacco on the other side of the Atlantic, he issued a political challenge to “every sincere lover of AMERICA.”  That “AMERICA” was the only word in all capitals in the body of his advertisement made it easy for readers to spot and underscored the emphasis McReady placed on this particular appeal to consumers.  The tobacconist doubled down on his claims about the quality of his snuff and his challenge to choose it over imported snuff; he expressed his “hopes that no person will be persuaded to the contrary until he has made trial of [McReady’s] snuff.”  At least try this product once to test its quality, McReady demanded, rather than assume that “imported” meant “better quality.”  Instead of purchasing imported snuff just because they could, McReady sought to persuade consumers to support domestic manufactures and the patriotic ideals associated with them.

July 5

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

Jul 5 - 7:5:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 5, 1770).

“Manufactured at the MANHEIM GLASS WORKS, in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.”

The partnership of Brooks and Sharp injected patriotism into an advertisement for “AMERICAN GLASS WARE” they published in the Pennsylvania Journal for eight weeks in July and August 1770.  When colonists boycotted imported goods of all sorts in response to duties levied on imported glass, paper, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts, American entrepreneurs set about producing “domestic manufactures” to provide an alternative.  In their advertisements, they stressed the political benefits of acquiring goods made in the colonies, framing such consumption as patriotic duty.  Brooks and Sharp provided an overview of that argument, stating that during “this crisis it is the indispensable duty, as well as interest of every well wisher of America, to promote and encourage manufactures amongst ourselves.”  They were confident that consumers would do their part by purchasing products made at the Manheim Glass Works in Lancaster County, motivated by “the glorious spirit of patriotism at present voluntarily and virtuously existing here.”

Yet they realized that patriotism might not have been sufficient to convince some consumers to buy their wares, especially with the fate of the nonimportation agreement in doubt after the repeal of most of the Townshend duties a few months earlier.  Brooks and Sharp needed to make their glassware as attractive to consumers as imported alternatives now that political justifications for purchasing American manufactures did not have the same urgency.  To that end, they offered bargain prices, proclaiming that they sold their goods “on much lower terms, than such imported from Europe are usually sold.”  They also made an appeal to quality, assuring prospective customers that their glassware was not inferior to items imported from England.  The proprietors had engaged “some of the most ingenious artists in said manufacture, which is now arrived at great perfection.”  Consumers as well as “retailers in Philadelphia” and “country storekeepers” could have it all when buying and selling glassware from the Manheim Glass Works:  high quality, low prices, and the satisfaction of expressing a “glorious spirit of patriotism” in the marketplace.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (May 21, 1770).

“JOHN GORE, jun. Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BostonNorth-American Manufactures.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, John Gore, Jr., consistently associated his business with the patriot cause by describing its location in relation to the Liberty Tree in Boston.  In an advertisement in the May 21, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, for instance, he listed his address as “Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston,” and did not provide any additional information, not even the name of the street, to assist prospective customers in finding his shop.

The first portion of Gore’s advertisement listed a variety of textiles and adornments, presenting consumers an array of choices.  Gore did not explicitly state that he acquired these items before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  Perhaps he hoped that readers would reach that conclusion because he so prominently made a connection between the Liberty Tree and his shop.  In the second portion of his advertisement Gore made a distinction between imported wares and those produced in the colonies.  In a header that appeared in larger font than most of the rest of the notice, Gore declared that he stocked “North-American Manufactures.”  That portion of his inventory included “black, pompadore, light and dark mix’d chocolate and drab colour’d Cloths,” “fine Teeth Horn Combs,” and the “best of Lynn Shoes.”  He also carried hose “equally as fine as any Imported from London.”  His customers did not need to fear accepting inferior goods when they selected among the “North-American Manufactures” he presented to them.

The headers in Gore’s advertisement told a story that did not require readers to peruse the rest of the advertisement.  Anyone who quickly looked over the page would see “JOHN GORE, jun. Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BostonNorth-American Manufactures.”  Even if they did not choose to examine the advertisement more closely, they likely remembered the association among the shopkeeper, his location, and his merchandise produced in the colonies.