February 28

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

Feb 28 - 2:29:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 29, 1768).

“The said Geyer, has thought it necessary to erect the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum.”

In the months after the Townshend Act went into effect and colonists enacted nonimportation agreements in response, some advertisers incorporated implicitly political appeals into their commercial notices. In the February 29, 1768, editions of both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette, for instance, Samuel A. Otis advertised “A variety of Flannels and Hose, fabricated by some of the best Manufacturers in the Province.” When town meetings throughout New England voted to boycott imported goods they simultaneously declared their intentions to encourage “domestic manufactures.” Otis sought to tap into this enthusiasm for goods produced locally, but the conversation was so familiar that he did not need to offer further elaboration.

Henry Christian Geyer, on the other hand, adopted a different strategy. On the same day he inserted an advertisement in the Boston Post-Boy. In it, he rehearsed the recent history of decisions made at town meetings, explaining that he launched a new branch of his business because “not only this Town, but the whole Country, have voted and agreed to encourage all Arts and Manufactures of all sorts and kinds, in order to prevent the great and unnecessary Importations in North-America, and keep what little Money we have among us, without sending the same abroad.” Due to those circumstances, Geyer “thought it necessary to erect the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum, or the making of all sorts of Images, Birds, Cats, Dogs, & all other sorts of curious Animals, all of Plaster of Paris.” Collectors now refer to such ornaments as chalkware.

Colonists did not need these decorative objects in the same whey they needed the textiles and garments advertised by Otis, yet Geyer attempted to incite demand for all sorts of consumer goods, not just the basic necessities. He emphasized that colonists needed to support “all Arts and Manufacturers of all sorts and kinds,” not just those related to food, clothing, and shelter. Nobody needed to refrain from obtaining trinkets to decorate their homes just because they had resolved not to purchase goods imported from England. Instead, Geyer offered an option for continuing to engage in conspicuous consumption and ostentatious displays within the home while simultaneously supporting the economic and political interests of the colonies. Prospective customers must have found his appeals convincing. For the next several years Geyer continued to advertise that he practiced “the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum” and produced all sorts of images and animals to decorate colonial homes.  Click here to examine examples of these images, a pair of portrait medallions of George III and Charlotte.

Note that Geyer also listed his location as “near Liberty-Tree, South-End, Boston.” Even in telling readers where to find him, he injected politics into his advertisement.

February 24

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

Feb 24 - 2:24:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 24, 1768).

“GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.”

Although brief, Jacob Polock’s advertisement on the front page of the February 24, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette incorporated several appeals intended to incite demand among prospective customers. Polock promoted only three items – tea, mustard, and kettles – but he associated a specific marketing strategy with each, rather than merely announcing that he offered those goods for sale.

First, Polock highlighted his “EXCELLENT GREEN TEA, at 15s. per lb.” Here Polock succinctly made two appeals, first emphasizing the quality of the tea and then providing a price. Most merchants and shopkeepers did not indicate prices for their merchandise in their newspaper advertisements; Polock, on the other hand, let readers know what they could expect to pay in advance of visiting his shop. Tea was such a popular commodity that most prospective customers likely already had a sense of what constituted a good deal, allowing them to assess whether Polock offered a bargain.

By publishing a price, Polock set the maximum amount he would charge for a pound of tea, but that did not preclude him from giving discounts at the time of sale, especially for customers who bought in volume or purchased other items. Any time Polock lowered the price when interacting directly with customers he cultivated a good impression for having extended a better deal than the prices published in the newspaper.

Polock also sold “GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.” Here he offered consumers the ability to make choices. In choosing among the “different qualities” of mustard customers could make selections based on both cost and personal preferences, not unlike modern shoppers picking the type of mustard they most enjoy from a condiments shelf stocked with all kinds of variations.

Finally, Polock carried “IRON TEA KETTLES of Rhode Island manufacture.” In response to deteriorating relations with Britain that resulted from a trade deficit and the imposition of new taxes via the Townshend Act, many colonists resolved to purchase fewer imported goods while simultaneously encouraging domestic manufactures. Merchants and shopkeepers frequently advertised teapots and other accessories imported from England, but Polock instead participated in a rudimentary “Buy American” campaign when he noted that his tea kettles had been produced in the colonies. He challenged consumers to consider the political ramifications associated with the goods they chose to purchase.

Polock’s advertisement might appear rather simple at a glance, but careful consideration reveals that he inserted several appeals intended to resonate with readers and encourage colonists to consume his merchandise.

February 18

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

Feb 18 - 2:18:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (February 18, 1768).

“All those that really have the Welfare of their Country at Heart, are desired to consider seriously, the Importance of a Paper Manufactory to this Government.”

The Townshend Act assessed new taxes on all sorts of imported paper. When it went into effect on November 20, 1767, many colonists vowed to encourage and purchase domestic manufactures, especially paper, as a means of resisting Parliament overreaching its authority. Calls for colonists to collect linen rags and turn them over to local papermakers, not uncommon before the Townshend Act, took on a new tone once the legislation went into effect.

The “Manufacturers of PAPER at Milton” in Massachusetts placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette in late November 1767. In it, they addressed “All Persons dispos’d in this Wat to encourage so useful a Manufacture.” The “Manufacturers” aimed to collect enough rags quickly enough to replenish the “large Quantities of Paper” that “fortunately arriv’d from Europe before the Duties could be demanded.” Ultimately, the “Manufacturers” wished to produce so much paper that colonists would never have to purchase imported paper again (and thus avoid paying the new taxes), but that required the cooperation of consumers participating in the production process by saving their rags for that purpose.

In January 1768, Christopher Leffingwell placed a similar advertisement in the New-London Gazette. He issued a call for “CLEAN LINEN RAGS” to residents of Connecticut, calling collection of the castoffs “an entire Saving to the COUNTRY.” He encouraged “every Friend and Lover” of America to do their part, no matter how small. Leffingwell suggested that producing paper locally benefited the entire colony; the economy benefited by keeping funds within the colony rather than remitting them across the ocean as new taxes. With the assistance of colonists who collected rags, Leffingwell could “supply them with as good Paper as is imported from Abroad, and as cheap.”

John Keating joined this chorus in February 1768. In an advertisement in the New-York Journal he even more explicitly linked the production and consumption of paper to the current political situation than Leffingwell or the “Manufacturers of PAPER at Milton.” He opened his notice by proclaiming, “All those that really have the Welfare of their Country at Heart, are desired to consider seriously, the Importance of a Paper Manufactory to this Government.” Purchasing paper made in America represented a double savings: first on the cost of imported paper and then by avoiding “a most arbitrary and oppressive Duty” that “further drain’d” the colony of funds that would never return.

Keating acknowledged that collecting rags might seem small and inconsequential, yet he assured colonists that collectively their efforts would yield significant results. He recommended that they cultivate a habit of setting aside their rags by hanging a small scrap in a visible place “in every House” as a reminder. Readers who followed that advice transformed domestic spaces into political venues; otherwise mundane actions took on political meaning as both members of the household and visitors noticed clean linen rags hung as reminders to encourage domestic production and consumption. In the end, Keating predicted that this “would have the desired Effect, and supply us with Paper at home sufficient for our own Use … whereas now we are obliged to send Money abroad, not only to pay for Paper at a high Price, but an oppressive Duty upon it into the Bargain.” Keating not only advanced a “Buy American” campaign but also encouraged colonists to participate in the production of domestic manufacturers for the common good.

February 12

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

Feb 12 - 2:12:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 12, 1768).

Lemuel Pattingell … Fabricates and Sells, THE best jerk’d BUTTONS.”

In February 1768, Lemuel Pattingell inserted an advertisement in the New-London Gazette to inform readers that he “Fabricates and Sells, THE best jerk’d BUTTONS.” In addition to their high quality, Pattingell’s buttons were also durable. He proclaimed that they “wear at least twice so long as those Imported.” Potential customers who might have been skeptical of these claimes could examine the buttons for themselves before contacting Pattingell. He announced that “Samples … may be seen at the Printing Office in N. London.” Although brief, this advertisement tapped into concerns about production, consumption, and politics in the colonies and the empire that had gained prominence in the fall of 1767 and continued for months in the public prints.

Colonists found themselves at a disadvantage when it came to a trade deficit with Britain. Many merchants and shopkeepers expressed a preference for dealing in cash rather than credit in their advertisements, hoping to staunch the flow of specie out of the colonies and across the Atlantic. Parliament exacerbated discontent over this situation when it decided to impose new duties on certain imported goods in the Townshend Act. Several weeks before it went into effect in late November 1767, the Boston town meeting voted to initiate a nonimportation agreement to commence at the beginning of the new year. Simultaneously, they also voted to encourage domestic production in whatever way possible, including consuming goods produced in the colonies. As word about these developments spread, both in print and via conversation, other towns adopted similar measures. Consumers’ decisions about which goods to purchase became increasingly politicized as fall became winter.

Pattingell’s advertisement appeared among news and advertisements that advanced those discussions. Elsewhere on the same page of the February 12, 1768, issue of the New-London Gazette, John Armbruester advertised the “Choice GENEVA” he distilled in Norwich. The twelfth and final letter in John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” dominated the first and second pages. Advertisers often liked to suggest that imported goods, including adornments like buttons, possessed cosmopolitan cachet, but that appeal fell out of favor when the imperial crisis intensified and colonists turned to homespun cloth and other goods produced locally. Pattingell’s emphasis on quality and durability addressed the primary concerns of potential customers at the time he placed his advertisement. In turn, that advertisement further shaped public discourse about the politics of consumption, demonstrating to consumers that they could purchase goods made in the colonies rather than relying on imports.

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 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).


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.

December 26

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

Dec 26 - 12:26:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 26, 1767).

“He hopes his kind Cust’mers will once again call, / And for their past Favours he thanketh them all.”

Benoni Pearce, a shopkeeper, frequently advertised in the Providence Gazette. His commercial notices usually incorporated some of the advertising strategies most popular in eighteenth-century America, including appeals to price, quality, and consumer choice. Such was the case in a new advertisement that first appeared in the final week of December 1767, though Pearce gave the method of delivery a twist that surely attracted notice from readers of the Providence Gazette. A series of rhyming couplets and a final tercet comprised the advertisement.

Pearce certainly was not the first or only advertiser to promote his wares or his business in verse, but such efforts were infrequent enough that they retained a novel quality when they appeared in newspapers or on broadsides. Their format likely garnered greater attention from prospective customers who would have merely glanced through a list of familiar merchandise but instead carefully examined Pearce’s rhymes. The short poem entertained even as it sought to stimulate consumption, making it – and Pearce’s shop – all the more memorable.

In just half a dozen couplets, Pearce moved through a series of appeals. After reminding readers of his location “upon the West Side,” he announced that he stocked “fresh Goods” selected with care. He made nods toward quality (“the best Kind”) and price (“as cheap as any you’ll find”), before thanking former customers and encouraging them to “once again call.” He concluded by lightheartedly addressing two aspects of commerce and consumer culture that colonists increasingly associated with contemporary political debates.

While other shopkeepers starkly stated that they sold their wares “For CASH” (as Thompson and Arnold did in the advertisement immediately below), Pearce pledged “To take the March Money* for what it was made.” A note at the end of the advertisement, the only portion not in verse, clarified that the “March Money” had been issued in 1762. Paper currency tended to depreciate, so Pearce indicated the current rate: “6 s. equal to a Dollar.” This method of naming a particular currency then in circulation in Rhode Island cleverly addressed the same issue that J. Mathewson raised in the advertisement immediately above. Mathewson plainly stated that he “takes lawful Money, of any Date, equal to Dollars.” Discussions of how to pay could be troublesome, but through his witty rhyme Pearce attempted to make that awkward part of potential transactions at least somewhat amusing.

Finally, in the tercet that concluded the advertisement Pearce weighed in on questions about what kinds of goods should be bought and sold in order to best serve the political and economic welfare of the colonies. An imbalance of trade between Britain and the colonies contributed to a recession. The imposition of new taxes on certain imported goods when the Townshend Act went into effect in November 1767 further exacerbated tensions. Residents of Boston, followed by other towns in New England, had pledged to limit their consumption of imported goods in favor of purchasing local products instead. Pearce endorsed these efforts and indicated that he did his part when he acquired merchandise to sell to his customers because “the Good of his Country doth near his Heart lie.”

Benoni Pearce made several appeals to customers in his advertisement. He had previously made the same appeals in a series of advertisements in the Providence Gazette, but a creative new format – a short poem – enticed readers to take note of this particularly memorable advertisement. Once he had their attention, Pearce increased his chances of making sales.