June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (June 19, 1769).

“Elegant PICTURES, Framed and glazed in AMERICA.”

Late in the spring of 1769, bookseller Garrat Noel placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy to promote a “GREAT Variety of the most elegant PICTURES” available at his shop next door to the Merchant’s Coffeehouse. Like many other booksellers, he supplemented his revenues by peddling items other than books, magazines, and pamphlets. Booksellers sometimes included prints in their advertisements, yet Noel placed special emphasis on them when he placed a notice exclusively about them.

As part of his marketing effort, Noel tapped into discourses about politics and implicitly tied his prints to the nonimportation agreement currently in effect in response to the duties enacted by the Townshend Acts. He proclaimed that his prints were “Framed and glazed in AMERICA.” The success of nonimportation depended in part on encouraging “domestic manufactures” or local production of consumer goods. Yet Noel assured prospective customers that purchasing items produced in the colonies did not mean that they had to settle for inferior craftsmanship. He stressed that “in Neatness of Worksmanship” the frames that encased his prints were “equal [to] any imported from England.” Similarly, they had been glazed (the glass fitted into the frame) in the colonies by an artisan who demonstrated as much skill as any counterpart in England, though the glass itself may have been imported. Furthermore, his customers did not have to pay a premium when they considered politics in their decisions about which goods to purchase. Not only were the frames the same quality as those imported, Noel pledged to sell them “at a much lower Price.” The bookseller may have even hoped that the combination of price, quality, and patriotic politics would prompt consumers who had not already been in the market for prints to consider making a purchase as a means of demonstrating their support for domestic production and the nonimportation agreement.

Notably, Noel did not indicate that the prints or glass had not been imported, only that the frames had been produced and the glass fitted in the colonies. Drawing attention to the fact that they had been “FRAMED and glazed in AMERICA” provided a distraction from the origins of the prints and possibly the glass as well. Especially if the glass had been imported since the Townshend Acts went into effect, Noel attempted to tread a difficult path since glass was among the goods indirectly taxed. Still, this strategy allowed him to suggest that he did his part to support “domestic manufacturers” and provide opportunities for colonists to put their principles into practice by choosing to consume items produced, at least in part, in the colonies.

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Many thanks to Cortney Skinner for the clarification concerning glazing in the comments. I have updated this entry accordingly.

August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:13:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 13, 1767).

“I likewise frame, gild and glaze Pictures at the cheapest Rates.”

According to his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Robert Kennedy provided a variety of goods and services at his “Copper-plate Printing Office, in Third-street, Philadelphia.” To entice potential customers, he extolled both the wares he sold and personal attributes that qualified him to pursue his occupation. Kennedy was no mere middleman who shuttled imported goods through his shop; instead, he was a craftsman who altered and improved his merchandise to conform to the tastes and desires of his customers.

Kennedy stocked a “general Assortment of Maps and Prints” that were “neatly framed and glazed” in a variety of sizes and fashions. Customers could choose among these items to decorate their homes. Alternately, they could bring their own prints to Kennedy’s shop for him to “frame, gild and glaze” and otherwise prepare them to be exhibited in homes, either as “Houshold Furniture” or in “Cabinets of the CURIOUS.” His other services included cleaning, repairing, and gilding paintings and looking glasses as well as painting houses and installing windows.

Lest potential customers fear that he might irreparably damage their irreplaceable possessions, Kennedy assured them that he “had several Years Experience.” During that time he “acquired such a Degree of Knowledge of the Branches of my Profession” that he would be able to “give Satisfaction” to any of his customers. Notably, Kennedy underscored his expertise in various “Branches” of preparing paintings and prints for display. He did not want prospective clients to worry or suspect that he specialized in one task and dabbled in the others. Instead, through years of experience he had developed expertise in each of the services he offered.

In his description of framed maps and prints as “Houshold Furniture,” Kennedy revealed the value colonists placed on these items. They were part of a culture of conspicuous consumption that included the exhibition of consumer goods to signal taste and status. In addition to clothing, housewares, and furniture, colonists displayed framed maps, prints, and paintings as testaments to their gentility and adherence to current fashions. These decorative items needed to withstand keen observation, which made Kennedy’s experience and expertise all the more important. Part of the “Satisfaction” that he marketed to customers was confidence that the quality of his work would impress their visitors who viewed the items he framed, gilded, and repaired.

March 8

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

mar-8-381767-part-1-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette

mar-8-381767-part-2-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 6, 1767).

“A DISSERTATION ON THE RECIPROCAL ADVANTAGES OF A PERPETUAL UNION BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN and her AMERICAN COLONIES.”

Robert Wells stocked a variety of items at “the great Stationary and Book Shop on the Bay” in Charleston. Among the wares he imported from England, he first listed “LARGE and elegant prints of Mr. PITT and LORD CAMDEN,” members of Parliament considered friendly to the American cause during the Stamp Act crisis. Wells concluded this advertisement by devoting significant space to a book printed in Philadelphia, a volume which included four “DISSERTATIONS” on the “RECIPROCAL ADVANTAGES OF A PERPETUAL UNION BETWEEN GREAT-BRITAIN and her AMERICAN COLONIES.” The first, authored by John Morgan, won “Mr. Sargent’s Prize Medal,” awarded at commencement exercises for the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania).

This advertisement provides valuable insight concerning how most colonists interpreted their relationship with Great Britain in the first months of 1767, still fairly early in the imperial crisis that eventually – over the course of more than a decade – led to the colonies declaring independence. One of the challenges of teaching about the American Revolution lies in helping students understand that it was not an instantaneous event but rather a long process that involved a transition from resistance to Parliamentary overreach while seeking redress of grievances to, eventually, revolutionary rhetoric and actions when Americans determined that they had exhausted all other options.

In early 1767 continued to underscore the “RECIPROCAL ADVANTAGES” of being part of the British Empire. In his “DISSERTATION,” Morgan ranked commerce and trade among some of the most significant advantages. By this time the Stamp Act had been passed and repealed, in large part due to the protests and petitions of the colonists but also thanks to advocacy by merchants and politicians, like Pitt and Camden, in England. The Americans had discovered means for having their grievances addressed, though they did not particularly care for the Declaratory Act that accompanied repeal of the Stamp Act. Still, the rupture in relations did not seem insurmountable. Indeed, most Americans believed it foolish not to attempt to make amends.

The “DISSERTATIONS” written and published in Philadelphia served to cement colonists’ understanding of their place and privileges within the British Empire, but they also reminded English observers of the benefits of amicable relations between parent country and colonies. This publication simultaneously shored up British identity among colonists while alerting those in England that it was not in anyone’s best interest to attempt to take advantage of the colonies, a warning that Parliament did not heed when it promulgated the Townshend Acts later in 1767.

Return once again to the prints of Pitt and Camden that led the list of goods Wells stocked. They set the tone for the rest of the advertisement, especially the “DISSERTATIONS” that appeared at the end. Colonists considered themselves Britons, so much so that Wells expected consumers would display images of English politicians – especially those who understood and advocated for the proper sort of relationship between Great Britain and the American colonies – in public and private spaces. Most Americans had not yet been radicalized in favor of independence in early 1767, at least not according to the merchandise Robert Wells expected to sell at his shop in Charleston.

January 20

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

jan-20-1201767-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal-supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina and Country Journal (January 20, 1767).

“A great Variety of handsome Pictures … amongst which are several of their Majesties.”

George Parker advertised “a general Assortment of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” recently imported on “Vessels from LONDON and BRISTOL.” His merchandise included “a great Variety of handsome Pictures … amongst which are their Majesties, both plain and in Colours.” Not only did Parker stock goods from the metropolitan center of the British Empire, he also promoted memorabilia that celebrated George III, the ruler and personification of Britain.

In preparation for the work they will be doing on the Adverts 250 Project, yesterday the students in my Revolutionary class read and discussed T.H. Breen’s landmark article, “Baubles of Britain,” and my own chapter, “A Revolution in Advertising.”[1] (Based on the quality of that conversation, I have high expectations for their contributions to this project.) In its consideration of both the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century and the political revolution that began in the 1760s, Breen’s article provided a foundation for consumer culture studies that will be one of the main themes throughout the semester. Drawing on Breen’s narrative, students articulated the close connections between England and the colonies created by consumption practices as well as the politicization of decisions about what to import and purchase (or not import and purchase).

Any time I teach a course that covers the American Revolution, whether an introductory survey or an upper-level seminar, I have a responsibility to emphasize change over time. Many students, like many Americans more generally, think of the events of the revolutionary era as happening simultaneously rather than as a process that unfolded over years. This advertisement helps me to demonstrate that point. Published after the Stamp Act controversy, boycotts of imported British goods, and the repeal of the despised legislation, this advertisement demonstrates an “ASSORTMENT of GOODS” from London found their way to the colonies once again, including “Pictures … of their Majesties” intended to be displayed in public and private spaces.

The goods offered for sale in this advertisement suggest that throughout the 1760s shopkeepers and their customers engaged in resistance to British policies, but they had not yet moved to outright revolution and determination to sever political ties with Britain. Transitioning from resistance to revolution was a long and complicated process. Elsewhere on the same page as Parker’s advertisement, Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, advertised several items he sold, including “Dr. FRANKLIN’s Examination before an August Assembly, relating to the American Stamp-Act.” Advertisements that celebrated colonists’ British identity and others that critiqued Parliament’s overbearing regulation of the colonies appeared side by side.

Americans had not yet made the decision to declare independence – and would not do so for almost another decade. After making that transition, as I argued in my own chapter that my students read and discussed yesterday, American merchandisers offered new sorts of memorabilia that celebrated the new nation, its leaders and heroes of the Revolution, and important events in achieving independence. No longer did advertisements hawk “Pictures … of their Majesties” but instead promoted a variety of prints and medals depicting George Washington and other patriots. Advertisers encouraged a new sort of veneration intended to unite citizens throughout the nation, just as veneration of “their Majesties” via purchasing and displaying prints had been intended to strengthen British identity and unity throughout the British Atlantic world a few decades earlier.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.

Carl Robert Keyes, “A Revolution in Advertising: ‘Buy American’ Campaigns in the Late Eighteenth Century,” in Danielle Coombs and Bob Batchelor, eds., Creating Advertising Culture: Beginnings to the 1930s, vol. 1, We Are What We Sell: How Advertising Shapes American Life … And Always Has (New York: Praeger, 2013), 1-25.