October 5

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

Oct 5 - 10:5:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 5, 1769).

“For the Encouragement of those who are willing to promote American Manufactories.”

While the Townshend Acts remained in effect, imposing duties on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea imported in the American colonies, the number and frequency of newspaper advertisements promoting “American manufactories” increased. The partnership of Gilpin and Fisher joined the chorus of advertisers encouraging colonists to “Buy American” in the late 1760s. In an advertisement for their “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” in the October 5, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Gilpin and Fisher extolled the quality of their product. They proclaimed that they “spar[ed] no Pains or Expence to render” their snuff “equal to any made here” or, more significantly, “imported from abroad. That was not merely their own puffery but rather the assessment of “some of the best Judges,” though Gilpin and Fisher did not publish their “concurrent Testimonies” nor name those “Judges.” Still, they made their point: consumers did not have to sacrifice quality when purchasing from Gilpin and Fisher’s “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” instead of buying imported alternatives.

Elsewhere in the advertisement, they incorporated another popular element of the “Buy American” motif that emerged in response to an imbalance of trade with Britain, the Townshend Acts, and nonimportation agreements adopted in cities and towns in several colonies. According to many editorials and advertisements, American consumers had a moral imperative to purchase goods produced in the colonies. Doing so would correct the trade imbalance while simultaneously exerting economic resistance to Parliament’s attempts to tax the colonies via import duties. Joshua Fisher and Sons sold the snuff “by the Bottle, Dozen, or Gross,” offering discounts to those who bought in bulk. To convince both consumers and retailers to take advantage of such deals, the tobacconists called on those “willing to promote American manufactories.” The two appeals buttressed each other: purchasing “domestic manufactures” was good politics but also savvy business when getting a bargain for doing so. The “Considerable Allowance” promised to those who purchased by volume likely made products from Gilpin and Fisher’s “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” even more enticing for prospective customers who wanted to practice politics through their decisions in the marketplace.

The imperial crisis and American reactions to it did not unfold solely in the news items and editorials in colonial newspapers. Instead, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others addressed the political issues of the day in their advertisements. The appeals they made to consumers helped to shape American resistance to Parliament’s attempts to raise revenues and regulate commerce in the colonies.

July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 21, 1769).

“BOard and Deck NAILS, here manufactur’d.”

Noah Parker depended on the public’s familiarity with current events when he placed his advertisement for “NAILS” in the July 21, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. For more than a year, colonists in New England and beyond had been addressing two significant issues at the intersection of commerce and politics: a trade imbalance with Great Britain and new laws enacted by Parliament that levied duties on certain goods imported into the colonies. Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others devised remedies for the situation. First, they called for the encouragement of “domestic manufactures” or local production of goods usually imported. To be effective, local production required local consumption, making all colonists responsible for successful outcomes as producers, consumers, or both. Purchasing domestic manufactures kept money within the colonies and prevented funds from flowing to the other side of the Atlantic. These efforts became enmeshed with nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of the Townshend Acts. By refusing to import goods until Parliament repealed the offensive acts, colonists aimed to exert economic pressure to achieve political purposes. Domestic manufactures were an important alternative to imported goods, especially once committees formed to enforce nonimportation agreements.

In the 1760s, nails almost invariably appeared among the imported hardware listed in newspaper advertisements from New England to Georgia. Even merchants and shopkeepers who did not stock much other hardware frequently noted that they stocked nails at their shops and stores. Parker presented an alternative for both retailers and consumers, proclaiming that his “BOard and Deck NAILS” were “here manufactur’d.” Realizing that prospective customers were often skeptical of the quality of locally produced goods, he offered assurances that these nails “have been proved far to exceed any imported.” Not only were these nails as good as any imported from England, they were better! How could customers go wrong by acquiring domestic manufactures that exceeded their imported counterparts in quality? Parker did not belabor the point, likely considering it unnecessary. After all, tensions between Parliament and the colonies were the talk of the town and the subject of article after article in the public prints. Though succinct, Parker’s advertisement resonated with public discussions about the significance of domestic manufacturers and nonimportation agreements.

July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:13:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (July 13, 1769).
Confectioner and Distiller from London.”

In the summer of 1769 Peter Lorent, a confectioner and distiller, provided a variety of sweet treats to the residents of Boston. In addition to “Cakes of all kind,” he made and sold macaroons, sugar plums, candied fruits, syrups, and cordials.

As part of his marketing efforts, Lorent underscored the quality of his confections. He introduced himself to prospective customers as a “Confectioner and Distiller from London,” hoping readers would associate him with his counterparts in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. Advertisers from many occupations, especially artisans and doctors, frequently deployed this strategy, implying that their origins testified to skills and expertise gained from training or employment on the other side of the Atlantic. They also prompted consumers to imbue their goods or services with the cachet of having been acquired from a purveyor “from London.” Advertisers like Lorent invoked their origins as a means of asserting status; they suggested that customers could demonstrate and enhance their own status by making purchases from the right providers of goods and services.

Lorent helped consumers reach the intended conclusions about the cakes, candies, and cordials they could acquire from a confectioner “from London.” He trumpeted that he made all of his treats “in as great Perfection as in Europe” and underscored that he had the requisite exposure to make that claim since he previously “worked in England, France, and Italy.” Lorent aimed to impress prospective customers with his experience that ranged beyond England to other countries often associated with taste and fashion. He also attempted to ease their anxieties about residing far from the center of the empire. Residents of Boston did not need to worry that they lived in a provincial backwater, not when they could consumer confections as fine as those enjoyed by the genteel ladies and gentlemen of London.

July 3

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

Jul 3 - 7:3:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 3, 1769).

“AMERICAN GRINDSTONES.”

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, operated a partisan press that supported the American cause during the imperial crisis. The news and editorials they presented to readers encouraged resistance to abuses perpetrated by Parliament and played a significant role in shaping public opinion in favor of declaring independence. Yet expressions of political sentiments were not confined to the pages of the Boston-Gazette devoted to news and editorials. Some colonists voiced political views, sometimes explicitly but often implicitly, in advertisements for goods and services they offered for sale.

The first two advertisements in the July 3, 1769, edition relied on popular discourse about boycotting goods imported from Britain and encouraging “domestic manufactures” as an alternative. Henry Bass advertised “AMERICAN GRINDSTONES” for sale “at his Store adjoining the Golden-Ball Tavern” and Peter Etter hawked stockings and other garments that he “manufactured … At his Room over the Dancing-School, near the Custom-House.” Later in the issue, Isaac Greenwood continued promoting umbrellas he “Made and Sold” at his shop in the North End.

Bass’s advertisement demonstrated that colonists thought broadly about what qualified as domestic manufactures. His “AMERICAN GRINDSTONES” were “MAnufactured in Nova-Scotia,” a colony that experienced its own demonstrations against the Stamp Act a few years earlier. Many colonists in Massachusetts and Nova Scotia believed they shared a common cause during the years of the imperial crisis, though the northern province did not ultimately join the thirteen colonies that declared independence. In 1769, however, the ties between the two were strong enough for grindstones produced in Nova Scotia to count as “AMERICAN” in Boston. Bass acknowledged that they were slightly more expensive (or “near as cheap”) as grindstones imported from Britain; whenever possible, advertisers who promoted domestic manufactures assured prospective customers that their wares were less expensive than imported goods. Unable to adopt that strategy, Bass instead chose another means of persuading readers to pay a little bit more for grindstones from Nova Scotia. He emphasized quality, proclaiming that the “best Judges” considered his grindstones “vastly superior” to those imported from Britain. The price may have been nominally higher, but the quality justified the investment in encouraging domestic manufactures. Bass’s advertisement, along with those placed by Etter and Greenwood, prompted readers to consider the relationship between politics and their own participation in commerce and consumption.

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.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:4:1769 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 4, 1769).
“Best HARD SOAP at 6d. by the box.”

In the spring of 1769, Freer Armston,, a chandler and soap boiler in Norfolk, Virginia, attempted to enlarge his market by expanding his operations into Williamsburg. He placed an advertisement in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette to inform prospective customers that he had opened a new shop where he sold “TALLOW CANDLES as good as any on the continent.” With such a bold statement, Armston favorably compared his wares to any others that consumers could acquire.

To make his candles even more attractive, he took the unusual step of naming their price in his advertisement: “by the box 11 d. paying freight from Norfolk.” Advertisers rarely listed prices in eighteenth-century newspapers, though many often made general appeals to low or reasonable prices. Readers likely knew what to expect to pay for a box of tallow candles from other chandlers and shopkeepers in Williamsburg. As a newcomer, Armston attempted to stimulate interest in his merchandise by allowing prospective customers to assess on their own whether he offered a deal. He did the same for his “Best HARD SOAP at 6d. by the box, or 7d. halfpenny [sic] small quantities.” He was not as verbose about the quality of his soap, simply describing it as “Best,” and instead emphasized the price and potential savings by buying in bulk. Customers saved twenty percent when they purchased an entire box of hard soap.

Armston also sought to establish that he was a careful and responsible entrepreneur. In addition to selling candles and soap, he asked readers to provide him with supplies, especially “good WOOD ASHES” used in the production of soap, for which he offered “goods or money.” He was vigilant when it came to accepting ashes from Black men and women, assuming that some did not acquire them by legitimate means. Armston instructed that “all persons that send by or give their ashes to Negroes” must also send a note specifying that they had done so or else he would not accept them. The chandler and soap boiler was not about to give “goods or money” to Black people who could not demonstrate how they came into possession of ashes they delivered to his shop. In addition to offering quality goods at low prices, Armston depicted himself as a good neighbor who attended to maintaining proper order in his business dealings.

May 4

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 4 - 5:4:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (May 4, 1769).
“Spermaceti Candles.”

In 2019 light is one of the most abundant resources that we have. Simply flip a switch and to illuminate an entire room with almost no effort. However, 250 years ago colonists needed to burn a candle to produce a small amount of light, accompanied by smoke and smell. Richard Smith published this advertisement for his sale of “Spermaceti Candles, by the quantity or single Box” on May 4, 1769. These spermaceti candles were created from the oils harvested from the heads of sperm whales. They were of much better quality than the typical tallow candle. The reason that spermaceti candles were much more desirable than others was that they would burn brighter, produce less odor, and little smoke. This was particularly important to people striving for a cleaner source of light. These candles were also far superior during the warm summer months because they were more resistant to heat. Unlike tallow candles, these high-quality candles would not bend and warp due to the heat and humidity. Because these candles were far superior to the typical tallow candle, they were very expensive and would typically be purchased by those who could afford the luxury. For more information, see Emily Irwin’s article on “The Spermaceti Candle and the American Whaling Industry.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Richard Smith sold spermaceti candles at his store in King Street in Boston, but he was not a chandler. The candles were among the many items, “an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS,” that he sold at that location, though he did give them particular prominence in his advertisement in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. “Spermaceti Candles” served as a second headline, appearing in font the same size as Smith’s name.

While that may have been the result of design decisions made by the compositor, Smith certainly exercised control over the copy of the advertisement. He chose to highlight various aspects of the candles and merely make a nod to his other wares. For instance, he allowed customers to purchase as many or as few candles as they needed or could afford, offering them “by the Quantity or single Box.” More significantly, he offered assurances about the quality of the spermaceti candles he sold. Smith proclaimed that they were “Manufactured by Daniel Jeackes & Com. at Providence, warranted pure, and free from any Adulteration.” As Patrick notes, the materials for making spermaceti candles were rare compared to tallow or beeswax candles, which made them more expensive for consumers and introduced the possibility that chandlers had diluted the materials during the production process. To ward off any such suspicions, Smith named the manufacturers, Daniel Jeackes and Company, giving prospective customers the opportunity to assess their reputation for themselves. Even if readers were not already familiar with spermaceti candles produced by Jeackes and Company, Smith offered a warranty that they were “pure, and free from any Adulteration.” Presumably this was also a marketing strategy that Jeackes and Company deployed when they supplied Smith with the candles.

This sort of strategy was a common element of advertisements for spermaceti candles in eighteenth-century newspapers. On the same day that Smith’s advertisement ran in Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, another advertisement for “Sperma-Caeti Candles” appeared in the Boston Weekly News-Letter. It simply stated that the candles were “Warranted pure,” acknowledging the concerns of consumers but not providing nearly as much detail. Smith provided more powerful reassurances by naming the chandlers and commenting on the purity of the candles at greater length. He made those qualities, rather than the candles themselves, the centerpiece of his advertisement.

December 11

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (December 8, 1768).
New-England FLOUR MUSTARD … superior in Strength and Flavor to any IMPORTED.”

Although he carried some imported goods at his store on Dock Square in Boston, Thomas Walley emphasized locally produced goods in his advertisement in the December 8, 1768, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. Indeed, even the headline in a larger font than most of the rest of his advertisement proclaimed that many of his wares had local origins: “New-England Flour of Mustard.” Ever since learning of the Townshend Act and new duties placed on certain imported goods, colonists in Boston and throughout Massachusetts had vowed to limit their purchases of English goods as a means of protest. This coincided with concerns about an imbalance of trade that favored Britain over the colonies, prompting interest in encouraging “domestic manufactures” whenever possible as alternatives to imported goods. Some advertisers explicitly promoted the politics of consumption, but others made such arguments implicitly, realizing that declarations that their wares had been produced in the colonies would resonate with prospective customers already primed to recognize the political meanings of their decisions as consumers.

Still, advertisers like Walley made it clear that customers did not have to sacrifice quality for their principles. For most of the “domestic manufactures” in his advertisement, he included some sort of explanation concerning its quality. The “much-admired New-England FLOUR MUSTARD,” for instance, had been “found by repeated Trials of the best Judges to be superior in Strength and Flavor to any IMPORTED.” Walley did not provide further details about these “best Judges,” but he did offer assurances that this product was not unknown or new to the market. Customers could purchase it with confidence that others had already enjoyed and endorsed it. When it came to “PIGTAIL TOBACCO” and “Choice SNUFF,” Walley indicated that his inventory “manufactured in Boston” met the same standards as a well-known brand. The tobacco was “equal to Kippin’s” and the snuff “equal to Kippen’s best.” Similarly, Walley sold “STARCH, manufactured in Boston” that was “the best Sort” and “equal to [imports from] Poland,” known for their quality. Readers may have greeted such proclamations with skepticism, but such assurances may have helped to convince prospective customers to give these products a chance. Walley did not allow the political ramifications of consumer choices to stand alone in marketing his wares. Instead, he paired politics and quality to enhance the appeal of several “domestic manufactures” he made available to consumers in Boston.

October 13

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

Oct 13 - 10:13:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (October 13, 1768).
“All Persons shall be as well served by Letter as if present.”

In the late 1760s Joshua Blanchard operated a “Wine-Cellar near the Market” in Boston. He sold “Choice Sterling Madeira … and all other Sorts of Wine” in a variety of quantities, “by the Pipe, Quarter-Cask, or in Bottles by the Groce or Dozen” or any other measure “as may suit the Buyer.” In addition, he also sold “West India and New-England Rum.” Transporting, repackaging, and selling wine and spirits required special skills and attention compared to textiles, housewares, hardware, and many other imported goods frequently promoted in newspaper advertisements. To that end, Blanchard informed prospective customers of the care exhibited in distributing his wine in the marketplace.

Blanchard envisioned several sorts of customers. He addressed “Gentlemen of the Town, Masters of Vessels, and all Persons going abroad,” promising them that he offered the “best Kinds” of wine. He also assured prospective customers about the packaging, noting that they “may depend on having their Wine put up in the best Manner.” There was no need to worry about spilling or spoiling that resulted from the work undertaken at Blanchard’s wine cellar to transfer wine from its original casks to new bottles or barrels of various sizes. Blanchard’s emphasis on quality extended beyond the product itself; it included his efforts in distributing the wine.

In addition to serving customers in the busy port, Blanchard invited “Gentlemen in the Country, Inn-keepers, and all other Persons” to send orders to his wine cellar. Transactions did not need to take place face to face. Instead, customers “shall be as well served by Letter as if present.” In other words, Blanchard provided a form of mail order service. That made his attention to quality an even more important marketing appeal. He first needed to assure prospective customers that his wine and rum would survive transport without incident before presenting the option of delivering it in response to orders placed in letters. Blanchard underscored “Care & Fidelity” in the second half of his advertisement, in relation to his work as a broker, but that phrase also applied to treatment of the products that passed through his wine cellar as well.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 25, 1768).

“Superior to any imported from Europe, for strength, evenness, fineness and cheapness.”

Consumers in Philadelphia had access to vast arrays of imported goods in the late 1760s, but Abraham Shelley, a “THREAD-MAKER, in Lombard-street, near the New-Market,” sought to convince readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette to purchase thread produced in his workshop. He offered a variety of merchandise: “all sorts of fine coloured threads, housewife and stocking ditto.” Prospective buyers did not need to fear that Shelley’s thread lacked in quality when compared to imported alternatives. Instead, he proclaimed, his thread was “superior to any imported from Europe” in a variety of ways: “for strength, evenness, fineness and cheapness.” This was due in part to the skill of the hands who worked in Shelley’s shop; they had been “bred to the business,” acquiring knowledge and experience of the trade over time.

As evidence of the quality of his thread, Shelley informed prospective customers that unscrupulous characters had attempted to pass off other threads as his own, an attempt to benefit from his reputation that had the potential to damage it by distributing inferior goods. He reported “that formerly some persons in this city bought threads at vendue, and sold them as [Shelley’s] manufacture.” To prevent further deceptions, he clarified that “all his sewing threads are made up 18 threads in each skane, and 65 inches round.” Those purchasing from third parties could confirm the specifications for themselves.

This was especially important since Shelley did not intend to undertake retailing the thread produced in his workshop himself. Instead, he invited “merchants and shopkeepers of this city, and towns adjacent” to purchase his thread in volume for resale in their stores and shops. His commentary on the “character of his goods” targeted not only end users but also middlemen and –women who distributed consumer goods to their own customers. Their livelihoods depended on stocking wares that those who visited their shops found satisfactory. Shelley assured them that they would not experience difficulty selling his threads or complaints after making sales. When it came to thread, retailers were accustomed to dealing in imported goods that arrived in shipments with textiles, ribbons, buttons, and other adornments for apparel, but Shelley encouraged them to invest in locally produced threads instead. The high quality of the thread from his shop minimized the risk of purchasing it for retail.