March 11

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Newport Mercury (March 11, 1769).

“JOSEPH BELCHER … makes and sells Pewter Ware.”

In this advertisement Joseph Belcher attempted to sell “Pewter Ware” as cheap as he possibly could. Belcher mentions his business and how he is trying to keep it operating at a high capacity alongside managing his “Brazier and Founders Business.” He was a very busy artisan. I think that Belcher may have been selling his goods at such a good price in an attempt to convince colonists to buy American goods and not British goods while the Townshend Acts were in effect. The colonists wanted to boycott British goods and attempt to hurt the British economy and force them to weaken their grip on the colonies. They thought that the British would recall their taxes if colonists did not buy their goods and purchasing local items was the best way to do it. Consider the amount of pewter imported into the colonies: three hundred tons of pewter in the 1760s. Between 1720 and 1767 the value of pewter imported to the colonies “was greater than that of all silver, tinware, and furniture imported in the same years.” Many colonists may have considered the pewter that Belcher “makes and sells” preferable to imported goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In his advertisement in the March 11, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Joseph Belcher of Newport positioned himself as a regional purveyor of “Pewter Ware.” Belcher inserted the same advertisement in the March 6 edition of the Newport Mercury, calling on local customers to patronize his shop. When they had the option of advertising in one or more newspapers printed in their own towns, most merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans chose to confine their marketing efforts to those publications. Belcher’s decision to place his advertisement in both the Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette deviated from the common practice of the period.

As Luke notes, Belcher made appeals to both price and quantity. He sold his wares “Wholesale and Retail,” indicating that he welcomed customers who planned to stock his pewter in their own shops as well as end-use consumers who selected items for their own homes. He not only offered low prices but also pledged that his customers could acquire his products “as cheap as can be bought in Boston, or elsewhere.” His prices were not low merely in comparison to those charged by local competitors in Newport, nor in comparison to competitors throughout Rhode Island. Instead, Belcher placed himself in competition with suppliers of pewter in Boston and, presumably, New York. Entrepreneurs who placed advertisements in newspapers published in Rhode Island and Connecticut sometimes made comparisons to both cities, assuring their prospective customers that they did not need to send away to the much larger port cities to gain access to the best deals.

Like other colonial newspapers, both the Providence Gazette and the Newport Mercury circulated far beyond the towns where they were printed. From his shop on Thames Street in Newport, Belcher encouraged consumers in Providence and other places to submit orders by letter, stating that they “may depend on being as well used as if present.” Commerce and consumption did not require face-to-face interactions; instead, advertisements and letters facilitated the acquisition of goods in colonial America. Combining low prices, orders by letter, and advertising in newspapers published in more than one town, Belcher created a marketing strategy designed to extend his share of the market for pewter far beyond the town where he operated his shop.