December 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Peterson

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

Boston-Gazette (December 2, 1771).

“POTASH Kettles.”

Smith and Atkinson advertised “POTASH KETTLES” and “EUROPEAN and INDIA GOODS” in the Boston Gazetteon December 2, 1771. The combination of potash kettles and imported goods in their advertisement give insight about life during this time. Potash, a chemical compound made from burning trees, was an important commodity produced in colonial America. As William I. Roberts III explains, “Potash, or pot-ashes, as contemporaries called it, was the principal industrial chemical of the eighteenth century, being essential in the production of crown or flint glass, soft soap, various drugs and dyes, and saltpetre.”[1] As Roberts suggests, potash was a very important chemical during this era, one used in many different everyday items.  Colonists produced and exported this commodity. Potash helped colonists make money.  In turn, producing potash helped them participate in the consumer revolution. Colonists used the money they earned from selling a material used to make other goods, like glass and soap, to purchase the imported goods that Smith and Atkinson advertised.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

When selecting an advertisement about potash kettles, Lizzie had several options.  She ultimately chose the advertisement that best illuminated themes from readings and discussions about commerce and consumption in early America in our Research Methods class at Assumption University in Spring 2021.  Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement does indeed demonstrate both production and consumption in eighteenth-century America, distinguishing it from other advertisements about potash kettles that ran in the same issue of the Boston-Gazette.

Note that Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement was nestled between and advertisement for “Pot-Ash Kettles” placed by Benjamin Andrews, Jr., and another for “POT-ASH KETTLES” by Joseph Webb.  Those three notices accounted for most of the middle column on the front page of the December 2, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, prominently placed where readers would likely notice them.  Each advertisement encouraged American industry, noting that the kettles had been cast at forges in several towns in New England.  In turn, buyers would use the kettles to produce potash to export.  As Lizzie notes, they could use the proceeds to participate in the consumer revolution, purchasing the “EUROPEAN and INDIA GOODS” that Smith and Atkinson so prominently promoted in their advertisement.  Andrews also mentioned “a small assortment of English Goods” on hand at his shop, but Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement most visibly establishes the relationship between production and consumption in early America.

Colonists encountered the same advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on the same day it ran in the Boston-Gazette.  All three newspapers ran other advertisements by merchants and shopkeepers who listed an array of merchandise – textiles, housewares, hardware – that they imported and sold.  Colonists who acquired their potash kettles from Smith and Atkinson had many other options beyond the “large and general assortment of EUROPEAN and INDIA GOODS” stocked by Smith and Atkinson.  The widespread encouragement to consume imported goods that appeared in advertisements in all three newspapers buttressed Smith and Atkinson’s notice that balanced production and consumption.

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[1] William I. Roberts III, “American Potash Manufacture before the American Revolution,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 116, no. 5 (October 1972): 383.

 

November 24

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (November 22, 1771).

“Proper Allowances made to those that sell again.”

Numerous merchants and shopkeepers regularly placed advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter as well as the other newspaper published in Boston in the early 1770s.  While the shopkeepers aimed their notices at consumers, some merchants address both retailers and consumers.  William Bant, for instance, stocked a “large and general Assortment of GOODS … to sell by Wholesale and Retail.”  Not every advertiser identified their intended customers so explicitly; some instead made more specific appeals that invited both retailers and consumers to purchase their merchandise.

John Adams and Company advertised a “complete Assortment of Cream-colour’d China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware” as well as groceries and a “small Assortment of English Goods” available at their shop near the Old South Meeting House.  Adams and Company informed prospective buyers that they sold their wares “very low for Cash – with proper Allowances made to those that sell again.”  In other words, retailers who bought in volume received discounts.  Similarly, William Bant concluded his extensive advertisement that listed dozens of items with a nota bene that alerted “Traders and Shopkeepers” that they “may be supplied with Assortments of the foregoing Articles, upon as good Terms, as at any Store in Town.”  Bant hoped to entice retailers by offering to match the prices set by his competitors.

In another advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Smith and Atkinson made it clear that they intended to deal with retailers exclusively.  They acquired a “Large and General Assortment of European and India Goods … on the very best Terms,” allowing them to sell their merchandise “(by Wholesale only) at such Prices as shall give full Satisfaction to those in Town and Country who purchase their Assortments here.”  In addition, they encouraged retailers who imported goods on their own to supplement their inventories and “compleat their Assortments” by selecting from among the items Smith and Atkinson had on hand.

Readers encountered numerous advertisements for consumer goods in just about every issue of newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s.  Merchants and shopkeepers hoping to sell directly to consumers placed the majority of those advertisements, but not all of them.  William Bant, John Adams and Company, and Smith and Atkinson were among the many merchants who sold imported goods wholesale, designing marketing materials aimed at retailers rather than consumers.

April 9

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 9, 1770).

“A small Assortment of English Goods.”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson placed an advertisement offering cash for “POT and PEARL ASH” in the April 9, 1770, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  In that same advertisement they offered for sale a “small Assortment of English Goods.”  They did not confine themselves to advertising in the Boston Evening-Post alone.  That same day they inserted the same advertisement in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Later in the week, their advertisement also ran in the April 12 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, the Boston Chronicle was the only one that did not carry Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement.

Even though they attempted to increase the number of readers who would see their advertisement, they may have declined to place it in the Chronicle for a couple of reasons.  Politics may have played a part:  the Chronicle had earned a much-deserved reputation as a Loyalist newspaper.  Smith and Atkinson may not have wished to be associated with the newspaper or its printers.  The potential return on their investment may have also influenced their decision.  The Chronicle ran far fewer advertisements than any of the other newspapers published in Boston, suggesting that it likely had fewer readers.  Smith and Atkinson may not have considered inserting their advertisement in the Chronicle worth the expense.

In addition, the political argument they made in their advertisement would not have fit the Chronicle’s outlook and reputation.  Smith and Atkinson carefully specified that their English goods had been “imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants.”  They abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of duties assessed on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea.  They suggested that consumers should abide by the agreement as well, grafting politics onto decisions about their participation in the marketplace.  The Chronicle, on the other hand, devoted significant effort to accusing patriot leaders and merchants of secretly cheating on the nonimportation agreement and misleading their customers and the public.

When Smith and Atkinson decided to advertise in most of Boston’s newspapers, they likely had more than one motivation for doing so.  They did not necessarily seek merely to attract customers for their goods.  Their strategy allowed them to widely publicize that they abided by the political principles adopted by most of their community, enhancing their reputation among readers even if those readers did not become customers.

March 29

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

Mar 29 - 3:29:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 29, 1770).

“A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants).”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson offered cash for “Merchantable POTT & PEARL ASH” as well as “inferior Qualities of Pott Ash, and Black Salts” in an advertisement in the March 29, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  They also inserted a nota bene to inform prospective customers that they had for sale a “Small Assortment of English Goods,” asserting that merchandise had been “imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants.”  In other words, Smith and Atkinson acquired their wares before the merchants and traders in Boston vowed not to import goods from Britain as a means of protesting duties levied on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts.  Smith and Atkinson sought to assure prospective customers that they abided by the boycott, but they also hoped to testify to all readers of the News-Letter and, by extension, the entire community that they put into practice the prevailing political principles.

By the end of March 1770 this was a common refrain in newspaper advertisements, especially those published in Boston but also others in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia as well as smaller towns.  The Adverts 250 Project regularly features such advertisements to demonstrate how widespread they became in the late 1760s and 1770s.  While it might be tempting to suspect that a couple advertisements that promoted adhering to the nonimportation agreement were not representative of a marketing strategy widely adopted by merchants and shopkeepers, broader attention to the vast assortment of advertisements that noted compliance should make it more difficult to dismiss any of them as mere outliers.  Not all advertisements for consumer goods and services published in the late 1760s and early 1770s made mention of nonimportation agreements.  Not even a majority did so, but a significant minority did.  Such advertisements appeared so frequently in colonial newspapers that readers must have become familiar with the efforts of merchants and shopkeepers to link their merchandise to protests of Parliamentary overreach.