October 10

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

New-York Journal (October 10, 1771).

“America is not necessarily obliged to import these articles.”

Many entrepreneurs launched “Buy American” campaigns before the thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain.  Advertisements that encouraged consumers to purchase “domestic manufactures” became a common sight in newspapers during the imperial crisis, increasing in number and frequency when the conflict intensified and receding, but not disappearing, when relations cooled.  During the Stamp Acts crisis, for instance, advertisers encouraged consumers to buy goods produced in the colonies.  They did so again while the nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Townshend Acts remained in effect.  Even when merchants resumed importing merchandise from England following the repeal of all of the duties except the one on tea, some advertisers continued their efforts to convince consumers to buy goods produced in the colonies.

Such was the case for snuff “MADE AND SOLD By GEORGE TRAILE” on Bowery Lane in New York.  Traile proclaimed that his snuff was “equal to any imported from Europe” and then outlined “the advantages which would evidently result to the Colonies from this branch of business, was it to meet proper encouragement.”  In other words, prospective customers had a duty to make good decisions that took into account the common good for the colonies when they purchased snuff.  He estimated that one in ten of the “three millions of people in British America” spent twenty shillings on snuff annually, calculating that amounted to “three hundred thousand pounds.”  Traile supposed that one-fifth of that amount represented profits for the importers, with the remainder “remitted yearly form this country never to return.”  That imbalance harmed the colonies and, especially, the livelihoods of colonists.  Traile concluded with a “Query” for consumers.  “Would it not be better,” he asked, “to save such an immense sum to the colonies, than to put sixty thousand pounds in the pockets of a few individuals by making that remittance?”  Here he identified another problem, at least from the perspective of an artisan who created goods for the market.  A relatively small number of merchants who imported snuff garnered the profits.  Consumers who purchased tobacco products funneled their money to merchants and the mother country rather than supporting colonists like Traile trying to make an honest living.

Traile declared that “America is not necessarily obliged to import” snuff “from any other country.”  Readers of the New-York Journal had it in their power as consumers to make other choices that would accrue benefits to the colonies and residents who supported local economies by producing domestic manufactures.

April 12

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

Apr 12 - 4:12:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (April 12, 1770).

“He purposes to pack it in Country made Pots.”

Richard Thompson, “the Manufacturer of TOBACCO and SNUFF at Blackensburg,” placed an advertisement for his ware in the April 12, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette.  He invited “Gentleman Merchants,” factors, and others to submit orders for wholesale purchases quickly or else risk missing out since “it is highly probable he may enter into such Engagements, as will effectually hinder his supplying them with the Quantities that may want.”  He also listed his various products for the benefit of both wholesale and retail customers: “plain Scotch, Rapee, Spanish, and high Toast Snuff, and many Sorts of those different Kinds.”

Thompson also devoted a portion of his advertisement to the packaging for his snuff, noting that out of necessity it might deviate from what consumers expected.  He anticipated that his “present Stock” of snuff bottles would run out, forcing him to “pack [his snuff] in Country made Pots.”  Although that was not the usual or preferred form of packaging, Thompson argued that it should not dissuade customers from acquiring his snuff.  He invoked current events to make his case to principled prospective customers.  “In these Tomes of Oppression, when Patriotism is the Theme of every Lover of his County,” he declared, “it is hoped that the Want of Bottles will be no Obstacle in the Sale of his Snuff.”  Thompson suggested that consumers should accept or even welcome a minor inconvenience if it meant purchasing goods produced in the colonies rather than imported from Britain.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the king gave royal assent to repealing duties on imported glass, paper, paint, and lead on the same day that Thompson’s advertisement first appeared in the Maryland Gazette, but colonists would not learn that news for many weeks.  For the moment, nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of the duties imposed in the Townshend Acts remained in effect, a powerful symbol for both merchants and consumers.  Like others who advertised domestic manufactures as alternatives to imported goods, Thompson offered yet another avenue for practicing politics in the marketplace by purchasing his snuff packed “in Country made Pots.”

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.

August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:21:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 21, 1769).

“These are Manufactures America can have within herself.”

When George Traile advertised his “Manufactory of Snuff and Tobacco” in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in August 1769, he provided a short history of his business. Formerly located in New Rochelle, the manufactory had recently moved “to the Snuff Mills in the Bowery” in New York. Traile promoted the quality of his snuff, but he also had an eye for current tastes that ventured far beyond the American colonies. He proclaimed that he made and sold “all Sorts of Rappee now in Vogue in Great-Britain and Ireland, France and Holland.” Local consumers could acquire the varieties of snuff currently in fashion in some of the most cosmopolitan places in the Atlantic world without having to import it!

That assertion served as the backbone of Traile’s advertisement. After making brief comments about quality and fashion, he devoted most of his advertisement to a lesson in politics. He likely assumed this strategy would resonate with colonists currently participating in nonimportation agreements as economic acts of resistance to the taxes on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea levied by the Townshend Acts. As far as his Traile’s tobacco was concerned, “These are Manufactures America can have within herself, as good and as cheap as they can be imported.” Customers did not need to sacrifice quality or pay higher prices when they allowed politics to guide their purchases.

Traile charged true patriots with a duty to buy his snuff: “the Encouragement of this Branch of Business in the Colonies, will be found an Object highly worth the Attention of every real Patriot.” Furthermore, “as the popular Prejudices to the Snuff of this Country, are pretty much subsided all over the Colonies, he flatters himself he will meet with that Encouragement the Quality of his Commodities shall deserve, from every well Wisher to America.” In other words, colonists near and far preferred snuff produced in the colonies, provided it was quality merchandise, so anybody who had the best interests of the colonies at heart should eagerly purchase Traile’s snuff since he endeavored to provide the best product available. This was not an insignificant matter. Traile asked prospective customers who counted themselves among “the thinking Part of Mankind” to consider the annual expenses for snuff incurred by “Three Millions of People now computed to be upon this Continent.” Traile presented a vision of each consumer acting separately yet contributing to a collective action in defense of the rights and liberties of the colonies. He encouraged concerned colonists to practice politics through their participating in the marketplace, purchasing the right tobacco from his manufactory in New York City.