January 11

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

Jan 11 - 1:11:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (January 11, 1768).

“Whatever Tobacco is sold by the Subscriber, has only the Marks B.M. on the Papers.”

Blaze Moore, a tobacconist in New York, had created a reputation for himself among consumers in the city. He had done so well that a competitor attempted to horn in on his success, passing off other tobacco as Moore’s. This prompted Moore to insert an advertisement in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy to warn customers about the subterfuge perpetrated against him and, ultimately, against them as well.

Moore had practiced his trade in New York “for several Years past.” In that time, he had “acquired some Credit with his Tobacco,” establishing a reputation based on “his Care and Skill.” Proud of his work and not wanting it mistaken for that of any other tobacconist, he packaged it in tobacco papers marked with his initials, “B.M.” To some extent, he created a trademark intended to make it easy to identify his tobacco.

Yet that attempt to market tobacco that came from his workshop presented an opportunity for counterfeiting his product. Moore reported that other tobacconists had “manufactured and sold their Tobacco, with the Marks M.B.” and were “imposing it on the Publick” as his product. By switching the order of the initials, the counterfeiters devised nearly indistinguishable packaging that could easily confuse and fool customers who did not carefully examine it before making their purchases.

Moore suspected two possible motives. The unknown tobacconists may have been “envying his Success” and desired a boost to their sales with the fraudulent packaging. That would have been harmful enough to Moore’s business, but another explanation had the potential to be even more damaging. The counterfeiters could have been “coveting to take away his Bread and Credit.” The spurious tobacco not only deprived Moore of sales but also endangered his reputation. Acquiring an inferior product could convince duped customers not to obtain Moore’s tobacco when they made subsequent purchases. The harm to his reputation extended beyond losing out on a single sale; it imperiled his livelihood.

To combat the bogus tobacco distributed as his own, Moore used an advertisement to caution “all concerned” that his tobacco “has only the Marks B.M. on the Papers, and any other Mark with a Pretence of its being [Moore’s], is an Imposture.” He did what he could to warn customers, but depended on their care and vigilance as consumers to protect his interests while simultaneously protecting their own as they avoided unsavory competitors’ attempts to fool them.

December 31

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

Dec 31 - 12:31:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (December 31, 1767).

“Every bar that leaves the forges for the future will be stamped.”

Curtis Grubb and Peter Grubb were the victims of counterfeiters! The Grubbs produced and sold bar iron, but someone was passing off an inferior product that masqueraded as bar iron that came from their forge. To address the situation, the Grubbs inserted an advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the December 31, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

In the process of describing how they had been “gros[s]ly imposed upon” by the impostors who peddled the fraudulent bar iron, the Grubbs also promoted the positive aspects of their own product. The bar iron falsely attributed to the Grubbs “was neither of so good a quality, nor so well drawn, as that which they have heretofore made, and do now make.” The spurious bar iron actually served as an endorsement of sorts: the counterfeiter and the unwitting buyers both acknowledged the quality of the Grubbs’ bar iron. The deception depended on the Grubbs having already established a reputation as producers of bar iron. The incident allowed them to further augment that reputation by publishing their tale in the public prints, positioning themselves as both victims and skilled producers of quality bar iron.

As a remedy to this imposition, the Grubbs devised a new means of protecting the stature of their product: “Notice is hereby given, that every bar that leaves the forges for the future will be stamped.” The Grubbs created a trademark for their bar iron; they literally marked their product to make it easily identifiable for customers who acquired it from third-party sellers. This modification benefited both producers and customers. Preventing further frauds meant that “the public [will] no longer [be] abused.” It also restored the reputation – or, as the Grubbs described it (twice), the “character” – of their bar iron.

When it came to counterfeit merchandise, eighteenth-century advertisements most often flagged the possibility of bogus patent medicines, but other products could also be imitated to the disadvantage of both the original producers and customers duped into buying something other than what they intended. In the case of bar iron, the Grubbs attempted to turn the situation to their advantage. They also devised a trademark that not only marketed their product but also helped to prevent similar incidents in the future.