January 29

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

Supplement to the New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

WILLIAM HAWXHURST, HAS lately erected a Finer and great hammer, for refining the Sterling pig iron, into bar.”

By the end of January 1767 William Hawxhurst had been placing this advertisement – with its detailed woodcut – in the New-York Journal for several weeks. The woodcut depicts a furnace “for refining he Sterling pig iron, into bar” surrounded by five workers undertaking several tasks. To the right, three pack animals seems to be loaded with supplies to deliver to Hawxhurst. With the exception of the stock images in notices for slave auctions or runaway slaves and indentured servants, few woodcuts in eighteenth-century advertisements depicted people. Andrew Gautier’s advertisement in the same issue of the New-York Journal, for instance, included a woodcut of a Windsor chair, giving potential customers a glimpse of the product offered for sale rather than the artisan who produced it. Hawxhurst testified to the industriousness of American colonists by showing men at work.

Hawxhurst also offered assurances about his domestically produced iron and the array of products made from it. He promised “reasonable terms” and a “considerable abatement … to those that purchase quantities.” He also offered a guarantee, pledging that his hammers and anvils were “warranted for three months (or any reasonable time).” In addition, “the castings will also be warranted to stand the fire any reasonable time.” He even compared his iron goods he produced favorably to any “imported … from Europe,” stating customers could purchase from him “at a lower rate.” Hawxhurst combined an image of American industriousness with guarantees about the quality of his merchandise and comparisons to the prices of European imports as he encouraged potential customers to purchase items manufactured locally. Although he did not make any explicitly political comments in his advertisement, these attributes fit within marketing discourses developed by the first generation of advertisers who adopted “Buy American” campaigns during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution.

As an aside, I am pleased to finally share this advertisement with readers of the Adverts 250 Project. The woodcut has drawn my attention, as it must have drawn the attention of eighteenth-century readers, every time it appeared in the New-York Journal. However, no previous iterations of this advertisement included an image of the woodcut clear enough to merit inclusion in the project. For the 1760s, it was an exceptionally detailed image, one executed by an artist of modest abilities. Between the original printing and poor photography much later, the woodcut often appears as a dark square in the digitized surrogates available to modern historians. I made a deliberate decision not to examine this advertisement until it featured an image that did justice to the original woodcut.

For more on William Hawxhurst’s advertising efforts, see his public dispute with competitor Daniel Offley in Philadelphia.

August 7

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

Aug 7 - 8:7:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 7, 1766).

“HAVING lately seen and advertisement … which not only aims at discrediting certain Anchors …”

William Hawxhurst of New York placed an extensive advertisement in response to the charges Daniel Offley made about the anchors sold in Philadelphia in an equally extensive advertisement that appeared in an earlier issue of the Pennsylvania Journal.

Hawxhurst reiterated some of the claims Offley made and then set about dismantling them via a point-by-point rebuttal. He did so not only to defend his own reputation and the quality of the product he sold, but also as “a piece of justice I owe to the public.” Potential customers, Hawxhurst asserted, would benefit once he set the record straight; they deserved to be as well-informed as possible by the producers and suppliers of the goods they contemplated purchasing.

Hawxhurst addressed the process of making anchors, especially forging the necessary iron, in some detail, perhaps exceeding the technical knowledge of most readers of the Pennsylvania Journal (but maybe not that of those most likely to purchase anchors). On the other hand, he then mobilized appeals that any reader would understand.

Rather than choose between “assertions” made by either advertiser, Hawxhurst preferred “to appeal to experience, as a more satisfactory voucher to the public.” To that he end, he proclaimed, “Certain it is, that my iron has gained a high reputation for its purity, both in England and America.” Furthermore, the smith who made Hawxhurst’s iron into anchors had been at the trade longer than Offley. Experience mattered. In addition, Hawxhurst’s ironworks had “furnished anchors for sale at Boston, New-Hampshire, Bermuda, South-Carolina, Virginia, and Jamaica” in addition to New York. Furthermore, he had received no complaints but instead had “heard much of their goodness and superior excellency.” Finally, Hawxhurst had always offered the same sorts of guarantees that Offley promoted, so customers would not gain any advantage by purchasing from them.

Offley had publicly stated that he would refuse to repair any anchors purchased from competitors. Hawxhurst made it clear what he thought of that ploy: “I give the public assurance, that in case of any such accident, my friend in Philadelphia, has orders upon the return of the anchors so failing, or such part of it as remains, to supply another in its stead; so that Mr. Offley may not only be saved the trouble of amending them, but deprived of the pleasure of refusing it.”

Hawxhurst stated that he had “no design to injure” Offley, but found it necessary to “remove the objections and difficulties, which [Offley] has thrown out, with more art, perhaps, than truth.” Both his reputation and his business were at stake, warranting a response that filled approximately two-thirds of a column. Most eighteenth-century advertisers promoted their own products without mentioning competitors, but occasionally some advanced their own businesses by disparaging others.

BONUS: Daniel Offley published a response of a similar length. In the August 7, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Journal, Offley’s advertisement appeared on the first page and Hawxhurst’s on the final page.

Aug 7 - 8:7:1766 Offley Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 7, 1766).