GUEST CURATOR: Maia Campbell
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“ANCHORS, Manufactured in AMERICA, … cheaper than any other Person can, or will, sell.”
Competition among vendors is certainly not exclusive to our time period, as this advertisement demonstrates. Charles Wharton used two main tactics to grasp the attention of his audience and potential customers, which would have been composed of mainly merchants and sailors. The marketing logic that he used appealed to American pride by mentioning that his anchors were made on home soil (which was especially important considering colonists’ feelings about British products and the Stamp Act), and it also speaks to frugality by proudly proclaiming that his prices are lower than anyone else’s.
The middle section of Wharton’s advertisement is rather assertive. Not only does he say no other person “can” match his prices, but he also writes that no other person “will” match his prices. I suppose, however, that modern advertisers do the same thing. In advocating for a product, advertisers have to be to some extent bold and brutal, willing to convince the public that their product is better at any cost.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
As Maia suggests, competition among vendors could be intense in the colonial era, especially in the larger port cities with growing populations and multiple newspapers disseminating messages aimed at consumers. Today’s advertisement came from the Pennsylvania Gazette, arguably the most successful, most significant, and most famous newspaper printed in America in the eighteenth century. It gained prominence under the direction of Benjamin Franklin (though in April 1766 it was operated by David Hall, his junior partner who took over the printing business many years earlier when Franklin retired to pursue other endeavors), making it the newspaper most recognized by general audiences in addition to scholars of early America, print culture, and journalism.
The Pennsylvania Gazette was so successful that it regularly distributed issues comprised of six pages in 1766. All of the other newspapers consulted for the Adverts 250 Project published only four pages per issue, though some occasionally printed a supplement or extraordinary halfsheet. The first and final pages were printed on one side of a broadsheet, the second and third pages on the other side, and then it was folded in half to create a four-page issue.
The Pennsylvania Gazette did the same, but included an additional halfsheet inserted in the issue. Although this gave the Pennsylvania Gazette half again as much space for content, in general most of that extra space was not devoted to news. Instead, it allowed for greater numbers of advertisements. The first four pages included approximately the same balance of news and advertising as in other newspapers, but the halfsheet was often filled exclusively with advertising, as was the case in the issue that included today’s advertisement. That commercial notice appeared on the first page, among several other advertisements, underscoring Maia’s argument: “competition among vendors is certainly not exclusive to our time period.”