May 1

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

May 1 - 5:1:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 1, 1766).

“It will be stamped on the cork with black letters.”

This advertisement caught my eye for two reasons. When he informed potential customers that his “BOTTLED BEER … will be stamped on the cork with black letters,” Timothy Matlack branded his product. He made it easy to distinguish his beer from any competitors at a glance. He also created a mechanism for his product to be recognized or identified long after it left his store on Fourth Street and found its way into public and private spaces in and around Philadelphia. Branding is an important element of modern advertising, a core component of a product’s and a business’s identity, but it is not an invention of modern advertising executives. Some eighteenth-century entrepreneurs experimented with various ways to mark and identify their wares.

May 1 - Timothy Matlack
Timothy Matlack (Charles Willson Peale, ca. 1790).  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This advertisement also caught my eye because of the advertiser himself, Timothy Matlack. Many of the advertisers featured here are fairly anonymous today, having left behind very few documents from their lives. Others played fairly prominent roles in their communities during their lifetimes, leaving sufficient documentation to be traced, to greater or lesser degrees, by historians.

Timothy Matlack, however, was a man of prominence in eighteenth-century America. At least one biographer has chronicled his life as a brewer and politician during the American Revolution. Though he is not as famous today as Samuel Adams, another brewer and popular revolutionary leader, Matlack has entered popular culture as the answer to one of the riddles in the film National Treasure.   While much of the history is that movie is more than suspect, Matlack did indeed engross (write the official copy of) THE Declaration of Independence. His master penmanship lives on, not only in the Declaration of Independence but also in several modern typefaces inspired or influenced by his handwriting.

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