September 4

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

Sep 4 - 9:4:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 4, 1766).

“JAMES REYNOLDS, CARVER and GILDER, … UNDERTAKES to execute all the various Branches of Carving and Gilding.”

James Reynolds, a carver and gilder by trade, announced that he had “Just arrived from London” and set up shop in Philadelphia. He used an advertisement to launch his business in the colonies when he first arrived, but over the next two decades he continued to entice customers to engage his services via advertisements in Philadelphia’s newspapers.

He also passed down his skills in “the various Branches of Carving and Gilding, in the newest, neatest and genteelest Taste” to his sons, James Jr. and Henry. Over time, Reynolds and his sons specialized in selling looking glasses with decorative frames, though they continued to advertise that could be hired to perform the “various Branches” of their trade. In the 1790s the Reynolds brothers offered the same services their father had advertised thirty years earlier, using much of the same language of current and genteel fashions.

They did not, however, restrict their marketing to newspaper advertisements. They also affixed furniture labels to the items they sold “At their LOOKING-GLASS Store, No. 56, Market-street, PHILADELPHIA.” Eighteenth-century artisans, including cabinetmakers and closely affiliated occupations, experimented with various means of advertising the furniture they produced. Like shopkeepers, some distributed trade cards. Others marked their furniture in various ways, including signing, stamping, and branding or pasting labels. Such labels often took the form of miniature trade cards that incorporated copy directly from newspaper advertisements. Marking furniture in this way allowed artisans to continue to advertise their wares to customers long after completing sales.

Sep 4 - Reynolds Furniture Label
Furniture label affixed to looking glass (c. 1795). Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, Winterthur Library.

The elder Reynolds may have devised his own furniture label, though none have survived. His sons certainly labeled the looking glasses they sold as they reminded customers of the variety of goods and services they provided. They wanted to increase the likelihood that customers satisfied with their previous purchases would patronize their shop once again. For many eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, newspaper advertisements were only one aspect of their marketing strategies.

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