What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“James & Mathew Haslett … have set up their Factory at the Sign of the Buck and Glove.”
Relatively few artisans or shopkeepers included images in their newspaper advertisement during the eighteenth century. Although printers already possessed the type, advertisers were responsible for providing any woodcuts beyond the stock printers ornaments. As a result, most advertisements placed by artisans and shopkeepers lacked images. In contrast, advertisements for runaway slaves, real estate, and vessels clearing port often sported woodcuts of slaves, houses, or ships, respectively. Each type of those stock ornaments could be used interchangeably for advertisements from the associated genre.
On the other hand, when advertisements placed by artisans and shopkeepers included woodcuts, those images were specific to a particular advertiser. In most cases, the text of the advertisement suggested that the image illustrated the shop sign that marked the advertiser’s establishment. The woodcut in James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement even depicted a shop sign!
The visual culture of the newspaper corresponded to the scenes readers saw on the street. But how closely did these woodcuts replicate the shop signs they were intended to portray? It’s tempting to assume that they were designed to reproduce the original as much as possible, yet the woodcut in the Hasletts’ advertisement throws that supposition to question. The image that appeared in the September 12 issue was the second one used by the Hasletts. Just two weeks earlier they published the same advertisement with a different (but similar) woodcut, before replacing it in the September 4 and September 12 issues. (The woodcut did not appear in the New-Hampshire Gazette again after that throughout the rest of 1766.)
Why did the Hasletts switch from one woodcut to another? What kind of expenses were involved in that decision? Was including a woodcut in their advertisement worth the investment? Did the Hasletts distribute any handbills or billheads that incorporated the same woodcut? Did the new woodcut more closely replicate their actual shop sign?
Today’s advertisement offers some refreshing visual culture among eighteenth-century advertisements usually comprised exclusively of text. However, it also raises questions about the decisions made by advertisers and how closely the crude proto-logos that appeared in newspaper advertisement portrayed the shop signs they were supposed to reference.
While researching this entry, I consulted the original newspapers in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society in addition to the digital surrogates in Readex’s Early American Newspapers.