What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THOMAS HALE … undertakes the Business of hanging Bells through all the Apartments of Houses.”
Thomas Hale, a carpenter, turned to the advertising pages of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to announce that he “undertakes the Business of hanging Bells through all the Apartments of Houses.” Appropriately, he adorned his notice with a woodcut depicting a bell. Somewhat crude compared to other woodcuts that sometimes appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers, Hale’s bell served its purpose of drawing attention to his advertisement. It was the only visual image on the page, as well as the only woodcut that accompanied any advertisement in the July 27, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, making Hale’s notice difficult to overlook.
When woodcuts did accompany advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, they often replicated familiar shop signs and promoted businesses operated by colonists already well known to many readers and potential customers. That was not the case, however, for Thomas Hale. He noted that he was “LATELY from London” and so recently arrived in Philadelphia as to be considered a “Stranger” (for which he offered assurances of his integrity to anyone who contemplated hiring him). As a newcomer to the city, as someone attempting to find his footing and establish his business, Hale needed to increase the likelihood that possible patrons would notice his advertisement among the dozens of others published in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Including an image offered one way to distinguish his notice from so many others that consisted exclusively of text on a densely formatted page.
This woodcut did not confirm Hale’s “Integrity” or the quality of his work, but it did demonstrate to potential customers that the carpenter was conscientious and thoughtful. Placing the advertisement was one of the first steps in establishing a clientele that could also yield further business via word-of-mouth recommendations. Accordingly, readers willing to take a chance on Hale could reasonably expect that he would exert the same care in hanging bells and other tasks that he devoted to designing his newspapers notices, his first introduction to the residents of Philadelphia.
Hale advertised that he installed “Bells through all the Apartments of Houses,” bells intended to alert residents when someone desired their attention. His own woodcut of a bell figuratively rang loudly, announcing his presence and demanding the attention of potential customers.