What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A considerable number of rolling screens for cleansing wheat.”
John Sellers and Richard Truman both advertised their “SCREENS for cleaning all sorts of Grain” in the August 20, 1767, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Truman devoted more than half of the space in his notice to a woodcut depicting a machine that used one of the screens he made. This strategy likely garnered a fair amount of attention since visual images were relatively rare in eighteenth-century newspapers; even the most humble woodcuts distinguished the advertisements they adorned from the vast majority of others.
Sellers purchased the same amount of space, but, like most advertisers, densely filled it with text. He used that space to develop two marketing strategies: an appeal to unparalleled expertise in his field and roll call of existing customers who could testify to his abilities and their experience using the screens he made.
Sellers not only “MADES and sold” screens for cleaning flaxseed and wheat, he claimed to be “the original inventor and institutor of that branch of business in America.” Furthermore, he protected his trade secrets by not sharing his techniques with anyone else. As evidence that former customers recognized the quality and utility of his “wire work of all sorts,” Sellers argued that he had made “all the wire boults used in the cities of Philadelphia and New-York” as well as a “considerable number” of rolling screens akin to those advertised by Truman. Due to his “long experience” and status as “the best master of the work,” he believed that he was “best intitled” to the patronage of those who needed to purchase such equipment.
Potential customers did not need to take Sellers’ word. Instead, he listed eight associates in Philadelphia and another eight in New York, encouraging readers to enquire of them for further endorsements. Realizing that consumers would rightfully be skeptical of what amount to nothing more than braggadocio, Sellers made it possible for them to independently verify his claims by speaking with satisfied customers.
Without a woodcut decorating his advertisement, John Sellers instead worked to convince potential customers of the superiority of his product over others marketed and sold by his competitors. Richard Truman’s advertisement was rudimentary in comparison. It included an eye-catching visual image, but did little beyond announcing that he sold fans and screens for cleaning grains. In contrast, Sellers explained why customers should prefer the products he made and sold. In addition, he directed them to satisfied customers who could speak authoritatively about his screens.