What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JONATHAN SARRAZIN, JEWELLER.”
Jonathan Sarrazin once again placed his advertisement for “a LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE” in the January 8, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, continuing a series that originated in that newspaper in early December 1767. The same advertisement, including a woodcut depicting a fashionable teapot, also appeared in another newspaper published in Charleston, the South Carolina Gazette.
Last week I examined some of the difficulties in tracing Sarrazin’s marketing efforts in the face of an incomplete archive. Missing or inaccessible issues make it impossible to definitively document when and how often advertisers placed newspaper notices. Today I offer some comments on another challenge inherent in working with surrogates, whether photographs, microfilm, or digital databases, rather than original sources.
A woodcut of a teapot did indeed accompany Sarrazin’s advertisement in both newspapers that carried his notice. Was it the same woodcut? Or was it two separate woodcuts that closely resembled each other? Seemingly trivial at first glance, the answer offers important insights into the effort and expense Sarrazin invested in advertising as well as the business practices of the printers of the newspapers.
Careful examination of the images in the South Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette suggests that Sarrazin did commission two separate woodcuts. However due to imperfect remediation, via photography and digitization, it is impossible to definitively state that Sarrazin had two nearly identical woodcuts of an ornate teapot, even thought the visual evidence indicates that was most likely the case.
Accepting that assumption leads to certain conclusions. Along with the copy for his advertisement, Sarrazin submitted a woodcut to the printing office for each newspaper. Acquiring two woodcuts meant that the jeweler incurred greater costs. It also eliminated any need for Sarrazin to shuttle a single woodcut back and forth between printing offices, carefully coordinating with the printers and their production schedules. It also eliminated the possible need for printers to engage in any sort of cooperation required for incorporating a single woodcut into multiple publications. Had Sarrazin commissioned only one woodcut, publishing it in two newspapers would have necessitated greater coordination between advertiser and printer and perhaps even cooperation between competing printers.
The available evidence suggests the most likely circumstances, but examination of the original sources would allow for a much more forceful assertion. Digitized sources tell much of the story, but they are not exhaustive in the clues about the past they reveal. Accurately telling the most complete story of the past requires using digitized and original sources in combination.