What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Large and neat Assortment of Windsor Chairs.”
A woodcut depicting a Windsor chair dominated Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement in the Supplement to the New-York Journal published on November 10, 1768. In that regard, his advertisement deviated significantly from the vast majority of paid notices placed in newspapers throughout the colonies. Most advertisements consisted entirely of text unaccompanied by images, in part because woodcuts required an additional investment. Printers did provide some woodcuts that advertisers could insert in their notices, but they were limited to a narrow selection. The selection was usually limited to depictions of ships, houses, horses, slaves, and runaways (servants and slaves). They were used interchangeably. For instance, a real estate advertisement could incorporate any woodcut depicting a house; the details of the woodcut did not necessarily correspond to the description of the house offered in the copy.
When advertisers desired to include images that represented their shop signs or, as was the case with Hampton, their merchandise, they could not draw from stock images provided by printers. Instead, they incurred the additional expense of commissioning woodcuts that then belonged exclusively to them. Not only did those images not accompany any other advertisements in a particular publication, advertisers could collect them and submit them from the printing office and submit them for inclusion in advertisements they placed in competing newspapers.
Even though it appears to have been damaged as the result of repeated impressions on a hand-operated press, the woodcut depicting a Windsor chair in Hampton’s advertisement would have drawn attention. Except for the masthead, no images appeared in the standard issue of the New-York Journal distributed on November 10, 1768. The supplement included only two images, Hampston’s Windsor chair and the elaborate frame that enclosed Gerardus Duyckinck’s list of goods he sold “At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.” That frame incorporated both a looking glass and a druggist pot.
Some advertisements deployed typography or ornamental printing to distinguish them from others, yet they still consisted entirely of text and type. Including a woodcut helped some advertisers to even further differentiate their notices as a means of drawing attention to the goods and services they offered to prospective customers.