January 24

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote (January 24, 1769).

All ADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper … are by him translated gratis.”

The Adverts 250 Project does not often feature advertisements placed in the Wochentliche Pennsylvania Staatsbote, not because they were any less prevalent in that newspaper than others but because I do not possess sufficient German language skills to incorporate that publication into the larger project. As a result, the overall project is indeed truncated because it rarely includes advertisements that ran in the newspaper published by Henry Miller (Johann Heinrich Müller) in Germantown, just outside of Philadelphia.

Miller sought to serve residents of the busy urban port and the surrounding region, whether or not they happened to speak or read German. He published the Wochentliche Pennsylvania Staatsbote almost entirely in German, with the exception of the final line of the masthead: “ALL ADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.” Miller made it possible for English-speaking merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans to promote consumer goods and services to their German-speaking neighbors, as well as others to publish paid notices that covered a range of purposes, from legal notices to advertisements about stray livestock. In addition to inserting their notices into the Wochentliche Pennsylvania Staatsbote, they could also have them “printed single” as broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, or other ephemera that came off printing presses in eighteenth-century America. To better encourage prospective advertisers to take advantage of this opportunity, Miller did not charge for an important part of the service. He did all of the translations for free.

This presents a new trajectory that scholars of advertising in early America could examine: how many advertisers that placed notices in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal inserted the same notices in the Wochentliche Pennsylvania Staatsbote? Were any types of notices most likely to appear in both English and German newspapers? For instance, did legal notices run in both English and German newspapers more frequently than advertisements for consumer goods and services? One of the pleasures of working on the Adverts 250 Project is that it often just as many new questions as existing questions that it answers.

Leave a Reply