GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Windsor Chairs made in the best and neatest Manner.”
The most striking aspect of this advertisement is the use of an image to sell “A Large and neat Assortment of Windsor Chairs.” Often, illustrations were not included in eighteenth-century newspapers, neither with news nor with advertisements. It was most common to see small symbols for incoming ships or runaway slaves. Larger images for consumer goods were rare. The image of the chair in Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement catches viewers’ attention and makes them more susceptible to buying the piece of furniture.
In fact, there was a multi-step process for including an image in an advertisement. According to Colonial Williamsburg’s overview of the trade, being a printer was “among the most labor intensive” professions. In order to produce newspapers using the printing press, printers worked long days on hand-operated presses. Including an image tacked on more labor. There were two important types of employees who worked for the printer, the compositor and the pressman, William Parks, a printer in Virginia in the eighteenth century, wrote, “The Compositor is he who arranges the Letters and makes up the Forms; the Pressman only works at the Press, takes off the Impression, and requires no other Qualification than Strength and a little Practice.” Publishing newspapers called for collaboration, cooperation, and time. It is quite impressive how printers, compositors, and pressmen repeated these processes each day, in order to publish newspapers and other printed materials.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Chloe is correct the woodcut depicting a Windsor chair distinguished Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement from others that appeared on the same page issue. Very few visual images appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers. Even fewer unique images directly correlated to the content of advertisements appeared, in part because of the time and, especially, expense required to incorporate them. Woodcuts were also fragile; they broke or wore down over time. The missing arm on Hampton’s Windsor chair was not a printing error. The arm was also missing when the same woodcut accompanied an advertisement placed four months earlier.
To demonstrate that images like Hampton’s Windsor chair were not a standard part of advertisements or other content in eighteenth-century newspapers, consider the newspapers published on March 2, 1769. The Boston Chronicle did not include any visual images, not even in the masthead. The Boston Weekly New-Letter did not include any visual images, neither in the standard issue nor in the supplement that accompanied it. Richard Draper disseminated the Massachusetts Gazette with the Boston Weekly News-Letter, printing them on the same broadsheet. The Massachusetts Gazette did include a visual image in the masthead, the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, but no others elsewhere in the newspaper. The New-York Journal included six visual images spread over the six pages of the regular issue and the supplement. In addition to the royal arms in the masthead, five advertisements incorporated images: Hampston’s Windsor chair, two ships in advertisements for freight and passage, and two houses in advertisements for real estate. The Pennsylvania Gazette did not include any visual images among the news items and advertisements, but did feature the coat of arms of the Penn family in the masthead. The Pennsylvania Journal also had an image in its masthead, though it drew on different iconography than the other newspaper printers deployed. It showed a Native American and Britannia flanking a ship and the Journal itself. An advertisement for freight and passage also incorporated a woodcut of a ship.
The South-Carolina Gazette included by far the most visual images, fifteen in all. In addition to the royal arms in the masthead, an image of a ship and a man on horseback heading toward town, each representing the circulation of information, preceded the first news item. One advertisement passage and freight included an image of a ship. Three advertisements for real estate included images of houses. Three advertisements for stallions to “cover” mares included images of houses. Four advertisements describing escaped slaves included generic images of the runaways, woodcuts that could have been used interchangeably since they did not depict any particular person. In that issue of the South-Carolina Gazette, printer Peter Timothy displayed the four woodcuts that commonly supplemented type in colonial newspapers: horses, houses, ships, and runaways. The South-Carolina Gazette included one unique image that decorated an advertisement for consumer goods and services. Jonathan Sarrazin decorated his advertisement for “JEWELLERY & PLATE” with a woodcut of teapot. Sarrazin used that image so often that it became his brand. Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette likely recognized it on sight.
This census of visual images in newspapers published on March 2, 1769, further illustrates the argument that Chloe advanced in her analysis of Hampton’s advertisement. Woodcuts were indeed rare and usually limited to only a few standard symbols. Hampton’s image of a Windsor chair was certainly exceptional. He apparently considered it an important element of his marketing, continuing to use it even after it had been damaged.