What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At the Sign of the Boot and Shoe.”
In an advertisement that ran in the September 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, boot- and shoemaker James Kedmon reported that he had “lately arrived from Europe” and opened a shop on Water Street in Philadelphia. The newcomer certainly knew how to make his presence known in the public prints. His advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a boot flanked by two shoes. The woodcut occupied approximately the same amount of space as the copy for Kedmon’s advertisement, representing a significant expense. In addition, the shoemaker had to commission the woodcut in the first place, but he apparently anticipated a return on his investment.
After all, this visual image distinguished his advertisement from all of the others that ran on the same page. None of them included visual images. Only two other images appeared elsewhere in the same issue. An advertisement on another page included a smaller woodcut that depicted a ship at sea, a stock image that would have belonged to the printers rather than being created for the exclusive use of an advertiser. Eighteenth-century readers regularly encountered multiple variations of such images of ships in a single issue of a newspaper. The masthead also included a familiar image inspired by William Penn’s coat of arms; it appeared in every issue. The September 7 edition, like every other, consisted almost entirely of text. As a result, readers’ eyes would have been drawn to the woodcut of the boot and shoes, a unique feature, when perusing the Pennsylvania Gazette.
A border enclosed that boot and shoes, transforming the woodcut into a depiction of a shop sign rather than just the merchandise Kedmon offered for sale. The shoemaker informed prospective customers that they could find him “at the Sign of the Boot and Shoe.” The woodcut may have faithfully replicated the sign that marked Kedmon’s shop; even if it did not, it suggests the type of images colonists would have seen as they traversed the streets of Philadelphia and other cities and towns. The consistent use of text and images invoking “the Sign of the Boot and Shoe” represented an eighteenth-century attempt at branding. Kedmon sought to make his presence in a new location known not only through newspaper advertisements but also through careful coordination with the images he displayed at his ship on Water Street. His newspaper advertisement with a striking woodcut was part of a larger campaign to attract customers.