What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“SICKLES, ready prepared for the Harvest.”
As summer approached in 1770, James Hendricks announced to readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that he had “ONE HUNDRED and Twenty DOZEN of SICKLES, ready prepared for the Harvest.” Hendricks volunteered his location, “the Sign of the Sickle, the 4th Door above the Prison, in Market-street,” and made some of the standard appeals that colonial artisans incorporated into their advertisements. He emphasized the skill that went into producing his wares, asserting that “these Sickles are carefully made.” He made an appeal to price, declaring that the sickles “will be sold at the lowest Rates.” He also highlighted the quality of the sickles, proclaiming that they were “ensured to be good.” While Hendricks might have considered that a guarantee, he did not explicitly state that he would repair or replace defective items, a strategy sometimes adopted by artisans as a means of testifying to quality.
The most significant attribute, certainly the most visible, of Hendrick’s advertisement, however, may very well have been the woodcut depicting a sickle. It accounted for half of the space that the advertisement occupied on the page. Given that advertisers paid by the amount space rather than the number of words, including this visual image doubled the cost of the advertisement. In addition, Hendricks commissioned the woodcut. That expense more than doubled the cost of running his notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Yet this distinguished his advertisement from others that appeared on the same page and throughout the rest of the issue. In the June 7 edition, only one other advertisement featured a visual image. A woodcut of a ship at sea adorned an advertisement for a vessel preparing to sail for London. The other advertisements consisted entirely of text, most of them dense paragraphs that did not have anywhere near the amount of white space that made Hendrick’s sickle especially noticeable in contrast. While this woodcut may not seem elaborate to modern eyes, eighteenth-century readers could not have overlooked it when perusing the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Hendricks used the visual image to draw attention to the copy of his advertisement, the brief description of his wares and recitation of some of the most common marketing appeals.