What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“DUTCH FANS, upon different constructions.”
Yesterday’s entry featured an advertisement for “ROLLING SCREENS for Cleaning Wheat or Flax-seed” placed in the July 18, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal by Christian Fiss. That advertisement was notable for the image that accompanied it, a woodcut depicting a winnowing fan (better known as a “DUTCH FAN” in the eighteenth century) for separating the wheat from the chaff. Printers provided several stock images of ships, horses, houses, indentured servants, and enslaved people for advertisers to incorporate into their notices, but not other images with more limited usage. Instead, advertisers like Fiss commissioned woodcuts specific to their businesses when they wanted to draw greater attention to their newspaper notices.
At the same time that Fiss included an image of a winnowing fan in an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, one of his competitors, Robert Parrish, pursued the same strategy in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Fiss divided the space in his advertisement more or less evenly between image and text, but Parrish devoted more space to images than to his description of the “various kinds of wire work” he made. In addition to a woodcut depicting a winnowing fan, he included a second woodcut of a rolling screen. That represented even greater expense for his marketing efforts, but Parrish presumably believed that investing in such images would result in more sales and the woodcuts would pay for themselves in the end.
Parrish previously included his woodcut depicting a winnowing fan in an advertisement in the October 29, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. He may have chosen to resume running advertisements that included that image upon seeing Fiss publish advertisements with a similar image. Having made the initial investment, he did not want to lose any advantage once a competitor commissioned a woodcut of his own. Not long after that, he collected his woodcuts from the Pennsylvania Chronicle and delivered them to the Pennsylvania Gazette to include in an advertisement with identical copy on October 15. Unlike the stock images that printers provided, such specialized images belonged to the advertisers, who could choose to insert them in more than one newspaper. Parrish sought to increase the exposure, achieve a greater return on his investment, and ward off a rival by inserting the images in more than one newspaper.