What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
When Richard Dickinson and William Turpin, chocolate makers, marketed their product in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in March 1772, they adorned their advertisement with a woodcut depicting two men conversing while holding cups that presumably held the beverage they sold. Compared to most other images incorporated into newspaper advertisements in the 1770s, their woodcut likely seemed clumsy to readers. On the other hand, including an image in their advertisement at all distinguished it from other notices.
Advertisements filled eleven of the twelve columns in the standard issue published on March 3. The printer, Charles Crouch, also distributed a half sheet supplement comprised entirely of advertising. In total, the standard issue and the supplement carried 126 advertisements, but only nineteen of them featured any sort of visual image. Eleven real estate advertisements included images of houses. Another had a more elaborate scene of two houses, trees, and a fence dividing fields. Six advertisements offering rewards for enslaved people who liberated themselves included woodcuts depicting a dark-skinned figure running. An image of a vessel at sea accompanied a notice about a ship departing for Bristol. All of those woodcuts belonged to the printer. Almost every printer who published a newspaper in the colonies had stock images of houses, ships, horses, and enslaved people to insert into advertisements.
The image of two figures conversing while drinking cups of chocolate in Dickinson and Turpin’s advertisement was the only woodcut commissioned by the advertisers in that edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its supplement. Dozens of other advertisers refrained from creating and including images that depicted their products, their shop signs, or anything else. As a result, Dickinson and Turpin’s unique image likely drew even more attention since it competed only with familiar woodcuts that readers encountered in every issue as the printer recycled them from advertisement to advertisements. In the copy for their advertisement, the chocolate makers proclaimed that consumers considered their chocolate “much superior to any other made here or imported.” Some prospective customers likely noticed that bold claim because the image in the advertisement, different from any other in the newspaper, caught their attention.