What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He proposes to affix his Name on the Heads of all his Bolts, rolling Screens, and Fans.”
In the summer of 1772, John Sellers of Darby placed advertisements promoting “VARIOUS Kinds of Wire Work” in the Pennsylvania Gazette. He made and sold “rolling Screens for cleaning Wheat,” “rolling Screens for cleaning Flaxseed from the yellow or wild Seed,” “small Bolts for separating the Cockle from the Flaxseed,” and “common Dutch Fans” for separating wheat from chaff.
Sellers presented a variety of reasons that readers in need of any of those devices should purchase them from him. He promised that customers who “favour him with their Orders, may depend on their Work being done with Care,” reiterating a description of his products as “made in the neatest and best Manner.” He also offered a guarantee, stating that “the Work [is] Warranted. Furthermore, Sellers drew on long experience as an artisan who met the expectations of his clients. He was “not pretending to perform that which he has not, in a great Number of Instance, given the utmost Satisfaction.” Over time, he made “upwards of 50 rolling Screens for Wheat, and upwards of 70 for Flaxseed,” establishing his reputation.
Sellers did not expect prospective customers to visit his workshop in Darby, six miles away from Philadelphia, to examine his products or purchase them. Instead, “for the Conveniency of his Customers,” he arranged to have them on display “in Plumsted’s Stores, in Philadelphia.” Sellers instructed to customers to ask for John Brown to handle sales. For those who wished to confer with the artisan directly, he advised that he “attends generally twice a Week, in Philadelphia.” Anyone interested in contacting him directly could do so by “leaving a Line at the Conestogoe Waggon, in Market-street, or sending by the Post.”
To attract notice to the various appeals he deployed in the copy of his advertisement, Sellers adorned it with a woodcut depicting one of the rolling screens he constructed. He commissioned that image at least five years earlier, having included it in an advertisement that ran in the Pennsylvania Gazette in September 1767. Just as sellers aimed to make his newspaper notice distinctive, he also marked the items he made in his workshop. He informed his customers that he “affix[ed] his Name on the Heads of all his Bolts, rolling Screens, and Fans.” That demonstrated pride in his craft while also marketing his products every time someone encountered his name on this equipment after it left his workshop. Sellers did not limit his marketing strategy to describing his products. Instead, he used distinctive marks to draw attention, both an image in his newspaper advertisement and his name branding his bolts, screens, and fans.