What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A quantity of large and small silver work.”
In the fall of 1772, John David, a goldsmith, placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette to inform prospective customers that he recently imported a “Neat Assortment of JEWELLERY” as well as a “quantity of large and small silver work.” To entice consumers, he provided some examples of the merchandise they would find at his shop near the drawbridge in Philadelphia. The jewelry included “paste shoe, knee, and stock buckles,” “stone sleeve buttons, of different sorts,” “coral necklaces,” and “very neat paste and garnet ear-rings.” He also stocked “silver soup and punch ladles” and “silver and steel top thimbles.” He pledged that he would “dispose of” these goods “on the most reasonable terms,” leveraging price in his effort to attract customers.
David used an image of a silver teapot to draw attention to his advertisement. The woodcut occupied the left third of his advertisement, accounting for a significant amount of the space he purchased in the Pennsylvania Gazette. In addition, he paid to have the image created for his exclusive use. Of the fifty advertisements that appeared in the October 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, only four included an image. The other three all used stock images of ships at sea in notices that alerted readers of ships seeking passengers and freight. The printer provided those familiar woodcuts. In contrast, David made special arrangements for his image of a silver teapot, an image not previously seen by readers of any of the newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.
The use of images commissioned by advertisers seemed to accelerate in the early 1770s compared to their frequency in newspapers in earlier decades, especially newspapers published in major urban ports. As merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and other entrepreneurs experimented with marketing strategies, a growing number decided that visual images augmented advertising copy. Images commissioned for the exclusive use of particular advertisers remained relatively rare compared to the overall volume of advertising, due to both cost and technology, yet more advertisers decided to enhance their newspaper notices with images that replicated their shop signs or depicted their merchandise.