What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THOMAS HALE … CONTINUES to hang BELLS.”
When Thomas Hale, a carpenter, arrived in Philadelphia from London in the late 1760s, he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advise prospective customers that he “undertakers the Business of hanging Bells through all the Apartments of Houses.” A woodcut depicting a bell adorned his advertisement. Hale acknowledged that he was “a Stranger” in the city, but asserted that “any Person can be credibly assured of his Integrity.”
Hale was no longer “a Stranger” when he inserted a similar advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet in January 1773. He reminded readers that he “CONTINUES to hang BELLS through all the apartments of houses, in the most neat and lasting manner.” He once again adorned his advertisement with an image of a bell, likely the same woodcut from his advertisement in 1767. Hale sought a return on his initial investment in commissioning the woodcut, using it to draw attention to his notice. Elsewhere in the January 11 edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, an image of a ship in the masthead was the only other image. The bell certainly distinguished Hale’s advertisement from others. The two-page supplement that accompanied that issue featured two woodcuts, both of them stock images of runaway indentured servants provided by the printer. Among the merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who placed notices, Hale was the only advertiser who incorporated an image, humble through it was, directly linked to the business he operated.
If it was the same woodcut that Hale used in his advertisement more than half a decade earlier, that suggests that he collected it from the printing office and retained possession of it after he discontinued his previous advertisement. The same week that he advertised in the Pennsylvania Packet he also ran an advertisement with identical copy but no image in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the newspaper that previously carried his advertisement with the woodcut of the bell. Including an image enhanced an advertisement, but when Hale opted to advertise in more than one newspaper, he had to make a choice about which one should feature the image … or invest in a second woodcut. He apparently did not consider the image so essential to his business that he needed to make the additional investment. It was one of several choices that he made when budgeting for marketing, including the length of his advertisement and where to publish it. For instance, he did not insert it in the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, or the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, the other newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time. With limited resources to devote to marketing, Hale decided to get more use out of the woodcut in one newspaper and supplement that advertisement with a notice in a second newspaper.