March 16

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Essex Gazette (March 16, 1773).

“At his APOTHECARY SHOP, at the Sign of the LION and MORTAR, in SALEM.”

Several advertisements in the March 16, 1773, edition of the Essex Gazette included references to visual devices that aided customers in identifying businesses as well as residents and visitors in navigating the streets of Salem.  Abraham Safford, for instance, advised readers that he recently opened a tavern “rendered conspicuous by an elegant Sign of KING GEORGE THE THIRD.”  Philip Godfrid Kast promoted medicines available at his apothecary shop “at the Sign of the LION and MORTAR.”  An advertisement for Jacob Hemet’s Essence of Peral and Pearl Dentifrice listed Nathaniel Dabney’s apothecary shop “at the Head of Hippocrates” as the local vendor for those products.  Even entrepreneurs who did not have their own signs made reference to well-known devices, as Stephen Higginson did when he directed prospective customers to his shop “opposite the King’s Arms Tavern.”  Newspapers published in other towns also carried advertisements that incorporated signs for the purposes of both marketing businesses and marking locations.

Most such visual markers disappeared long ago.  In many instances, newspaper advertisements provide the sole testimony to their presence in eighteenth-century cityscapes.  Some of those advertisements, however, also included depictions of the signs and other devices that marked the locations of shops and stores.  Dabney, for example, ran several advertisements that featured the Head of Hippocrates, a bust of the ancient Greek physician atop a column, that identified his shop.  Kast distributed another kind of advertisement, a trade card engraved by Nathaniel Hurd, that prominently displayed his shop sign, a lion grasping a large mortar, hanging from an ornate signpost.  Those images hint at some of the sights seen in Salem in the eighteenth century.  Given the number of signs and other devices mentioned in newspapers and depicted on trade cards, billheads, handbills, and other marketing materials, colonizers encountered a rich environment of visual images as they traversed the streets of their towns, especially in busy ports.

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