What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Quantity of well made RIFLES.”
Thomas Palmer, a gunsmith, made several appeals to prospective customers in Philadelphia in the advertisement he placed in the March 31, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. He declared that his inventory included a wide selection, a “Quantity of well made RIFLES, of different Lengths and Sizes of Bores.” Palmer was so confident of the quality of those guns that he proclaimed that he “will insure to the Purchasers” that they were “as good and as handsomely fitted up as any made in America.” Consumers would not find better in Philadelphia or anywhere else in the colonies. In addition, the gunsmith “makes Fowling Pieces, of different Sizes, such as have been approved of by Gentlemen of this City.” Short of publishing testimonials from his clients, Palmer suggested that men with good reputations endorsed the guns produced in his workshop. In addition to making rifles and fowling pieces, he also “repairs old Guns in the most careful Manner.”
Palmer did not rely on advertising copy alone to market his services. Instead, he incorporated a visual image into his notice. A woodcut that may have replicated a sign that marked the gunsmith’s location adorned the advertisement, though the copy did not make reference to any sign at Palmer’s shop on “the North Side of Market-street, between Fourth and Fifth-streets.” On the other hand, Palmer may have considered it unnecessary to mention a sign in copy that appeared immediately below an image of a rifle and the words “THO: PALMER Gun Smith” enclosed within a double border. Residents of Philadelphia may have already been familiar with the sign and readers from beyond the city would have easily recognized it if they decided to visit Palmer’s shop. Whether or not Palmer displayed a sign at his shop on Market Street, the woodcut helped distinguish his advertisement from other content in the Pennsylvania Gazette, likely making it worth the investment. With the exception of the seal in the masthead, only one other image appeared in that issue. A stock image of a house ran with a real estate notice, but that lacked the same level of customization as the woodcut in Palmer’s advertisement. The gunsmith deployed text and image simultaneously in his efforts to engage prospective customers.