What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
Isaac Greenwood may not have believed that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery when John Cutler decided to run advertisements adorned with a woodcut that closely replicated the image of genteel woman shaded by an umbrella that he had included in many of his advertisements for the past couple of years. Greenwood first used the image in May 1771 and continued incorporating it into his newspaper notices in 1772 and 1773. In the summer of 1773, he launched a new advertising campaign that featured the woodcut and the headline “NOT IMPORTED” to underscore that he made the “UMBRILLOES” he sold while simultaneously encouraging consumers to support domestic manufactures by choosing them over imported alternatives.
Cutler also made “Umbrilloes of all sorts for Ladies and Gentlemen … in the best Manner.” In addition, he “mended and covered” old umbrellas. As Greenwood’s latest advertisement with the image of the woman and umbrella appeared in supplement that accompanied the June 14 edition of the Boston-Gazette, Cutler debuted his strikingly similar woodcut in an advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post on the same day. He then took the rather extraordinary step of having the woodcut transferred to the printing offices of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in time to run in the June 17 edition. Such transfers continued for the next several weeks as Cutler increased the exposure for the image by inserting it in more than one newspaper.
Some prospective customers may have considered the woman depicted in Cutler’s advertisements more elegant than the one in Greenwood’s notices. Both wore necklaces. In the original image, the necklace hugged the woman’s chin, making it difficult to distinguish, while in the imitation the necklace hung lower on the woman’s neck and featured a pendant that enhanced it. The original image offered a view of the woman’s decolletage, while the imitation placed greater emphasis on embroidery and other adornments. The hairstyles differed as well. The woman in the original image wore a high roll, but some viewers may have mistaken it for a turban. In the imitation, the woman had her hair pile high upon her head, but the image suggested elaborate curls and even a tendril that hung below her right ear to frame her face.
In several ways, Cutler’s new image was superior to the familiar one that Greenwood had circulated for more than two years. Cutler could have chosen another image to represent his business in the public prints. After all, he advised prospective customers that he made umbrellas “at the Golden Cock, in Marlborough Street.” Some advertisers experimented with branding and logos in the late eighteenth century, consistently associating an image with their shops and their goods. Greenwood may not have been very happy that Cutler devised an image that so closely resembled the one that already represented his business.