Reflections from Guest Curator Zachary Dubreuil

Working on this project taught me to dig deeper into the colonial and revolutionary times and how people lived their lives. Sometimes I just skim the surface of my research and brush by the key parts. This project allowed me to do more research. This project also gave me the opportunity to go to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, and use their databases to look at the newspapers and other documents. These newspapers showed me different items that were used in colonial and revolutionary times that we do not usually use today. For example, my first entry about potash threw me a curve ball because I had never heard about something like that. When I did further research, I learned that it was used to make soap and other items. Along with that, the colonists were consumers who purchased the potash kettles and coolers. Then they were integrated into the whole consumer revolution. This broadened my spectrum of consumer culture.

When looking into newspapers from colonial and revolutionary times, I also learned more about slavery. The Slavery Adverts 250 Project made me realize that enslaved men, women, and children had more of a story than what was pictured. When I was searching through the newspapers I was shocked to see the volume of advertisements that were about slaves. Within some of the southern newspapers, there were dozens of advertisements that had to do with slaves. Those advertisements engulfed much of the newspaper. That shows that slavery was an important part of society and that the slave trade was a huge business during colonial and revolutionary times. Also, the variety of advertisements that had to do with slavery was different from what I had known before working on this project. At first, I thought they would only mention people trying to sell slaves. In reality, a lot of newspaper advertisements talked about runaway slaves as well as selling slaves that had particular skills that made them more valuable and huge quantities of slaves that were brought to the colonies. The Slavery Adverts 250 Project showed me that by looking at these newspapers we could compile a more complete story about these enslaved people.

The Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project constantly challenged me. In the beginning, I thought it would be a breeze. However, it proved to be quite difficult because with each advertisement I had to pull a specific detail. I am used to looking at the broader picture and describing it. So, I had to come at this project differently than most other college projects. I had to constantly revise because I would look at more than one detail and lose track of what I was writing about. Also, finding sources was a challenge because I had to find sources that were credible and not something that someone just threw up online with no facts included. I had to search for sources that had enough information that I could relate it to the advertisement. I think the best part about this project was learning more about how the people lived in colonial and revolutionary society and to see the different services that were offered at that time. This is different than many other projects that I have done in college because it allowed me to do the research on whatever advertisements I wanted and to go into depth with them. Some college projects only touch the surface. It was also cool to see all the people that come to this website from different countries because it makes my work even more important. I hope that with my time at Assumption College I can do another project like this one because it had taught me so much.

Reflections from Guest Curator Luke DiCicco

This project really helped me expand my knowledge about American life during the Revolutionary period and how important print culture really was. I came into this class thinking it was going to be just like some other history classes I have taken, a class with lectures the most of the time and writing down everything the professor said and then repeating it all back on either an exam or an essay. However, this course is obviously not like those classes and that made me a little skeptical at first. I didn’t know what to expect of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. I wasn’t a fan of them when I first started working on them. However, as I got deeper and deeper into the projects, I started to come across things that I never thought I’d learn and realized that this project was teaching me things about Revolutionary America that I had never thought were important before. For example, when we started talking about newspapers and the role they played during this time, I rolled my eyes because I thought it would be boring and unhelpful. Learning about how newspapers, and especially advertisements, helped with the exchange and passing along of information was actually interesting and gave me a newfound respect for print culture altogether.

This project is very unique and challenged me in ways that I had never been challenged before. It wasn’t a project that I could do in just one night. It’s a project that I had to start early and continuously work on as the weeks progressed. I had to actually think about what I wanted to include and I got to pick what I wanted to write about, which I thought was cool because I rarely get to pick my own topic for an assignment. Reading all of the advertisements and seeing how different they were from advertisements in newspapers today was really cool. Once I chose my advertisements and started to write about them for the project, that was when I was really challenged. Every advertisement is different, so I had to find something intriguing about every advertisement and write about it. I felt pressure because I knew that this would be published and a lot of people were going to see it so I felt that I needed to pay attention to every detail and make sure that it was as well put together as possible. After I was done with all of my advertisements for the week, I felt a sense of accomplishment because I knew my work was going to be published. It was cool to see my work published online for a project of this magnitude and also to see people’s reaction to the work I had done. I have never done anything like this before and it was gratifying to see how many people across the world look at this project and see the effort that I have put into my work. When I look back on the project now, it was not as hard as I thought it was going to be, but it still challenged me and made me step outside my comfort zone. I am happy that I got to do this project because of the sense of accomplishment that it brought me and because of the lessons that I have learned while working on it.

Reflections from Guest Curator Olivia Burke

In the twenty-first century, many people, including myself, skim over advertisements that appear in newspapers or magazines and oftentimes find them annoying. Before partaking in this project, I had little experience with interpreting advertisements nor had I given much thought to advertisements in the eighteenth century. However, as I dove into this project, I quickly began to recognize the importance of these advertisements as manifestations of culture in the eighteenth century.

In that period, print culture was an important aspect of society that I was able to see firsthand in the Adverts 250 Project. Newspapers were one of the colonists’ primary basis for communication with each other. In looking at them in the twenty-first century, they serve as a methodology in learning about everyday life in the American colonies in 1769 and the era of the American Revolution more generally. Analyzing advertisements from the newspapers printed in the colonies in 1769 improved my interpretation skills but also gave me a primary source glimpse into colonial life.

The Adverts 250 Project allowed me to “do” history. I had to not only read and understand the variety of advertisements that were printed, but I also had to do background research from credible sources to be able to get an inside look at the significance of the advertisements at this time. I took data from digital databases, primary sources, and secondary sources to be able to research and analyze each advertisement and then make it available to a variety of public audiences. Research to gain a full understanding of the topic was crucial, but I also had to keep in mind that this is a public history project. Picking advertisements that would be interesting to the general public was important. Because many others view this project daily, correct information and insightful analysis was crucial. An example of how this project allowed me to do history was the advertisement for a paint store I analyzed on March 4. In today’s society, anyone can buy a $30 can of paint and color their house white, red, blue, or tan without much thought. However, back in the eighteenth century, paint was expensive and certain colors were only available to the wealthy. It is important to look at these advertisements with an eye focused on the culture of the eighteenth century and how it differs from the twenty-first century and be able to relay that to the public.

Carl Robert Keyes and Olivia Burke examining eighteenth-century newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society. (Courtesy Assumption College Office of Communications)

I was able to go to the American Antiquarian Society to access their databases and see original editions of some of these newspapers with my own eyes. Students at Assumption College are blessed to be so close to the Antiquarian Society, where I was able to access the largest collection of early American newspapers in the world. Thanks to this research library, I was able to contribute to the Adverts 250 Project by using their collections to get a more complete view of American culture in the eighteenth century.

One of my favorite parts about this project was really digging deep into certain subjects. I used outside sources to be able to fully analyze and understand the cultural importance that a short advertisement can provide. For example, the advertisement I analyzed on March 7 was about flour of mustard. An archeological study of mustard bottles found at a Loyalist homestead in Canada showed the shift from imported British goods to goods grown and sold in the colonies and, eventually, the new nation. The advertisement proudly states “The best New-England Flour of Mustard.” Through this advertisement, we see the important shift from reliance of British goods to the colonies attempting to become more self-sustaining. However, this was also one of the most difficult aspects of the project. There are so many avenues that I could research in each ad that sometimes it was difficult to choose what part I wanted to analyze.

This brings us to another important aspect of the Adverts 250 Project that I loved.   Advertisements were a window into an emerging pride and nationalism in colonial America. As the colonists become more connected with each other through print culture, including newspaper advertisements, thoughts about revolution began to swirl. As I mentioned earlier with the mustard advertisement, colonists were trying to become self-sufficient and did not want to rely on Britain for everything. This is exhibited in advertisements in the eighteenth century newspapers that I was able to explore in the Adverts 250 Project.

The Adverts 250 Project got me thinking: in 250 years will historians look back to our society now and analyze the advertisements in our newspapers and other media? What will they tell future researchers about the early twenty-first century? Overall, this project enriched my understanding of the products and services that people in the colonial and Revolutionary periods relied upon. We can see their needs on a day-to-day basis. I was able to participate in writing history by asking the question: “why does this matter?” With each advertisement I interpreted, I was able to go deeper and discover different aspects of colonial society. I am fortunate to be able to participate in the Adverts 250 Project this semester and I hope to be able to work with Professor Keyes again in the future.

Reflections from Guest Curator Chloe Amour

During my time as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, I learned a great deal about what it means to dive into history. From retrieving dozens of colonial newspapers from 1769 to wisely selecting advertisements to dissect, I was able to jump into the daily life of colonists. Prior to working on this project, my knowledge of colonial America was solely based on high school textbooks, documentary clips, and some pre-selected additional readings. It was a change of pace to use more advanced historical skills to gain a deeper understanding of consumer culture and advertising in print culture. I was no longer just reading a summary of historical facts; I was “doing history” in a way that allowed myself to go beyond the text. By using primary sources, I was able to apply critical thinking skills to analyze various advertisements. It was fascinating to see which goods were sought after, such as chairs, sugar, flour of mustard, and textiles. Amongst the goods, there were also advertisements for slaves and other services which appealed to colonists. The most interesting I found was the advertisement for hair styling – self-image was valued back then too! Adding to that, it is even more interesting how prevalent and important the printed newspaper was. The newspapers contributed to the uproar of advertising, which I was able to see through this first-hand experience. Today, people rarely read a printed copy of the news – social media makes it way easier to keep up with the news via smartphones or tablets. Diving into the realm of historical research was an experience that enhanced my analytical skills. I gained a deeper appreciation for history, too.

Initially the biggest challenge I faced was how to find the meaning behind each advertisement. With varying lengths, it did not appear that some had too much to grapple with. At a glance, the brief words made me think I would struggle to make connections to Revolutionary America. However, during my time working on the project, I was able to gain the skills necessary to interpret advertisements. Now, I am able to look at a brief advertisement and go beyond the surface to learn about colonial society. It’s exciting to explore the symbolic meanings, which encapsulates the purpose of historical research. There are so many aspects to look at closely and make connections that highlight the advertisement. Having read through several newspapers, it was interesting to see the trends in consumer goods in advertisements all the way from Connecticut to Georgia. The complex demand for slaves as well as consumer goods varied yet shed light on the differences in the colonies. My main takeaway from the research was that the desire to hold a British identity was universal. Advertising “London goods” attracted colonists longing to uphold ties to the Crown. This speaks on the values, everyday life, and culture of colonial America, which had not yet pulled away from Britain in 1769.

One of my favorite aspects of the project was conducting research with scholarly articles to find additional information on colonial and revolutionary America. Using online databases to find journal articles was a bit of trial and error as I tired various keyword searches to find just the right supplementary source. I liked being able to connect the colonial advertisements to some other aspect of lifestyles and politics. I have furthered my knowledge in regard to using scholarly sources, which I look forward to applying in future historical research.

It was rewarding to carry out historical research to contribute to the Adverts 250 Project. I learned a great deal about the colonists’ desire to be identified as British, which influenced consumer culture. Through my work on the project, I have a greater sense of appreciation for advertisements, and the realm of marketing, as it has the ability to strongly influence society. I am still in a bit of awe that newspapers are recovered from 250 years ago. Having those readily available, with online databases, makes history that much more accessible and intriguing. As I continue my studies in the field of history, I strive to continue to find unique sources that give further insights on different periods of history. It was a pleasure to present my remarks on such interesting advertisements throughout the week, and I hope I am able to return as guest curator in the future.

 

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 30 (January 19 Old Style) in 1749.  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

isaiah_thomas1818
Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831). American Antiquarian Society.

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

jan-30-worcerster-magazine-april-1786
Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

jan-30-advertising-wrapper-worcester-magazine-4th-week-may-1786
Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 270th birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

**********

[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

Happy Birthday, Mathew Carey!

Though Benjamin Franklin is often considered the patron saint of American advertising in the popular press, I believe that his efforts pale in comparison to the contributions made by Mathew Carey (1760-1839) in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Franklin is rightly credited with experimenting with the appearance of newspaper advertising, mixing font styles and sizes in the advertisements that helped to make him a prosperous printer, but Mathew Carey introduced and popularized an even broader assortment of advertising innovations, ranging from inventive appeals that targeted potential consumers to a variety of new media to networks for effectively distributing advertising materials. In the process, his efforts played an important role in the development of American capitalism by enlarging markets for the materials sold by printers, booksellers, and publishers as well as a host of other goods marketed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who eventually adopted many of Carey’s innovative advertising methods. Mathew Carey will probably never displace Benjamin Franklin as the founder of American advertising in the popular imagination, but scholars of early American history and culture should recognize his role as the most important leader in eighteenth-century advertising among the many other activities and accomplishments of his long career in business and public life.

mathew_carey_by_john_neagle_1825
Mathew Carey (January 28, 1760 – September 16, 1839). Portrait by John Neagle, 1825. Library Company of Philadelphia.

Carey’s efforts as an advertiser were enmeshed within transatlantic networks of print and commerce. Though he did not invent the advertising wrapper printed on blue paper that accompanied magazines in the eighteenth century, he effectively utilized this medium to an extent not previously seen in America, Ireland, or the English provinces outside of London. The wrappers distributed with his American Museum (1787-1792) comprised the most extensive collection of advertising associated with any magazine published in North America in the eighteenth century, both in terms of the numbers of advertisements and the diversity of occupations represented in those advertisements. In Carey’s hands, the American Museum became a vehicle for distributing advertising media: inserts that included trade cards, subscription notices, testimonials, and book catalogues in addition to the wrappers themselves.

Located at the hub of a network of printers and booksellers, Carey advocated the use of a variety of advertising materials, some for consumption by the general public and others for use exclusively within the book trade. Subscription notices and book catalogues, for instance, could stimulate demand among potential customers, but exchange catalogues were intended for printers and booksellers to manage their inventory and enlarge their markets by trading surplus copies of books, pamphlets, and other printed goods. Working with members of this network also facilitated placing advertisements for new publications in the most popular newspapers published in distant towns and cities.

Carey also participated in the development of advertising appeals designed to stimulate demand among consumers in eighteenth-century America. He targeted specific readers by stressing the refinement associated with some of his publications, while simultaneously speaking to general audiences by emphasizing the patriotism and virtue associated with purchasing either books about American history, especially the events of the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, or books published in America. In his advertising, Carey invoked a patriotic politics of consumption that suggested that the success of the republican experiment depended not only on virtuous activity in the realm of politics but also on the decisions consumers made in the marketplace.

For my money, Carey is indeed the father of American advertising.  Happy 259th birthday, Mathew Carey!

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

benjamin-franklin
Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-19-161736
Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling slaves as well as notices offering rewards for runaways.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-slave-19-161736
An advertisement for slaves from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

general-magazine
General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 313th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 30 (January 19 Old Style) in 1749.  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

isaiah_thomas1818
Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831). American Antiquarian Society.

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

jan-30-worcerster-magazine-april-1786
Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

jan-30-advertising-wrapper-worcester-magazine-4th-week-may-1786
Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 269th birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

**********

[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

Happy Birthday, Mathew Carey!

Though Benjamin Franklin is often considered the patron saint of American advertising in the popular press, I believe that his efforts pale in comparison to the contributions made by Mathew Carey (1760-1839) in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Franklin is rightly credited with experimenting with the appearance of newspaper advertising, mixing font styles and sizes in the advertisements that helped to make him a prosperous printer, but Mathew Carey introduced and popularized an even broader assortment of advertising innovations, ranging from inventive appeals that targeted potential consumers to a variety of new media to networks for effectively distributing advertising materials. In the process, his efforts played an important role in the development of American capitalism by enlarging markets for the materials sold by printers, booksellers, and publishers as well as a host of other goods marketed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who eventually adopted many of Carey’s innovative advertising methods. Mathew Carey will probably never displace Benjamin Franklin as the founder of American advertising in the popular imagination, but scholars of early American history and culture should recognize his role as the most important leader in eighteenth-century advertising among the many other activities and accomplishments of his long career in business and public life.

mathew_carey_by_john_neagle_1825
Mathew Carey (January 28, 1760 – September 16, 1839). Portrait by John Neagle, 1825. Library Company of Philadelphia.

Carey’s efforts as an advertiser were enmeshed within transatlantic networks of print and commerce. Though he did not invent the advertising wrapper printed on blue paper that accompanied magazines in the eighteenth century, he effectively utilized this medium to an extent not previously seen in America, Ireland, or the English provinces outside of London. The wrappers distributed with his American Museum (1787-1792) comprised the most extensive collection of advertising associated with any magazine published in North America in the eighteenth century, both in terms of the numbers of advertisements and the diversity of occupations represented in those advertisements. In Carey’s hands, the American Museum became a vehicle for distributing advertising media: inserts that included trade cards, subscription notices, testimonials, and book catalogues in addition to the wrappers themselves.

Located at the hub of a network of printers and booksellers, Carey advocated the use of a variety of advertising materials, some for consumption by the general public and others for use exclusively within the book trade. Subscription notices and book catalogues, for instance, could stimulate demand among potential customers, but exchange catalogues were intended for printers and booksellers to manage their inventory and enlarge their markets by trading surplus copies of books, pamphlets, and other printed goods. Working with members of this network also facilitated placing advertisements for new publications in the most popular newspapers published in distant towns and cities.

Carey also participated in the development of advertising appeals designed to stimulate demand among consumers in eighteenth-century America. He targeted specific readers by stressing the refinement associated with some of his publications, while simultaneously speaking to general audiences by emphasizing the patriotism and virtue associated with purchasing either books about American history, especially the events of the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, or books published in America. In his advertising, Carey invoked a patriotic politics of consumption that suggested that the success of the republican experiment depended not only on virtuous activity in the realm of politics but also on the decisions consumers made in the marketplace.

For my money, Carey is indeed the father of American advertising.  Happy 258th birthday, Mathew Carey!

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston.  Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.”  Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well.  Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

benjamin-franklin
Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729.  In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention.  Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-19-161736
Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising.  Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade.  The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling slaves as well as notices offering rewards for runaways.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-slave-19-161736
An advertisement for slaves from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies).  The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

general-magazine
General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries.  This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741).  Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising.  Happy 312th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!