What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THE extraordinary quality of this Oil will (he presumes) recommend it to all, who please to make trial of it.”
As November came to an end and the days continued getting shorter, Richard Wells took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal to advertise the “Fine Spermaceti LAMP OIL” that he “MANUFACTURED and SOLD … At his SPERMACETI WORKS” on Arch Street in Philadelphia. His short advertisement gave his location and declared that the “extraordinary quality of this Oil will (he presumes) recommend it to all, who please to make trial of it.” Customers who purchased a small quantity, Wells suggested, would be so satisfied that they would buy more.
Wells did not go into great detail about the “extraordinary quality” of his lamp oil, nor did he arrange for any sort of distinctive typography to call attention to his advertisement. In both newspapers, the format for the copy Wells submitted to the printing office followed the choices often made by the compositors when they set the type for advertisements. As a result, the version in the Pennsylvania Journal featured more variation in capitalization, font sizes, and white space, but nothing that suggested Wells made any special requests or gave specific instructions. His advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal also benefited from appearing at the bottom of the first column on the first page, giving it greater visibility than notices that ran on the third and fourth pages, but most likely that resulted from a choice made by a compositor who needed to complete a column rather than from any arrangements made by Wells.
For the most part, Wells took a conservative approach to advertising. He did realize that placing notices in two newspapers rather than just one would place his product before the eyes of a greater number of prospective customers. He did not, however, opt to run his advertisement in every newspaper in other local newspapers, such as the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Packet. Perhaps he found the cost of doing so prohibitive. Perhaps he wished to see what kind of response these advertisements received before making final determinations about inserting them in other publications. His advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and Pennsylvania Journal included notations (intended for the compositors) that they should remain until Wells discontinued them rather than for a set period (like “6W” for six weeks). It could have been Wells’s intention to assess their effectiveness, determining the value his business derived from those notices in order to make further decisions about his marketing efforts.