January 6

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 6, 1767).

“A Bill of – PHIPPARD, Clock and Watch-Maker, at POOL, inclosed in the Case.”

An unnamed advertiser alerted readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that his “gilt Metal WATCH” had recently been stolen. The victim of the theft offered a two dollar reward (and “no Questions asked”) to anyone who delivered the watch to the printer. In addition, he offered a more significant reward “on Conviction of the Offender.”

In addition to demonstrating one means that consumer goods circulated in eighteenth-century America, this notice also reveals another form of marketing. To help readers identify the stolen watch, the advertiser noted that a “Bill” for “PHIPPARD, Clock and Watch-Maker, at POOL” was “inclosed in the Case.” Like other artisans, watchmakers sometimes marked their work with printed items. Cabinetmakers affixed paper labels, which often resembled trade cards, to furniture produced in their shops. Bookbinders pasted labels inside the covers of books they bound. Smiths packaged buckles and other adornments in boxes that had labels reminding customers who had crafted the items and where similar items were sold. Watchmakers also inserted watch papers to protect the glass faces of the watches they made.

From the description in the advertisements, it appears that the watchmaker, Phippard, did not necessarily include a watch paper (or, if he had, it had been misplaced or discarded), but instead resorted to some sort of label or small billhead intended to be stored with the commodity and its packaging. As a result, Phippard created an advertisement that his customer encountered regularly, long after the initial purchase had been completed. This operated as an eighteenth-century precursor to more intentional efforts to brand merchandise. Clock- and watchmakers made other efforts to permanently mark – or brand – their work, often engraving their names directly onto the items they created. Another advertisement in the same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal indicated that readers could identify a lost watch by looking for the “Makers Name J. FINCIM” on the watch itself.

Eighteenth-century artisans marked their work out of pride, but they also did so as a means of establishing and maintaining their reputation for quality work and promoting further sales.

Bonus: Edward Pole’s Advertising Campaign

Yesterday evening I discovered that the American Antiquarian Society included a newspaper advertisement in its Instagram feed earlier in the day, a delightful surprise made even better by a generous reference to the Adverts 250 Project.  Please visit the AAS Instagram feed to see the advertisement and their commentary.

I was also excited because I recognized the advertiser, Edward Pole, a “Fishing-Tackle-Maker” who also operated a wholesale and retail grocery store in Philadelphia in the 1770s and 1780s.  Unlike most newspaper advertisements featured in the Adverts 250 Project so far, Pole’s advertisement (from fifteen years later, June 1781) included a woodcut to catch readers’ attention:  a striking image of a fish, certainly appropriate for an entrepreneur who peddled fishing tackle.  Woodcuts accompanying newspaper advertisements became more common during the last third of the eighteenth century.  Some advertisers, like Pole, used them as brands for their products and businesses.

Pole’s woodcut probably looked familiar to consumers in Philadelphia in 1781.  It appeared regularly in the Pennsylvania Packet (at least as early as May 1774), but that was not the only newspaper that included a woodcut of a fish with Pole’s commercial notices.  Pole placed advertisements for fishing tackle, including a very similar fish (this time with a decorative border), in the Freemen’s Journal in 1784.

Pole Newspaper Advert
Advertisement from the Freemen’s Journal (March 24, 1784).  Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

In addition,the savvy Edward Pole made use of multiple advertising media.  He distributed an engraved billhead for his receipts as early as the 1770s.  The billhead’s elaborate engraving featured a triptych logo in the upper left corner of the sheet, complete with rococo-style frames surrounding casks, crates, and scales on the left and right and the words “Edwd Pole’s GROCERY STORE Wholesale & Retail” in the center.  This billhead, with manuscript notations from 1771, is part of the Norris Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Sometime in the late 1770s or early 1780s, he also distributed engraved trade cards featuring a rectangular vignette of two gentlemen fishing in a stream above a description of the wares stocked in his shop.  Pole eventually resorted to broadsides (or, in modern terms, posters) for his business ventures.

Edward Pole Trade Card
Edward Pole’s Trace Card (ca. 1780).  Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

In addition to trade cards, billheads, and broadsides, Pole most prolifically advertised in several of Philadelphia’s newspapers, often distinguishing his advertisements from others on the page by including a woodcut of a fish, as we have seen.  Pole’s use of multiple media allowed him to publicize his wares widely.  Most advertisements relied exclusively on newspapers for their marketing, but Pole took an innovative approach by experimenting with other forms as he encouraged potential customers to visit his shop.