February 27

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

Feb 27 - 2:27:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 27, 1768).

“At the Sign of the Brazen Lion.”

Its length alone would have made Edward Thurber’s advertisement in the February 27, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette difficult to miss. Listing dozens of items he offered for sale, it extended for nearly an entire column. Yet Thurber did not rely solely on the amount of space the advertisement occupied to attract the attention of potential customers. He incorporated a bit of visual flair by inserting a woodcut.

For quite some time he had been advertising in the Providence Gazette, but usually in conjunction with Benjamin Thurber. Their shared notices informed readers that they operated separate shops even though they worked together to acquire merchandise. Benjamin could be found at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes and Edward at the Sign of the Brazen Lion. They did not insert any images in their joint advertisements, but when Edward commenced advertising on his own he commissioned a woodcut that depicted his Sign of the Brazen Lion. Perhaps he had more creative freedom on his own. Maybe Benjamin had not wished to invest in a corresponding woodcut of the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes. Maybe the partners thought that two woodcuts in a single advertisement would have appeared too crowded or too confusing. Maybe they mutually determined that when they bought space in the local newspaper that they wanted to fill it with copy rather than woodcuts. Whatever their reasons, the Thurbers did not experiment with visual images in their joint advertisements. That changed when Edward advertised separately.

Although it did inject a visual element into his advertisement, Edward’s woodcut was rather primitive compared to some that accompanied advertisements in newspapers published in larger cities, especially New York and Philadelphia. His woodcut quite literally depicted a signpost with a crudely carved lion suspended from it. While not the most impressive woodcut, it does testify to a sight that colonists would have glimpsed as they traversed the streets of Providence. Apparently Edward Thurber’s sign was not a board painted with the image of a lion but rather a piece of wood carved into either a two- or three-dimensional lion. In and of itself, such a sign would have been a significant investment, but well worth the price as it became a brand consistently used on the exterior of the shop and in newspaper advertisements. Edward Thurber further advanced his use of this brand in his advertising by including a woodcut that visually reiterated the copy that directed potential customers to “the Sign of the Brazen Lion.”

February 14

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

Feb 14 - 2:11:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (February 11, 1768).

“All the mustard put up in bottles, has the above stamp pasted on the bottles.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would have been familiar with the “genuine FLOUR of MUSTARD” and chocolate that Mary Crathorne advertised in February 1768. Her husband, the late Jonathan Crathorne, had previously produced and sold chocolate and mustard with Benjamin Jackson, but when that partnership dissolved the two men each continued in the business. Sometimes their advertisements appeared one after the other in the Pennsylvania Gazette, as was the case in the November 21, 1765, edition.

Jonathan Crathorne’s advertisement included the same woodcut that his wife later used to promote the business that she operated after his death. It featured a seal flanked by a bottle of mustard on the left and a brick of chocolate on the right. The seal incorporated William Penn’s insignia, a shield decorated with three silver balls, but it bore the words “J. CRATHORN’S PHILADA FLOUR OF MUSTARD.” Crathorne associated pride in the colony with his own products.

After they parted ways, Jonathan Crathorne and Benjamin Jackson engaged in a prolonged public dispute in their advertisements. Mary Crathorne was not as aggressive as her husband in that regard, but the widow did not that “her late husband went to a considerable expence in the erecting, and purchasing out Benjamin Jackson’s part” of “those incomparable mustard and chocolate works at the Globe mill, on Germantown road.”

Mary Crathorne did not want her product confused for any other. To that end, the woodcut in her newspaper advertisement had a purpose that went beyond drawing the attention of readers. “All the mustard put up in bottles,” she reported, “has the above stamp placed on the bottles.” Similarly, “the paper round each pound of chocolate has the same stamp thereon.” To avoid competitors’ products being mistaken for her mustard and chocolate, the widow Crathorne deployed the woodcut from her advertisements as a brand to mark her merchandise. Her husband may have followed the same practice, but his advertisements did not explicitly state that was the case. Perhaps as a woman running a business in a marketplace dominated by men Mary Crathorne found it necessary to devise additional means of promoting her products. She made it easy for consumers to recognize her mustard and chocolate by making sure they were labeled with some sort of trademark that identified the producer.

October 25

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

Oct 25 - 10:22:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 22, 1767).

“A NEAT assortment of coarse, fine and superfine broadcloths.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would have recognized Magdalen Devine’s advertisement at a glance even if it had not featured her name in capital letters. Why? Devine used a woodcut that depicted some of her merchandise. In so doing, she successfully branded her business, repeatedly inserting it along with extensive lists of the merchandise she stocked.

The Adverts 250 Project previously examined another advertisement Devine placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette in May 1767. The content changed significantly. Then, Devine announced that she had imported a variety of goods in the Carolina from London and the Peggy from Glasgow. In her new advertisements, she hawked goods that had recently arrived via the Mary and Elizabeth from London as well as “the last vessels from Liverpool and Glasgow.” Both advertisements listed hundreds of items potential customers would find among her inventory; although the types of goods were similar, she enumerated different items in each.

Some aspects of Devine’s advertisements remained consistent. In May and October she gave her address, “In Second-street, between Market and Chestnut-streets, the fourth door from the Quaker meeting-house,” and concluded by assuring readers that “she will sell at the lowest terms, for cash or short credit.” Yet the most significant feature of her advertisements had to have been the woodcut that appeared at the top, a woodcut that occupied as much space as some of the shorter advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Devine deployed the woodcut as a brand to identify her business and distinguish it from others, but it also illustrated some of her merchandise. The shopkeeper sold all kinds of imported textiles; her advertisements filled half a column because she listed so many different styles, colors, and qualities of fabrics. Her woodcut provided visual affirmation of her inventory. It showed two rolls of patterned cloth (suggesting quantity) flanked by swatches that revealed distinctive patterns (suggesting fashion).

Commissioning a woodcut would have been an additional expense for Devine, but the length and frequency of her advertisements indicate that she was willing to invest in advertising. She likely considered the woodcut a good investment since it immediately identified her advertisements whenever they appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the newspaper that usually included more advertising (including a two-page supplement) than any other newspaper printed in the American colonies in the 1760s. Devine relied on standard marketing appeals throughout her advertisements, but her woodcut attracted attention and distinguished her marketing efforts.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:6:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 6, 1767).


Lewis Johnson operated an apothecary shop in colonial Savannah, though his advertisement did not indicate if he compounded remedies onsite in addition to selling “A GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF MEDICINES” that included ingredients and readymade elixirs. For the latter category, he depended on customers’ familiarity with established brands, listing several popular patent medicines recently imported from London. These included “Daffy’s elixir, … Squire’s elixir, Bateman’s drops, Stoughton’s ditto, Godrey’s cordial, Turlington’s balsam, James’s powders strong and mild, and Anderson’s pills.” Johnson expected that patients were already familiar with the symptoms each of these medicines purported to relieve. Few products had so firmly established brand identities in the eighteenth century. In terms of name recognition and, sometimes, packaging materials, creators of patent medicines led the way in developing branding as an effective marketing strategy.

In addition to the half dozen or so pills and potions already noted, Johnson also carried the “Family Medicines of Dr. Hill’s,” several different elixirs associated with the same physician, each intended for specific indications. For instance, patients suffering from gout and rheumatism could purchase Hill’s “Elixir of bardana,” but those with colds, coughs, and even consumption should instead choose the “Balsam of honey.” Johnson listed nearly as many tinctures and elixirs from Hill’s “Family Medicines” as the other sorts of patent medicines combined. In this regard, Hill had worked out an effective system for increasing sales. Many competitors either marketed their medicines as cure-alls or specified an astonishing array of symptoms they relieved. Hill, on the other hand, associated particular medical problems with specific medicines formulated with unique ingredients considered especially efficacious for the circumstances. In so doing, he multiplied the number of potential sales possible for each customer.

The assorted remedies Lewis Johnson stocked in his apothecary shop would certainly look strange to modern consumers, but the experience of shopping there would not have been that much different than visiting a twenty-first-century retail pharmacy. Customers recognize certain brands. When feeling ill, they find comfort in selecting familiar remedies, often expressing preferences for one over another even when the competing brands combat the same symptoms.

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.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (June 19, 1766).

“EDWARD BROADFIELD has carried on the manufacture of STURGEON for fourteen years, and given a general satisfaction.”

Edward Broadfield told a dramatic tale of commercial rivalry, sabotage, subterfuge, and woe in his advertisement for pickled sturgeon from the June 19, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Journal.

He started by noting his qualifications and the quality of his product. He had “carried on the manufacture of STURGEON for fourteen years.” The pickled sturgeon he produced was as good as any imported from the Baltic, so good that the “honourable society of arts, manufactures and commerce” had presented him an award, including a cash prize, for the “best Sturgeon cured in America.”

The previous year some misfortunes forced Broadfield to take on a partner, who remained unnamed throughout the advertisement. The partner, in turn, attempted to force Broadfield out of his own business. The partner refused to send the necessary supplies to continue the business. Broadfield found himself in such a predicament, unable to pay his debts, that he left town in order to procure the necessary supplies on his own, leaving his wife to oversee his affairs while he was away.

In Broadfield’s absence, the partner sent “a French Indian and his wife, to supplant my wife.” Furthermore, he spread false rumors about Broadfield and attempted to bribe his wife to leave town. She did “quit the place,” but never received the promised payment for doing so.

This was all bad enough, but Broadfield’s reputation was further at stake. His wife left behind several kegs “branded with my brand” which the Indian and his wife then filled with their own pickled sturgeon. They sold and shipped it as though they were in partnership with Broadfield. His advertisement warned unsuspecting consumers about this trickery.

Broadfield announced that he continued business at Kensington, not at Lamberton where he had formerly pursued his craft. In most circumstances, a brand alone testified to the quality of the product in the kegs, but Broadfield needed customers to know that only pickled sturgeon that came from him directly in Kensington actually had his seal of approval. In addition, he listed one additional authorized seller in Philadelphia, “Mr. Jeremiah Baker, near the Crooked Billet, in Water-street.” Broadfield concluded by stressing that his fish was sold “by no other persons.”

Broadfield told quite a story in his advertisement. He attempted to leverage a frustrating, infuriating, and embarrassing series of events to rehabilitate his damaged reputation, warn others against the perfidy of his former partner, and attract customers for his own product. In the process of promoting his own pickled sturgeon, he aired a lot of dirty laundry. Perhaps a combination of sympathy and indignation resonated with customers.