January 19

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 19, 1769).

“For HOGS BRISTLES, Ready Money, and best Price, is given.”

Relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers featured visual images, making those that did particularly notable. Along with their type, many printers had a limited number of stock images to accompany certain kinds of advertisements, including houses for real estate notices, ships for notices about vessels seeking freight and passengers, and horses for notices offering stallions “to cover” mares. In addition, many printers also supplied nondescript depictions of people to accompany advertisements concerning runaway servants, runaway slaves, and enslaved men, women, and children for sale. Most of the time they matched the sex seen in the image with that of the subject of an advertisement, but not always. For each sort of image – houses, ships, horses, people – the woodcuts were used interchangeably in advertisements placed for the corresponding purpose. Any woodcut of a house could accompany a real estate notice. Any woodcut of an enslaved man could appear in a runaway advertisement.

Some shopkeepers and artisans, however, commissioned their own woodcuts to represent their businesses in the public prints. Those woodcuts belonged exclusively to the advertiser; they did not appear in any other notices. Sometimes they replicated a shop sign, as was the case with a woodcut of a mirror on a decorative stand and a bell enclosed in a frame in John Elliott’s advertisement that once again ran in the January 19, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Elliott directed prospective customers to “his Looking-glass store, the sign of the Bell and Looking-glass, in Walnut-street.” He also mentioned a second location “at the Three Brushes, in Second-Street,” but did not include an image of that shop sign. The “Bell and Looking-glass” had circulated so widely in Philadelphia’s newspapers that it served as Elliott’s iconic image.

In the same issue, John Wilkinson, a brushmaker, placed an advertisement dominated by a woodcut depicting a boar. The visual image occupied more than twice as much space as the copy of the advertisement, a stark contrast to the notices comprised solely of text, all of them densely formatted, on either side of Wilkinson’s advertisement. Wilkinson called on readers to provide him with “HOGS BRISTLES” that he could then use in making brushes of “all Sorts and Sizes.” His woodcut depicted the source of his materials rather than the final product. When it came to the copy of his advertisement, the brushmaker adopted a less-is-more approach, depending on the woodcut to attract attention and distinguish his advertisement from the dozens of others in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

February 1

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

Feb 1 - 2:1:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 1, 1768).

“BRUSHES of all Sorts, manufactured in BOSTON.”

In an advertisement on the front page of the February 1, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette, John Smith announced that he sold “BRUSHES of all Sorts” at his shop on Newbury Street. Rather than peddling imports from England, Smith emphasized that his brushes had been “manufactured in BOSTON.” In so doing, he situated his advertisement within ongoing public debates about transatlantic commerce and politics. The colonies suffered from a trade deficit that benefited England. To add insult to injury, Parliament imposed new duties on certain imported goods, especially paper, in the Townshend Act that had gone into effect in late November 1767. In response, Bostonians voted at a town meeting to launch new nonimportation pacts. To that end, they also pledged to purchase goods produced in the North American colonies and to encourage domestic manufactures of all kinds in order to reduce their reliance on imported wares.

Smith did not need to offer extensive or explicit commentary on recent events in his advertisement. He knew that prospective customers were well aware of the commercial and political circumstances. After all, the publishers of the Boston-Gazette and most other colonial newspapers consistently inserted news and editorial items that addressed the imperial crisis that continued to unfold. But such problems did not circulate only in print: they were the subjects of daily conversation throughout the colonies. As a result, Smith did not need to purchase a significant amount of advertising space in order to explain why colonists should purchase his brushes rather than any other. He likely believed that simply proclaiming that his brushes had been “manufactured in BOSTON” encapsulated the entire debate and justified selecting his wares over any others. He did offer brief reassurances that they were “equal in Goodness to any imported from Europe” and priced “as low as they can be bought in London,” but the weight of his marketing efforts rested on the place of production.  Smith even solicited “Hogs Bristles,” necessary for continuing to make brushes.

In the 1760s, first in response to the Stamp and later in response to the Townshend Act, colonists launched “Buy American” advertising campaigns. Certainly a staple of modern marketing, “Buy American” campaigns have a history that extends back before the first shots were fired during the American Revolution.