What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The BUNCH of GRAPES.”
When Josiah F. Davenport opened the Bunch of Grapes inn and tavern in Philadelphia in the late spring of 1768 he placed advertisements in newspapers published in both New York and Philadelphia, alerting travelers and local residents alike to the many entertainments and amenities he provided. Davenport’s first advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle included a woodcut that presumably depicted the sign that marked the location of his establishment: a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. Such a specialized woodcut, specific to Davenport’s business, certainly enhanced the advertisement and increased the probability that it would attract the attention of potential patrons, but it was also an additional expense. Unlike the woodcuts of horses, houses, ships, and slaves that were part of any newspaper printer’s collection of type, other woodcuts that appeared in eighteenth-century advertisements belonged to the advertisers who had commissioned them.
Such was the case with Davenport’s woodcut that replicated his sign. He likely considered it an important investment when it came to building his brand, especially since the Bunch of Grapes occupied an inn “for some time known by the name of the BULL’s HEAD.” The success of his new enterprise depended in part on those previously familiar with the former tavern now associating the same location with the Bunch of Grapes. Both the sign and the woodcut aided in strengthening his brand recognition among residents of Philadelphia he hoped would visit his “genteel HOUSE of ENTERTAINEMNT … for the best fare and civilest treatment,” whether they gathered for “business or recreation.”
Yet there were limits to how much Davenport considered necessary to invest in visual representations of his brand. He did not commission separate woodcuts to accompany his advertisements that appeared in newspapers published in Philadelphia. Instead, he had one woodcut that first accompanied his advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle before reappearing in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette. A notch or indentation in the upright portion of the signpost confirms that Davenport shuttled a single woodcut between printing offices. He was not the only advertiser who made that choice. In New York, Gerardus Duyckninck inserted his elaborate woodcut in multiple newspapers, one after the other in succession. Although an effective means of making advertisements distinctive, woodcuts incurred additional expenses. Some advertisers who commissioned them attempted to maximize the returns on their investments by rotating them through several newspapers.