What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“At the Sign of.”
Magdalen Devine frequently placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette throughout 1767. Often a woodcut depicting some of her merchandise, two rolls of fabric and two swatches showcasing the patterns, accompanied her advertisements. This effectively created a logo for Devine, making her advertisements instantly recognizable without potential customers needing to even read a word.
For many eighteenth-century shopkeepers and artisans, the woodcuts that supplemented their advertisements illustrated the signs that marked the places where they conducted business. The devices in the woodcuts reflected the descriptions of shop signs in many advertisements, but that did not necessarily mean that those woodcuts exactly replicated the signs they represented. For instance, leather dressers James Haslett and Matthew Haslett included several visual variations on “the Sign of the Buck and Glove” in their advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette. One may have faithfully duplicated the actual sign; the others offered a similar likeness that distinguished their advertisements from others, attracted the attention of readers, and helped guide potential customers to their shop. Similarly, other woodcuts in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements likely provided representations but not exact replications of shop signs, hinting at what colonial consumers saw when they traversed the streets.
Devine, however, suggested that the woodcut in her advertisements did indeed accurately reproduce her shop sign. In the course of giving directions to her shop, she indicated that she had recently moved “to the House lately occupied by FRANCIS WADE, on the East Side of Second-Street, between Black-Horse Alley and Market-Street.” To further aid “her FRIENDS, and the PUBLIC” in finding her, she noted that her shop was “at the Sign of” but did not conclude the sentence with a description or name for the sign. Instead, she inserted the woodcut that by then served as her logo. While other advertisers implied that woodcuts in their advertisements depicted their signs without commenting on how well they did so, Magdalen Devine provided one of the most explicit indications that what readers saw in the newspaper replicated the actual sign that marked her shop.