September 26

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 26, 1772).

Woollen-Drapery and Hosiery WAREHOUSE, At the sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD.”

In the fall of 12772, George Bartram advertised a “very large assortment of MERCHANDIZE” recently imported via “the last vessels from Britain and Ireland.”  To entice prospective customers, he provided a list that included “Dark & light drabs or cloth colours, suitable for women’s cloaks,” “Cinnamon, chocolate and snuff colours, with a variety of mixed elegant coloured cloths,” “Scotch plaid, suitable for littler boys short cloths, gentlemen’s morning gowns,” “A COMPLETE assortment of man’s wove and knit silk, silk and worsted, worsted, cotton and thread HOSE,” and “Men & women’s silk, thread and worsted gloves.”  The extensive list, however, did not exhaust Bartram’s inventory.  He proclaimed that he carried “a great variety of other articles in the woollen and linen drapery, and hardware branches.”

With such an array of goods, Bartram did not purport to run a mere shop.  Instead, he promoted his business as a “Woollen-Drapery and Hosiery WAREHOUSE, At the sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD” on Second Street in Philadelphia.  The header for his advertisement in the September 26, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle had the appearance of a sign, with Bartram’s name and address within a border of decorative type.  The merchant already had a record of using visual devices to draw attention to the name he associated with his store.  In the January 22, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, for instance, the words “GEORGE BARTRAM’s WOOLLEN DRAPERY AND HOSIERY WAREHOUSE” flanked a woodcut depicting a “GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD.”  He previously kept shop “at the Sign of the Naked Boy.”  Newspaper advertisements Bartram placed between 1767 and 1770 featured a woodcut of a shop sign with a naked boy holding a length of cloth in a cartouche in the center, rolls of textiles on either side, and “GEORGE” and “BARTRAM” flanking the bottom of the cartouche.

Many merchants and shopkeepers published lists of their merchandise.  Bartram enhanced such marketing efforts by associating a distinctive device, first the Naked boy and then the Golden Fleece’s Head, with his business, giving his shop an elaborate and memorable name, and using visual images, both woodcuts and decorative type, to distinguish his advertisements from others.  He did not merely announce goods for sale.  Instead, he experimented with marketing strategies.

January 27

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

Pennsylvania Packet (January 27, 1772).

“GEORGE BARTRAM’s WOOLLEN DRAPERY AND HOSIERY WAREHOUSE, At the Sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’s HEAD.”

Much of the content of George Bartram’s advertisement in the January 27, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packetresembled what appeared in notices placed by other merchants and shopkeepers.  Bartram informed prospective customers that he “Just imported … A very large Assortment” of textiles “from BRITAIN and IRELAND.”  He then listed a variety of fabrics to demonstrate the choices available to consumers.

In addition to providing an overview of his merchandise, Bartram deployed other means of making his business memorable.  For instance, he marked it with a sign that featured a distinctive device, advising prospective customers to visit “the Sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD” on Second Street.  Some colonial entrepreneurs used similar signs, but many did not.  Among the other advertisers in the January 27 edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, John Carnan, a jeweler, ran a shop “AT THE GOLDEN LION,” but Joseph Carson, Francis Hopkinson, William Miller, Alexander Power, John Sparhawk, Mary Symonds, and James Wallace did not mention signs that marked their locations.  Bartram further enhanced his advertisement with an image of a golden fleece’s head that may have replicated his shop sign.  Most advertisers who called attention to their signs did not make the additional investment in woodcuts.  Bartram apparently made the investment only once.  He ran an advertisement with the same copy, but no image, in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on the same day.

Bartram also gave his business a name, another marketing strategy adopted by relatively few advertisers in the eighteenth century.  Some merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans used their shop signs as the names for their businesses, but most advertisers did not give their businesses any sort of name.  Printers and booksellers were the most likely to name their businesses.  Although he did not have a sign with a distinctive device, Sparhawk called his shop the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” in his advertisement.  John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, advertised books available at the “NEWEST PRINTING-OFFICE.”  Among advertisers from other occupations, Bartram distinguished his shop from others by calling it “GEORGE BARTRAM’s WOOLLEN DRAPERY AND HOSIERY WAREHOUSE, At the Sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’s HEAD.”  He incorporated his own name, a sign, an image depicting that sign, and a name for his business into his advertisement, distinguishing it from others and making his endeavor more memorable.

June 18

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

Jun 18 - 6:18 1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (June 18, 1770).

“Sam-Mill SAWS … By BENJAMIN HUMPHREYS.”

Visual images were relatively rare in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Mastheads often, but not always, incorporated images that became familiar to readers, but otherwise when images did appear in newspapers, they tended to accompany advertisements.  Among those images, most depicted vessels at sea, houses, horses, runaway indentured servants, or enslaved people for sale or escaping from those who held them in bondage.  Variation among these images was minor, allowing printers to use them interchangeably in advertisements.  Readers easily recognized them as stock images supplied by printers, images related to the content of advertisements but not created to adorn any particular advertisements.  When it came to ships seeking passengers and cargo, real estate, horses “to cover” (or breed), runaway servants, and the slave trade, printers did steady business selling advertisements, making it worth their investment in stock images.

The familiarity of those images made others all the more striking when they accompanied advertisements.  Even images with fairly simple designs distinguished the few advertisements that incorporated them from others that consisted entirely of text, often dense paragraphs that did not even deploy typography to allow for white space or other visual variations. When Benjamin Humphreys placed an advertisement for “Saw-Mill SAWS, Made in the NEATEST Manner” in the June 18, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, an image of a saw made it all the more noticeable to readers.  Unlike the stock images that belonged to the printer, Humphreys had to commission this woodcut.  Tied directly to his business, it could not be used elsewhere in the newspaper, especially since Humphreys had his name included in the image.  Even among advertisers who arranged for unique images to accompany their newspaper notices, relatively few incorporated their names into the woodcuts.

Jun 18 - 6:18:1770 Bartram Detail Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (June 18, 1770).

The image in another advertisement in the same issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle just happened to do so.  For nearly three years, George Bartram had occasionally published advertisements that included a depiction of his “sign of the NAKED BOY,” complete with his name.  Much more ornate than Humphrey’s woodcut of a saw, Bartram’s woodcut featured a naked child inspecting a roll of cloth in a cartouche in the center, flanked by Bartram’s merchandise on either side.  Garments on rolls of cloth appeared above the name “GEORGE” on the left and a glove draped over more rolls of cloth appeared above the name “BARTRAM” on the right.  The advertising copy changed from advertisement to advertisement over the years, but Bartram’s woodcut remained consistent in identifying his business to readers.

Although clustered in a single issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, these woodcuts were exceptional visual images that not only represented particular businesses but also incorporated the names of the advertisers.  Humphreys and Bartram experimented with creating logos that combined words and images to make them all the more distinctive and memorable for prospective customers.

September 21

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

Sep 21 - 9:21:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 21, 1767).

“New Shop at the Sign of the Naked Boy.”

George Bartram launched a new venture in 1767, opening his own shop “at the Sign of the Naked Boy” on Second Street in Philadelphia. To let both former and potential new customers know about his new location, he published an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Bartram promoted the “general Assortment of dry Goods, imported in the last Vessels from Great-Britain and Ireland,” but he did not confine himself to merely describing the goods he stocked. Instead, he included a woodcut that featured some of the textiles he imported and hoped to sell to consumers in the port city. A cartouche in the center depicted a naked boy examining a length of cloth, encouraging potential customers to imagine themselves inspecting Bartram’s merchandise. That the boy held the fabric close to his naked body suggested quality and softness, enticing readers to anticipate the luxurious pleasures that awaited them at Bartram’s shop. Many rolls of fabric flanked the central cartouche, testifying to the “general Assortment” of merchandise. What kinds of tactile sensations might shoppers experience when they compared the weave of one fabric to another? The naked boy surrounded by textiles of all sorts invited colonists to visit Bartram’s shop, where they did not need to confine themselves merely to window shopping but could indulge their sense of touch as well as sight.

The woodcut also included the proprietor’s name on either side of the cartouche, an unnecessary flourish in an advertisement that featured Bartram’s name as a headline. Its inclusion may have been necessary, however, if the woodcut doubled as an accurate representation of the “Sign of the Naked Boy” that marked Bartram’s shop. The shopkeeper had previously conducted business at a “Shop lately occupied by Bartram and Lennox.” To mark his new shop as exclusively his own, Bartram may have instructed the painter or carver who made his sign to include his name as well as the device he intended to serve as his brand. Eighteenth-century advertisements regularly indicate which shop signs marked which businesses, but few of those signs have survived. Woodcuts like the naked boy in Bartram’s advertisement suggest what colonists may have seen as they traversed the streets and visited retailers and artisans who used signs to mark their businesses.