February 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 14, 1771).

“HART and PATTERSON … opened a VENDUE-STORE.”

Unlike the vast majority of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements composed primarily of text, a visual image dominated the notice that Hart and Patterson placed in the February 14, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal to announce that they “opened a VENDUE-STORE, in Front-street, below the Draw-bridge.”  The partners pledged that “ALL those who please to favour them with their custom, may depend on their best endeavours to render satisfaction,” but a woodcut depicting a hand holding a bell enclosed in a frame occupied far more space than the copy of the advertisement.  With the exception of the masthead, Hart and Patterson’s notice featured the only visual image in that edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Both its size and its uniqueness surely demanded attention from readers.

When images did accompany newspaper advertisements, they were usually a fraction of the size of Hart and Patterson’s woodcut.  They tended to depict ships at sea, houses, horses, and enslaved people, a small number of standard images that could adorn any relevant advertisement.  Printers provided those woodcuts for advertisers interested in including them in their notices.  For other images, those associated with specific businesses, advertisers commissioned woodcuts that then belonged to them.  Such woodcuts often replicated shop signs or represented some aspect of the business featured in the advertisement.  For Hart and Patterson, the hand and bell suggested that they vigorously called attention to the items available for sale and auction after their “VENDUE-STORE.”

The previous publication history of that woodcut makes clear that it belonged to the advertisers rather than printers of the Pennsylvania Journal.  A year earlier, Hart included it in an advertisement he placed in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on January 8, 1770.  Irregularities in the border, perhaps due to damage sustained from making so many impressions on a hand-operated press, demonstrate that the same woodcut appeared in both newspapers.  Hart originally provided it to William Goddard and Benjamin Towne, the printers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but later reclaimed it.  After Hart formed a new partnership with Patterson, the auctioneers supplied William Bradford and Thomas Bradford with the woodcut when they submitted their advertising copy to the Pennsylvania Journal.

A year after first including the woodcut in an advertisement, Hart aimed to achieve a greater return on the investment he made in commissioning it.  He used the image of the hand and bell once again when he launched a new advertising campaign after embarking on a new enterprise with a new partner.  That the woodcut ran in a different newspaper than the one that first published it demonstrates that advertisers, not printers, usually owned any specialized images that appeared in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.