June 4

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 4, 1772).

“At the Sign of the Scythe and Sickle.”

William Dawson advertised “A LARGE Quantity of SCYTHES and SICKLES, prepared for the ensuing Harvest” in a brief notice in the June 4, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  His advertisement likely attracted less notice than those placed by other cutlers who marketed their goods and services in the same issue.  Dawson’s competitors in Philadelphia used images to enhance their advertisements.

James Hendricks adorned his advertisement with a woodcut depicting a sickle.  Her announced that he had “ONE HUNDRED and Twenty DOZEN” sickles crafted “with the utmost care, and sold at the lowest Rates, and ensured to be good.”  It was not the first time that he incorporated that image into one of his advertisements.  Two years earlier, it ran in an advertisement that stated that the cutler had a workshop “at the Sign of the Sickle” on Market Street.

Benjamin Humphreys advertised both “SAW-MILL SAWS, And a large QUANTITY of SICKLES.”  An image of a saw occupied the upper third of his notice.  The cutler clearly commissioned the woodcut for his exclusive use.  No other advertiser could use it because the name “B. HUMPHREYS” appeared on the saw.  Like Hendricks, Humphreys incorporated his woodcut into a previous advertisement.  The repetition helped to create a visual identity for his business.  In another advertisement, placed in collaboration with Stephen Paschall in 1768, Humphreys used another woodcut.  That one depicted a scythe and sickle, both of them bearing his last name.

By 1772, Humphreys and Paschall advertised separately, perhaps as a result of the Paschall forming a partnership with his son.  The Paschalls determined that they also needed an image to make their advertisements memorable.  Their woodcut depicted several tools, including a scythe, a sickle, and mechanisms for gristmills, that they made and sold “at the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” on Market Street.  They also had the image personalized for their exclusive use, the initials “SP” on one of the tools. Paschall previously noted that he marked his work with “S. PASCHALL.”

Dawson offered the same merchandise as Hendricks, Humphreys, and Paschall and Paschall, but he might have experienced more difficulty attracting customers to his shop.  His competitors made their advertisements easier to spot in the newspaper as well as more memorable.  Did the images matter?  Were they effective?  Several cutlers in Philadelphia considered it worth the expense to commission their own woodcuts and pay for additional space to include them in their newspaper advertisements.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:7:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 7, 1770).

“SICKLES, ready prepared for the Harvest.”

As summer approached in 1770, James Hendricks announced to readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that he had “ONE HUNDRED and Twenty DOZEN of SICKLES, ready prepared for the Harvest.”  Hendricks volunteered his location, “the Sign of the Sickle, the 4th Door above the Prison, in Market-street,” and made some of the standard appeals that colonial artisans incorporated into their advertisements.  He emphasized the skill that went into producing his wares, asserting that “these Sickles are carefully made.”  He made an appeal to price, declaring that the sickles “will be sold at the lowest Rates.”  He also highlighted the quality of the sickles, proclaiming that they were “ensured to be good.”  While Hendricks might have considered that a guarantee, he did not explicitly state that he would repair or replace defective items, a strategy sometimes adopted by artisans as a means of testifying to quality.

The most significant attribute, certainly the most visible, of Hendrick’s advertisement, however, may very well have been the woodcut depicting a sickle.  It accounted for half of the space that the advertisement occupied on the page.  Given that advertisers paid by the amount space rather than the number of words, including this visual image doubled the cost of the advertisement.  In addition, Hendricks commissioned the woodcut.  That expense more than doubled the cost of running his notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Yet this distinguished his advertisement from others that appeared on the same page and throughout the rest of the issue.  In the June 7 edition, only one other advertisement featured a visual image.  A woodcut of a ship at sea adorned an advertisement for a vessel preparing to sail for London.  The other advertisements consisted entirely of text, most of them dense paragraphs that did not have anywhere near the amount of white space that made Hendrick’s sickle especially noticeable in contrast.  While this woodcut may not seem elaborate to modern eyes, eighteenth-century readers could not have overlooked it when perusing the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Hendricks used the visual image to draw attention to the copy of his advertisement, the brief description of his wares and recitation of some of the most common marketing appeals.