August 1

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 1, 1771).

At the GOLDEN LION.”

In the early 1770s, John Carnan, a goldsmith and jeweler, ran a shop at the corner of Second and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia.  He promoted his “GOLD, SILVER and JEWELLERY WORK” in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette, assuring prospective customers that he made his wares “in the best and newest taste.”  Like many other purveyors of goods, he provided an overview of his inventory in a dense paragraph of text.  Carnan listed everything from “TANKARDS, cans, tea, coffee and cream pots” to “gold, silver, gilt, enamelled, Scotch pebble, moco, chrystal, paste and glass sleeve buttons” to “silver and enamelled snuff-boxes [and] silver mounted decanter corks.”  In addition, he offered customers the opportunity to select among “sundry other articles, too tedious to mention.”  In terms of advertising copy, Carnan’s notice very much resembled others placed by purveyors of goods and services in Philadelphia and other American towns and cities.

The woodcut that adorned Carnan’s advertisement, however, distinguished it from others.  Carnan marked his location with a sign depicting a golden lion.  A woodcut that also depicted a lion appeared in the upper left corner of his advertisement.  (Regular visitors to the Adverts 250 Project will likely recognize this lion as the image that has appeared on its home page since its inception.)  The woodcut in the advertisement may have replicated Carnan’s shop sign, serving as a logo or brand that identified his business.  Even if the woodcut did not resemble the sign, incorporating an image of a lion likely helped consumers associate the regal animal with the goldsmith and jeweler, making his shop all the more memorable.  Unlike the woodcuts depicting ships at sea, the only other images in the August 1, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette beyond the masthead, the woodcut of the lion belonged to the advertiser rather than the printer.  Carnan invested in an image reserved for his sole use.  Over time, he included the image in other advertisements, providing consistency via the image even as he generated new copy for his notices.  Inserting the same woodcut in multiple advertisements also allowed him a greater return on his investment.  Not every advertiser who commissioned unique woodcuts used them more than once.  Carnan, however, recognized the potential for enhancing his marketing efforts with an image that represented his business and attracted attention among prospective customers.