December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:4:1769 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (December 4, 1769).

“Stage-Waggons.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers featured few visual images. Many had some sort of device in the masthead, but usually delivered the news unadorned. Advertisements sometimes included images, but those were the exception rather than the rule. Those that did have woodcuts relied on stock images that belonged to the printer, primarily ships for notices about vessels preparing to depart, horses for advertisements about breeding, houses for real estate notices, and men or women fleeing for advertisements about apprentices and indentured servants who ran away or enslaved people who escaped. Such woodcuts were used interchangeably for advertisements from the appropriate genre. Other images that accompanied advertisements usually appeared because advertisers commissioned a woodcut specific to their business, either replicating their shop signs or depicting their most notable products.

When Joseph Crane and Josiah F. Davenport turned to the pages of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy to advertise the stagecoach service they operated between New York and Philadelphia, they included a woodcut depicting a team of horses pulling a covered wagon. This was not one of the standard stock images, suggesting that Crane and Davenport had commissioned it for exclusive use in their advertisements. However, in their advertisements for “Stage-Waggons” that ran between New York and Philadelphia, John Mercereau and John Barnhill published what appeared to be the same image. This was not merely a case of using the woodcut in an advertisement that appeared on one page and then using it again in another advertisement on a page printed on the other side of the sheet. In the December 4, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, Crane and Davenport’s advertisement featuring the woodcut ran on the same page as Mercereau and Barnhill’s advertisement featuring the woodcut. They had to have been printed simultaneously, indicating that James Parker, the printer, possessed more than one woodcut depicting horses pulling wagons, just as he had multiple woodcuts of ships and houses. It seems unlikely that Crane and Davenport or Mercereau and Barnhill would have commissioned a woodcut that looked so nearly identical to one used by a competitor as to be indistinguishable. Apparently Parker’s collection of stock images was at least a little bit larger than the frequent reiteration of the most common woodcuts suggested. That did not, however, significantly alter the frequency of visual images accompanying either news or advertising in his newspaper. His publication, like other colonial newspapers, consisted almost exclusively of text and a limited number of stock images. That made any visual image, but especially those seen infrequently, all the more notable.

Dec 4 - 12:4:1769 Woodcuts New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (December 4, 1769).

June 26

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

Jun 26 - 6:23:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 23, 1768).

“The BUNCH of GRAPES.”

When Josiah F. Davenport opened the Bunch of Grapes inn and tavern in Philadelphia in the late spring of 1768 he placed advertisements in newspapers published in both New York and Philadelphia, alerting travelers and local residents alike to the many entertainments and amenities he provided. Davenport’s first advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle included a woodcut that presumably depicted the sign that marked the location of his establishment: a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. Such a specialized woodcut, specific to Davenport’s business, certainly enhanced the advertisement and increased the probability that it would attract the attention of potential patrons, but it was also an additional expense. Unlike the woodcuts of horses, houses, ships, and slaves that were part of any newspaper printer’s collection of type, other woodcuts that appeared in eighteenth-century advertisements belonged to the advertisers who had commissioned them.

Such was the case with Davenport’s woodcut that replicated his sign. He likely considered it an important investment when it came to building his brand, especially since the Bunch of Grapes occupied an inn “for some time known by the name of the BULL’s HEAD.” The success of his new enterprise depended in part on those previously familiar with the former tavern now associating the same location with the Bunch of Grapes. Both the sign and the woodcut aided in strengthening his brand recognition among residents of Philadelphia he hoped would visit his “genteel HOUSE of ENTERTAINEMNT … for the best fare and civilest treatment,” whether they gathered for “business or recreation.”

Yet there were limits to how much Davenport considered necessary to invest in visual representations of his brand. He did not commission separate woodcuts to accompany his advertisements that appeared in newspapers published in Philadelphia. Instead, he had one woodcut that first accompanied his advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle before reappearing in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette. A notch or indentation in the upright portion of the signpost confirms that Davenport shuttled a single woodcut between printing offices. He was not the only advertiser who made that choice. In New York, Gerardus Duyckninck inserted his elaborate woodcut in multiple newspapers, one after the other in succession. Although an effective means of making advertisements distinctive, woodcuts incurred additional expenses. Some advertisers who commissioned them attempted to maximize the returns on their investments by rotating them through several newspapers.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post- Boy (June 6, 1768).

“His House is very well calculated for an Inn.”

When Josiah F. Davenport opened an inn on Third Street in Philadelphia, he advertised in newspapers published in both Philadelphia and New York. Doing so made sense since he billed “the Bunch of Grapes” as “a genteel House of Entertainment, for Travellers and others, who may depend on the best Fare and civilest Treatment.” Davenport positioned his tavern and inn as a destination not only for visitors to the city but also for local residents “who may have Occasion to meet on Business or Recreation.” In addition to the “best Liquors” and the “elegant and spacious” accommodations for guests, Davenport also promoted the location. He proclaimed that Third Street “is becoming one of the grandest Avenues into this City.” The Bunch of Grapes “stands in the Neighbourhood of many principal Merchants and capital Stores.” Furthermore, it was also located “very near the Market.” Visitors traveling to Philadelphia on business could lodge in an establishment close to their associates, one that also happened to be in a swank neighborhood. Local patrons could also take advantage of the convenient location for conducting business or enjoying the various entertainments at the Bunch of Grapes.

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (June 6, 1768).

Davenport submitted identical copy to the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the Pennsylvania Chronicle (but the compositors for each made their own decisions about capitalization and italics throughout the advertisement). He also adorned the notice in the Chronicle with a woodcut depicting the sign that marked his establishment, a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. He acknowledged that the “large and commodious Inn” he now operated had been “for some time known by the Name of the Bull’s Head.” However, it was now known as the Bunch of Grapes under the management of the new proprietor. The new sign and an image in one of the city’s newspapers helped to cement the switch in branding for the inn. This was especially important considering that the Bull’s Head had established its own reputation for operating at that location.

Davenport realized that the success of the Bunch of Grapes depended on attracting a mixture of customers, both residents of Philadelphia who patronized his “House of Entertainment” for an afternoon or evening and visitors from other places who spent one or more nights. Accordingly, he highlighted a variety of amenities and, especially, the location of the inn in newspapers published in more than one city. Through his marketing efforts, he encouraged travelers to think of the Bunch of Grapes, rather than Philadelphia, as their destination.