October 25

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

Oct 25 - 10:22:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 22, 1767).

“A NEAT assortment of coarse, fine and superfine broadcloths.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would have recognized Magdalen Devine’s advertisement at a glance even if it had not featured her name in capital letters. Why? Devine used a woodcut that depicted some of her merchandise. In so doing, she successfully branded her business, repeatedly inserting it along with extensive lists of the merchandise she stocked.

The Adverts 250 Project previously examined another advertisement Devine placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette in May 1767. The content changed significantly. Then, Devine announced that she had imported a variety of goods in the Carolina from London and the Peggy from Glasgow. In her new advertisements, she hawked goods that had recently arrived via the Mary and Elizabeth from London as well as “the last vessels from Liverpool and Glasgow.” Both advertisements listed hundreds of items potential customers would find among her inventory; although the types of goods were similar, she enumerated different items in each.

Some aspects of Devine’s advertisements remained consistent. In May and October she gave her address, “In Second-street, between Market and Chestnut-streets, the fourth door from the Quaker meeting-house,” and concluded by assuring readers that “she will sell at the lowest terms, for cash or short credit.” Yet the most significant feature of her advertisements had to have been the woodcut that appeared at the top, a woodcut that occupied as much space as some of the shorter advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Devine deployed the woodcut as a brand to identify her business and distinguish it from others, but it also illustrated some of her merchandise. The shopkeeper sold all kinds of imported textiles; her advertisements filled half a column because she listed so many different styles, colors, and qualities of fabrics. Her woodcut provided visual affirmation of her inventory. It showed two rolls of patterned cloth (suggesting quantity) flanked by swatches that revealed distinctive patterns (suggesting fashion).

Commissioning a woodcut would have been an additional expense for Devine, but the length and frequency of her advertisements indicate that she was willing to invest in advertising. She likely considered the woodcut a good investment since it immediately identified her advertisements whenever they appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the newspaper that usually included more advertising (including a two-page supplement) than any other newspaper printed in the American colonies in the 1760s. Devine relied on standard marketing appeals throughout her advertisements, but her woodcut attracted attention and distinguished her marketing efforts.

May 17

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

May 17 - 5:14:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 14, 1767).

“Imported … by MAGDALEN DEVINE … the following goods.”

Compared to their male counterparts, female shopkeepers placed relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers (and turned to other forms of marketing media, such as magazine wrappers, trade cards, and broadsides, even less often). Women’s participation in the marketplace as retailers rather than consumers was disproportionately underrepresented among advertisements in colonial and Revolutionary-era newspapers.

Magdalen Devine’s lengthy list-style advertisement was notable, however, not only because she was a female entrepreneur who turned to the public prints to promote her business. To draw attention to her notice, Devine included a woodcut that depicted the sorts of textiles she imported and sold at her shop on Second Street near the Quaker Meetinghouse. A border surrounded two rolls of cloth positioned next to two swatches, all of them arrayed to demonstrate four different patterns. This visual image reinforced the work done in Devine’s dense list of merchandise: customers could expect to make choices among the assortment of dry goods she stocked.

Given that few male advertisers, whether shopkeepers, artisans, or others, commissioned woodcuts to include in their marketing efforts, Devine’s advertisement was quite extraordinary. To paraphrase Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s analysis of gendered women’s activities in colonial New England, Devine’s advertisement demonstrates what was possible rather than what was probable when women took on some of the same tasks and responsibilities most often reserved for or associated with men.

Three other women played a role in advertisements that appeared in the same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. A notice placed by “JOHN HOLLIDAY, TAYLOR,” included a final paragraph about “Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound” for removing hair. Unlike her husband, Mrs. Holliday’s name did appear in all capitals. “WILLIAM SYMONDS” and “MARY SYMONDS, Millener,” cooperated in placing an advertisement, though Mary seems to have been the driving force. The advertisement briefly noted that William “has just imported in the last vessels, a neat assortment of merchandize.” Mary, on the other hand, provided a list of her “neat assortment of millenery goods” that exceeded Devine’s in length. (Symonds was one of the few female entrepreneurs who distributed her own trade card in eighteenth-century America, though she would not do so for another decade.) Finally, “ANN PEARSON, MILLENER,” also inserted a list-style advertisement, seemingly of her own accord. It did not mention any male relatives who might have overseen her participation in the marketplace.

The woodcut that accompanied Devine’s advertisement made her marketing memorable. The May 14 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette consisted of eight pages (the four-page standard issue as well as a four-page supplement) with nearly seven of them devoted to advertising. Only two other advertisements included woodcuts, a generic ship with Alexander Lunan’s notice about freight and passage on a ship about to sail for South Carolina and an extended hand with dyer Joseph Allardyce’s advertisement for his shop “at the Sign of the Blue Hand.” Although men most actively advertised consumer goods and services in early America, women also adopted marketing innovations and experimented with various methods for marketing their wares.