What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“John White Stay-Maker”
Most advertisements in colonial newspapers did not feature visual images. Those that did usually used a stock image provided by the printer, such as a ship at sea, a house, a horse, or an enslaved person liberating him- or herself by “running away.” Never elaborate in the scenes depicted, such woodcuts could be used interchangeably in advertisements from the appropriate genre. Some advertisers, however, commissioned images that corresponded to the shop signs that marked their locations or illustrated one or more items available among their merchandise.
Two such images appeared in the September 19, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Robert Parrish once again included the woodcut depicting a “ROLLING SCREEN for cleaning wheat and flaxseed,” though he did not use a woodcut showing a Dutch fan or winnowing fan that previously appeared with it. Perhaps he did not wish to incur the additional cost for the space required to publish two images.
Another entrepreneur, John White, adorned his advertisement with an image of a stay (or corset), the body and holes for the laces on the left and the laces on the right. Readers would have easily recognized the garment and understood how it wrapped around and confined a woman’s body. The words “John White” and “Stay-Maker” flanked the woodcut. The image accounted for half of the space for the advertisement, an additional investment beyond commissioning the woodcut.
White announced that he moved to a new location where “he continues to carry on the Staymaking business as usual.” He pledged “to give satisfaction to all who are pleased to employ him.” He also solicited “orders from any part of the country” and provided mail order service, making it unnecessary for clients to visit his shop in Philadelphia. Instead, they could send measurements “in respect to length and width of the Stays, both at top and bottom exactly, in the front and back parts.” The staymaker warned that customers who opted for that convenience needed to pay postage for such orders rather than expect him to take responsibility for those charges.
The woodcut depicting a stay, its body and laces unfurled, almost certainly helped attract attention to White’s advertisement, his promises of customer satisfaction, and the option for submitting orders “by the post” rather than visiting his shop. Most newspaper advertisements consisted solely of text, so any sort of visual enhancement, whether an image or decorative type, distinguished those advertisements from others.