What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“HATS manufactured and sold by the advertiser.”
Of the five newspapers published in Boston in the summer of 1772, the Massachusetts Spy had the most elaborate masthead, but it also had featured the fewest innovations in design for the rest of the contents, including advertisements. For instance, a decorative border enclosed Jolley Allen’s advertisement when it appeared in each of the other newspapers, but that distinctive format was not incorporated into Allen’s notice when he submitted identical copy to the Massachusetts Spy.
That did not prevent Martin Bicker from attempting to draw more attention to his advertisement with an image of his merchandise in the upper left corner. Bicker advertised that he “manufactured and sold” hats. A woodcut depicting a tricorne hat, a popular style at the time, alerted readers to the contents of the advertisement before they read it. Bicker did not provide many details about his hats, but he did declare that he “hopes he has given such satisfaction to his customers as will induce them to continue their favours.” In other words, he invited repeat business and recommendations via word of mouth.
The same day that Bicker’s advertisement ran in the Massachusetts Spy, Nesbitt Deane once again inserted his advertisement for hats in the New-York Journal. Both the appeals he made to customers and the image that accompanied the notice were more sophisticated. Deane trumpeted that he made hats “to exceed in Fineness, Cut, Colour and Cock.” In addition, he devised a means “to turn rain, and prevent the Sweat of the Head damaging the crown.” Prospective customers would not find that feature in other hats, Deane asserted, because he invented “a Method peculiar to himself. He also gave a discount to retailers who bought in volume, offering “Encouragement to those who buy to sell again.” Like Bicker, Deane acknowledged his existing customers and asked them to promote his hats. “Such Gentry and others, who have experienced his Ability, ’tis hoped will recommend.” The image at the top of Deane’s advertisement included both a tricorne hat and a banner with his name. Rococo flourishes further enhanced that image.
Bicker did not deploy as many appeals as Deane in his effort to entice consumers to purchase his hats, but including an image in his advertisement distinguished it from most others in the Massachusetts Spy. Relatively few advertisements published in the eighteenth-century newspapers featured images of any sort. Did including images give advertisers an advantage? Deane apparently thought so. By the time Bicker placed his notice, Deane had been running his advertisement for nearly a year. He likely would not have inserted it in the New-York Journal so many times if he did not believe he received a return on his investment.