October 21

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 21, 1771).

“The newest fashionable muffs [and] tippets.”

A woodcut depicting a muff and tippet adorned the advertisements that the partnership of Fromberger and Siemon placed in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal in the fall of 1771.  The advertisers did not rely on the image alone to market their “large assortment of Russia and Siberia fur skins” and garments made from those furs, but it almost certainly helped draw attention to their advertisements.  That woodcut also represented an additional expense.  Unlike the type used to print the copy in their notices, the woodcut belonged to the advertisers rather than the printers.  That being the case, Fromberger and Siemon collected their woodcut from one printing office and delivered it to another when they expanded their advertising campaign.

The furriers first inserted an advertisement in the September 26 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  It ran again the following week.  Nearly three weeks elapsed before the same advertisement appeared in the October 21 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  It featured identical copy, though the compositor made different decisions about line breaks, as well as the familiar woodcut that occupied nearly half the space allotted to the advertisement.  Careful examination of the image reveals that it was indeed the same woodcut, not a similar image.  Fromberger and Siemon commissioned only one woodcut, but they aimed to garner a greater return on their investment by disseminating it in more than one newspaper. For many readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the image would have been new and novel when they encountered it.  Those who also happened to peruse the Pennsylvania Journal, however, would have recognized the woodcut.  The repetition of the image likely helped Fromberger and Siemon achieve greater visibility for their enterprise.  Had they published it more regularly, they might have encouraged readers to consider the image a trademark of sorts, but their notices appeared too sporadically.  Although Fromberger and Siemon did not seize the opportunity to further enhance their marketing efforts through consistent repetition of the image of the muff and tippet in the fall of 1771, they did devise advertisements that stood out from others because of the woodcut that accompanied them.

October 14

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 14, 1771).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION, A WEEKLY NEWS-PAPER.”

Philadelphia was the most populous city among Britain’s mainland colonies in the early 1770s, large enough that John Dunlap determined that the market could support an additional newspaper in the fall of 1771.  Local readers already had access to the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, and the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, but in early October Dunlap began distributing subscription notices for another weekly newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, to commence on November 25.

Like subscription notices for other publications, whether books, magazines, or newspapers, Dunlap’s notice included both an overview of the purpose and a list of conditions.  Those conditions specified subscription prices and advertising fees that many printers rarely published after launching their newspapers, though some regularly incorporated one or both into their colophon alongside other details of publication.  “The Price to Subscribers,” Dunlap informed readers, “will be Ten Shillings per year.”  In addition, “Advertisements, of a moderate length, will be inserted at Three Shillings each for one week, and One Shilling for each continuance.”  In that regard, Dunlap deviated from the standard pricing structure; most printers set the base price to include inserting advertisements for either three or four weeks before charging for “each continuance.”    Dunlap did adopt the familiar practice of charging more for longer advertisements, stating that “those of greater length” would appear “at such proportionable prices as may be reasonable.”

As was the case for other newspapers, advertisements for the Pennsylvania Packet were relatively expensive compared to subscriptions.  Three advertisements running for just one week cost nearly as much as a single subscription.  Paid notices represented significant revenue for most colonial printers who published newspapers.  That may have influenced Dunlap to list advertising fees ahead of subscription prices in the conditions in his subscription notice.  Although the advertisement ended with a list of local agents who accepted subscriptions on Dunlap’s behalf in several towns, he sought advertisers for his new endeavor as well as subscribers.  He needed both kinds of support for the Pennsylvania Packet to become a successful enterprise.

October 9

What was (not) advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 9, 1771).

“Advertisements omitted this Week, will be inserted in our next.”

Nearly three dozen advertisements appeared in the October 7, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but William Goddard, the printer, did not have enough space to publish all of the notices submitted to his printing office on Arch Street in Philadelphia.  Neither did he have room for all of the news.  The final column of the third page concluded with a brief note advising that “Advertisements omitted this Week, will be inserted in our next.  Also a Variety of Intelligence which we are now obliged to postpone, in order to oblige our advertising Customers.”

Colonial newspapers generated revenue along two trajectories:  subscriptions and advertising.  Subscribers purchased access to the “freshest advices, foreign and domestic,” as the mastheads for many newspapers described the news. Advertisers, in turn, purchased access to readers.  They sought to place their notices before the eyes of as many readers as possible.  Printers sometimes commented on how many subscribers received their newspapers as a means of encouraging prospective advertisers to place notices.  In making decisions about what to publish, printers had to balance news and advertising in order to satisfy both subscribers and advertisers.  Displeasing one constituency or the other had the potential to negatively affect revenues.

Printers regularly informed readers that they postponed advertisements, a means of assuring advertisers that their notices would indeed soon appear.  Most printers, however, did not often explicitly comment on their endeavors to serve their advertisers, making Goddard’s note about “oblig[ing] our advertising Customers” all the more remarkable.  He revealed to readers, subscribers and advertisers alike, that publishing advertisements sometimes took priority over “a Variety of Intelligence” that he might otherwise have published.  While he framed this as a service to customers who placed notices, the revenues those advertisements represented could not have been far from his mind.  Goddard was willing to delay some advertisements until the next edition, but not too many of them as he aimed to please both subscribers and advertisers.

September 11

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 9, 1771).

“Lately imported from LONDON and BRISTOL, and to be Sold, on the cheapest Terms, by Daniel Benezet.”

Today, newspapers run the most consequential stories, the biggest news, on the front page.  Headlines provide brief summaries, prompting readers to learn more.  Images often accompany the articles.  That format has grown so familiar that it may seem strange to imagine other ways of organizing the content and delivering the news, yet the appearance of the modern newspaper has evolved significantly.  In the eighteenth century, printers made other choices about where content appeared in their newspapers.

Consider, for example, the September 9, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Like other newspapers published throughout the colonies, it consisted of only four pages.  William Goddard printed two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folded it in half before distributing it to subscribers.  The first item on the first page, immediately below the masthead, was an extensive advertisement placed by Daniel Benezet to promote an assortment of goods he “Lately imported from LONDON and BRISTOL.”  The shopkeeper enumerated hundreds of items, his advertisement filling the entire first column and overflowing into the second.  Three shorter advertisements completed that column, with news first appearing in the final column.  The first page included updates received from Warsaw and London.  News from London continued on the second page, supplemented with news from Salem, Boston, and New York on the third page.  Goddard inserted some local news from Philadelphia, including the shipping news from the customs house, on the third page.  Half of that page as well as the entire final page consisted of advertising.  Readers seeking news spent most of the time perusing the inside pages; as they held their newspapers aloft, observers glimpsed the masthead and a lot of advertising and only a little bit of news.

Overall, slightly less than six of the twelve columns in that issue contained news.  Paid notices occupied the rest of the space in the newspaper, underscoring that publications like the Pennsylvania Chronicle, or, noting its full title, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser were delivery mechanisms for advertising in eighteenth century America.  Printers organized newspapers differently in the eighteenth century than publishers do today.  In turn, readers approached them with different strategies for extracting the information they wanted or needed.

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 9, 1771).

September 2

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 2, 1771).

“Those who have taken subscriptions of others, [send] their lists … to the Publisher.”

In the course of just a few days late in the summer of 1771, readers in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina encountered the same advertisement in their local newspapers.  John Dunlap, a printer in Philadelphia, distributed subscription notices for his current project, “ALL THE POETICAL WRITINGS, AND SOME OTHER PIECES, of the Rev. NATHANIEL EVANS,” in order to entice customers in distant places to reserve copies of the forthcoming work.  On September 2, Dunlap’s advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Four days earlier, the same advertisement ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Pennsylvania Journal.

With one exception, the advertisements featured identical copy with minor variations in format, the copy being the domain of the advertiser and decisions about design at the discretion of the compositor.  The exception concerned the directions issued to prospective subscribers for submitting their names.  In the newspapers published in Philadelphia, Dunlap requested “that all who are desirous of encouraging this publication, and who may not yet have subscribed, will send their names” to him directly.  In addition, he asked that “those who have taken subscriptions of others,” acting as agents on Dunlap’s behalf, dispatch “their lists without loss of time to the Publisher.”  In the advertisements in the other newspapers, however, he instructed subscribers to submit their names “to the Printer hereof.”  Newspaper printers in other cities served as his local agents, including Richard Draper in Boston and Hugh Gaine in New York.  Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, underscored that he was Dunlap’s local agents, revising the copy in his newspaper to instruct subscribers to “send in their Names, without Loss of Time, to ROBERT WELLS.”

Dunlap did not rely merely on generating demand among local customers when he published “THE POETICAL WRITINGS … of the Rev. NATHANIEL EVANS.”  Instead, he inserted subscription notices in newspapers published in the largest cities in the colonies, hoping to incite greater interest in the project and attract additional buyers.  In the process, he recruited other printers to act as local agents who collected subscriptions on his behalf.  He created a network of associates that extended from New England to South Carolina as part of his marketing campaign.

August 21

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 19, 1771).

“He hath to sell also, his Royal Balsam, which is made of American produce.”

Two advertisements for patent medicines appeared among the notices in the August 21, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  In an extensive advertisement that filled an entire column and overflowed into another, William Young promoted “Dr. HILL’S AMERICAN BALSAM.”  Further down that second column, George Weed hawked his own “Royal Balsam” as well as several other nostrums that he compounded to cure “the bloody flux,” coughs, and other maladies.  Weed’s advertisement was much shorter, but the apothecary indicated that he had the capacity to publish a notice just as lengthy as the one inserted by Young.  “He hath by him,” Weed proclaimed, “a considerable number of certificates of extraordinary cures by [his medicines], which he designs to publish in a short time.”  In other words, Weed claimed to have testimonials from actual patients to disseminate among the public.

While Weed supplied a variety of powders, syrups, and tinctures, Young devoted his entire advertisement to the American Balsam.  This remedy bore that name because a physician in London produced it from “American plants, sent to England by that ingenious gentleman Mr. William Young, of Pennsylvania, Botanist to their Majesties the King and Queen of Great-Britain.”  That botanist was the son of the advertiser, whom Hill “appointed the only capital vender of [his medicine] in all America” out of gratitude “to the young gentleman.”  Hill did allow that Young could appoint “whom he pleases under him” to sell the American Balsam.  The elder Young had an exclusive franchise, but appointed local agents in Philadelphia, Germantown, Lancaster, and Wilmington.

Weed divided his advertisement into two portions.  In the first half, he proclaimed that the American Balsam, an imported medicine, “is now so well known in Pennsylvania, Maryland, &c. &c. there is no need of any further recommendation” and then described its effective use among patients in great detail anyway.  The second half consisted of a letter from Hill in which the doctor described the afflictions the medicine cured, outlined the history of its creation and refinement, and endorsed Young as his American purveyor.  Weed did not resort to such a preponderance of prose for his Royal Balsam, produced locally, or invest nearly as much in placing his much shorter advertisement, though the “certificates of extraordinary cures” that he suggested he would soon publish likely rivaled Young’s advertisement in length.  Although  they chose different marketing strategies, Weed and Young both apparently considered their methods worth the expense of placing notices in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

July 22

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 22, 1771).

“DUTCH FANS, upon different constructions.”

Yesterday’s entry featured an advertisement for “ROLLING SCREENS for Cleaning Wheat or Flax-seed” placed in the July 18, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal by Christian Fiss.  That advertisement was notable for the image that accompanied it, a woodcut depicting a winnowing fan (better known as a “DUTCH FAN” in the eighteenth century) for separating the wheat from the chaff.  Printers provided several stock images of ships, horses, houses, indentured servants, and enslaved people for advertisers to incorporate into their notices, but not other images with more limited usage.  Instead, advertisers like Fiss commissioned woodcuts specific to their businesses when they wanted to draw greater attention to their newspaper notices.

At the same time that Fiss included an image of a winnowing fan in an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, one of his competitors, Robert Parrish, pursued the same strategy in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Fiss divided the space in his advertisement more or less evenly between image and text, but Parrish devoted more space to images than to his description of the “various kinds of wire work” he made.  In addition to a woodcut depicting a winnowing fan, he included a second woodcut of a rolling screen.  That represented even greater expense for his marketing efforts, but Parrish presumably believed that investing in such images would result in more sales and the woodcuts would pay for themselves in the end.

Parrish previously included his woodcut depicting a winnowing fan in an advertisement in the October 29, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  He may have chosen to resume running advertisements that included that image upon seeing Fiss publish advertisements with a similar image.  Having made the initial investment, he did not want to lose any advantage once a competitor commissioned a woodcut of his own.  Not long after that, he collected his woodcuts from the Pennsylvania Chronicle and delivered them to the Pennsylvania Gazette to include in an advertisement with identical copy on October 15.  Unlike the stock images that printers provided, such specialized images belonged to the advertisers, who could choose to insert them in more than one newspaper.  Parrish sought to increase the exposure, achieve a greater return on his investment, and ward off a rival by inserting the images in more than one newspaper.

July 10

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 8, 1771).

“A small warehouse … in Baltimore.”

The Pennsylvania Chronicle, like other American newspapers published prior to the American Revolution, served a large region.  Published in Philadelphia, it circulated in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York.  Some copies certainly made their way to even more distant places, but it was residents of those colonies that considered the Pennsylvania Chronicle a local newspaper in terms of subscribing and advertising.

Such was the case for James Clarke, a woolen manufacturer in Baltimore, when he wished to inform “all Merchants and Traders, that he has just imported … A NEAT assortment” of merchandise “which he purposes to dispose of by wholesale.”  He invited “any merchant or tobacco planter” to contact him or visit his warehouse “at the sign of Pitt’s Head, in Baltimore.”  When he placed his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle in July 1771, Baltimore did not yet have its own newspaper.  Just over two years later, William Goddard, the printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, would commence publishing the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, but for the time being Clarke and others in Baltimore read and advertised in newspapers published elsewhere.  In addition to the Pennsylvania Chronicle, they had several options, including the Maryland Gazette published by Anne Catherine Green in Annapolis, the Pennsylvania Gazette published by David Hall and William Sellers in Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Journal published by William Bradford and Thomas Bradford in Philadelphia.  Henry Miller also published a German-language newspaper, the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, in Philadelphia.  By the end of 1771, John Dunlap launched yet another newspaper in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Packet, giving Clarke and others in Baltimore another option for a regional newspaper in the absence of one printed locally.

Advertisements like those placed by Clarke testified to the regional character of the Pennsylvania Chronicle and other newspapers.  Many of them included datelines that helped readers navigate the notices and determine which were most relevant to them, such as “Baltimore, July 1, 1771” at the top of Clarke’s advertisement.  The woolen manufacturer understood that the publication circulated widely and expected that prospective customers in Baltimore and the surrounding area would see his notice among the greater number of advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans and others who ran businesses in Philadelphia.

July 8

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 8, 1771).

“In a few days will be published by said SPARHAWK, a handsome edition of Dimsdale on the small-pox.”

John Sparhawk cultivated a reputation as a bookseller with a particular interest in medicine.  He did so in his advertisements and in choices he made in running “the London Book-store, and Unicorn and Mortar.”  The dual name for his location on Second Street in Philadelphia testified to his overlapping business interests.  Many booksellers sold patent medicines, but Sparhawk did more than just carry “Drugs and medicines of all kinds.”  He also published American editions of medical treatises.

In March 1771, Sparhawk advertised the publication of Samuel-Auguste Tissot’s Advice to the People in General, with Regard to their Health.  He continued advertising that volume for sale at his shop into the summer, but he and John Dunlap, the printer, also distributed copies to printers and booksellers in other cities.  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, advertised that they sold the book in the July 8 edition of their newspaper.  Their notice reiterated a portion of the advertisement Sparhawk ran in the Pennsylvania Journal, asserting that “This Book has been generally approved by People of all Ranks, into whose Hands it has fell, and it’s Character is so well known that it is esteemed needless to add more in its Favor.”  As the publisher whose name appeared on the title page of the American edition, Sparhawk aimed to associate himself with that esteem.

Within a few months, the bookseller-apothecary pursued the publication of another medical treatise.  In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he announced that “In a few days will be published by said SPARHAWK, a handsome edition of Dimsdale on the small-pox.”  Like Tissot’s Advice to the People, Thomas Dimsdale’s Present Method of Inoculating for the Small-Pox (1767) was a popular book that quickly went into several editions in England.  Its success likely made an American edition seem like a safe investment for Sparhawk, but he derived more than just revenues from its publication and sale.  He demonstrated a commitment to medicine and public health that distinguished him from other booksellers who merely stocked patent medicines and sold imported medical treatises.

July 3

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 1, 1771).

“THE imprudent Behaviour of my Son JESSE HALL, lays me under the painful Necessity of forwarning all Persons from harbouring or concealing him.”

Conradt Wolff lamented that his wife, Jenny, “hath behaved herself in such a manner as lays me under a necessity of forbidding any persons from trusting her on my account.”  In an advertisement in the July 1, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, he warned the public that he “will pay no debts of her contracting.”  Throughout the colonies, similar notices frequently ran in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Aggrieved husbands deployed “runaway wife” advertisements to discipline disobedient women, though their notices told only one side of a story of marital discord. Relatively few wives possessed the resources to respond in print.  Those that did usually provided much different narratives, often accusing their husbands of abuse and neglect.  From their perspective, running away was an act of self-preservation and principled resistance rather than willful disobedience.

On occasion, colonists resorted to the public prints in the wake of other sorts of tumult within their households.  On the same day that Wolff placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette, Moses Hall placed his own notice in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Hall, however, deplored the misbehavior of his son, Jesse.  “THE imprudent Behaviour of my Son,” Hall declared, “lays me under the painful Necessity of forwarning all Persons from harbouring or concealing him.” Furthermore, “they may depend on being prosecuted to the utmost Rigour of the Law, if they disregard this Notice.”  Hall did not elaborate on his son’s “imprudent Behaviour,” though gossip and rumors likely circulated beyond the newspaper.  That was almost certainly the case for the Camps and the Brents in Elizabethtown, New Jersey.  John D. Camp, Jr., informed readers of the New-York Gazette that he had been “compel’d by David Brent, to marry Catherine, his daughter.”  Camp vowed to “allow her a separate Maintenance, in all Respects suitable to her Degree,” but he would not pay “any Debts of her Contracting.”  Camp carefully avoided the details about events that resulted in his unwelcome wedding.  If friends and acquaintances had not been discussing whatever transpired between John and Catherine and her father before the advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette, its appearance probably prompted them to share what they knew for certain and speculate on what they did not.

Wolff, Hall, and Camp all attempted to focus attention on the subjects of their advertisements:  an absent wife, a troublesome son, or an imperious father-in-law.  In even publishing their notices, however, they called attention to themselves and their shortcomings in maintaining order within their households.  They sought to regain authority through the power of the press, but in the process they made their private altercations all the more visible to the public.  They framed the narratives and obscured the details, yet they still alerted others to scenes of difficulty and embarrassment that did not reflect well on them despite their efforts to shift responsibility to the actions of others.