Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

benjamin-franklin
Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-19-161736
Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children as well as notices offering rewards for those who escaped from bondage.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-slave-19-161736
Advertisement for an enslaved woman and an enslaved child from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

general-magazine
General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 316th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

January 12

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 9, 1772).

“Friends to American Manufactures will give the preference to his Parchment.”

Advertising campaigns that encouraged consumers to “Buy American” predate the American Revolution.  During the period of the imperial crisis that eventually culminated in thirteen colonies declaring independence, advertisers promoted “domestic manufactures” as alternatives to good imported from England.  Robert Wood did so in the early 1770s.  He drew attention to “PARCHMENT MADE and SOLD by ROBERT WOOD” in an advertisement in the January 9, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Several printers also stocked and sold Wood’s parchment, making it convenient for consumers to acquire.

Producing parchment in Philadelphia might not seem like a significant act itself, but Wood insisted that “EVERY Manufacture carried on among us, however small” yielded “good consequences to the country in general.”  He did his part to support the local economy and resist the abuses of Parliament (including duties on imported paper and other goods that had only recently been repealed) by making and selling parchment, but he needed consumers as partners to complete the transaction and truly make an impact.  For those who had concerns about the quality of his parchment compared to what they might acquire from merchants and shopkeepers who imported parchment, he asserted that “several of the most eminent Conveyancers in this city” had been purchasing from him “for some time past” and they considered his product “superior to the generality of what is imported.”  Furthermore, he set prices “as low as that imported,” yet another reason to purchase his parchment.

Wood concluded by reminding consumers that their choices in the marketplace had consequences.  He requested that the “friends to American Manufactures … give the preference to his Parchment” over any other, especially imported parchment.  In deploying such a title, “friends to American Manufactures,” Wood implicitly suggested to consumers that making other choices made them opponents of goods produced in the colonies and the welfare of their community.

November 28

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Gazette (November 28, 1771).

“My boy JOHN COFFE ran away.”

Advertisements for runaway indentured servants and apprentices as well as enslaved people who liberated themselves by fleeing from their enslavers regularly appeared in colonial newspapers.  The November 28, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, carried several.  Peter Care informed readers that “a Dutch servant man, named George Foell” absconded a month earlier, described the runaway’s appearance and clothing, and offered a reward to whoever “apprehends and secures the said servant, so that his master may have him again.”  In another advertisement, John Anderson, the jailkeeper in Newtown in Bucks County, reported that he had in custody “a likely NEGROE man” suspected of liberating himself from George Adam Widner of Reading.  “His master,” Anderson instructed, “is desired to come and pay charges, and take him away.”

Among the many runaway advertisements that competed for the attention of readers, Andrew Moore sought to distinguish his notice by resorting to verse.  “THE ’leventh month, the sixteenth day, / My boy JOHN COFFE ran away,” the poem began.  Moore described Coffe’s age and appearance, but did so in rhyming couplets in hopes of keeping readers interested.  “His age uncertain, yet appears / To be at least full fifteen years,” Moore asserted, before providing an extensive description of Coffe’s clothing.  “A good wool hat he took away, / Quite new, just bought the other day … His jacket was, as I am told, / Too big for him, and something old.”  He commented on the fit of another garment as well.  “Old buckskin breeches too he had, / Too big I’m sure for such a lad.”  Moore may have intended this attention to the size of Coffe’s clothing to allude to his lack of experience and maturity.  As with most advertisements about runaway servants and apprentices, this one concluded with an overview of the reward.  “Whoever takes him, pray don’t fail / To lay him fast in any jail, / And then, to you I’ll freely give / Full Thirty Shillings if I live.”

Moore frequently forced the rhymes to make his poem about Coffe work, but his intention was not to write a work of literature but instead to create an advertisement that took a familiar theme and made it fresh and memorable.  Rather than a dense paragraph of text, he gave readers a breezy poem that entertained as well as informed.  It certainly took more effort to compose than typical runaway advertisements, but Moore likely that a worthy investment that would aid in recovering the recalcitrant Coffe.

November 3

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (October 31, 1771).

“THOMAS SHIELDS … at the Golden Cup and Crown.”

When Thomas Shields, a goldsmith, advertised his services in the October 31, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he adorned his notice with a depiction of a crown suspended above a cup.  That image corresponded to the sign that marked his location on Front Street in Philadelphia.  It also helped to distinguish his advertisement from others in the same issue.  Ten other notices incorporated images, but all of them featured woodcuts of vessels at sea.  Each of those advertisements sought passengers and freight for ships preparing to leave the busy port.

The images of the ships belonged to David Hall and William Sellers, the printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Along with stock images of houses, horses, enslaved people, and indentured servants, colonial printers provided images of ships to advertisers.  Those who desired more specialized images, on the other hand, commissioned them and retained ownership.  That being the case, some advertisers used their woodcuts in one newspaper for a while before transferring them to another newspaper.  At about the same time that Shields ran his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, James Cunning, a shopkeeper “At the sign of the SPINNING WHEEL,” supplied his woodcut of a spinning wheel to two other newspapers, first the Pennsylvania Journal and then the Pennsylvania Packet.  The notation at the end of Shields’s advertisement, “5 W,” indicated that he arranged for it to run for five weeks.  After that, he could collect his woodcut from Hall and Sellers and transfer it to another printing office.

I regularly choose these unique images that adorned newspaper advertisements when I select notices to feature on the Adverts 250 Project.  Relative to their numbers and frequency in the early American press, such images are overrepresented on this project, meriting a disclaimer that Shields’s advertisement and others with such images were not typical.  They do, however, testify to what was possible in eighteenth-century advertising and the choices that advertisers made when it came to format, incurring additional expenses, and placing notices in multiple newspapers.  In addition, the Adverts 250 Project has compiled an informal census of woodcuts that advertisers commissioned in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  After nearly six years producing the Adverts 250 Project, I get the impression (though this needs to be tested against a more systematic accounting) that the frequency of such images accelerated in the early 1770s, a sign that greater numbers of advertisers embraced the additional expense if those woodcuts garnered greater attention for their newspaper notices.

September 15

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 12, 1771).

“Just Published … POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK, for the YEAR 1772.”

It was a familiar sign of the changing seasons when advertisements for almanacs first appeared in colonial newspapers in the fall.  Two such advertisements ran in the September 12, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  The printers of that newspaper, David Hall and William Sellers, hawked “POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK, for the YEAR 1772,” the popular almanac they published.  Isaac Collins advertised the “BURLINGTON ALMANACK” available at his printing office in Burlington, New Jersey.

Neither advertisement provided much additional information, the printers likely not considering it necessary at the time.  After all, prospective customers had more than four months to purchase copies before the new year began.  The brief advertisements drew attention to these almanacs before competitors began marketing their own publications.  John Fleeming adopted a similar strategy for “Bickerstaff’s Almanack For the Year 1772” when he placed an advertisement in the August 15, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to announce that the almanac “Will be published in September next.”  As fall progressed, more advertisements for almanacs would appear in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  Each year, printers placed increasing elaborate advertisements in October, November, and December as competition for customers intensified.

For the moment, however, Hall and Sellers simply announced that they “Just publishedPoor Richard’s Almanackat theNew Printing-Office, in Market-street, Philadelphia.”  Collins offered a little more information, stating that his almanac contained “besides the usual astronomical Calculations, a Variety of useful and entertaining Matter, both in Prose and Verse.”  Collins also declared that he sold the Burlington Almanac “Wholesale and Retail,” encouraging booksellers, shopkeepers, and others to acquire copies to retail in their own shops.  Although Hall and Sellers did not mention wholesale transactions, alerting customers that they could add Poor Richard’s Almanack to their inventory may have been one of the primary purposes of publishing the almanac and advertising its availability so early.

Daylight hours diminished in September compared to the summer months.  Temperatures became colder.  Yet the natural world did not offer the only evidence that fall would soon arrive.  Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers began encountering advertisements for almanacs for the coming year, another sure sign that summer was in its final days.

September 12

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 12, 1771).

“OFFICE OF INTELLIGENCE.”

William Ibison offered his services as a broker to prospective clients who saw his advertisement in the September 12, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He informed them that he established an “OFFICE OF INTELLIGENCE” on Front Street in Philadelphia.  At that time, he could provide information about “Boys to go Apprentices to different Trades,” “A Number of Houses” for sale “in this City and the Suburbs,” and “Merchandize of all Kinds.”

Realizing that some readers might not have been familiar with the work of a broker or, as Ibison called himself, an “Intelligencer,” he offered an overview of his services.  For a small fee, he collected information about goods for sale from “Merchants, Masters of Vessels, or others,” and then introduced them to prospective buyers.  He also facilitated selling houses and ships, renting lodgings and shops, and selling indentured servants and enslaved laborers.  In addition, Ibison oversaw loans and investments, placed men and women seeking work into jobs, and introduced masters and journeymen “in all Professions.”  For each of those services, he charged “moderate Commissions” or small fees.

Ibison presented his “OFFICE OF INTELLIGENCE” as the hub of an information network.  Some of that information he collected directly from clients, but he also relied on newspapers.  The broker announced his plan “to take in a News-Paper published in every capital Town on the Continent and settle a Correspondence there.”  Doing so would allow him to keep track of “current Prices of Goods in these Places” in order to pass along the intelligence to his clients.  Unlike his other services, he offered that information “gratis.”  He likely hoped that colonists who called on him for that information would be more likely to share information of their own or hire him for other ventures once they discovered how useful it could be to work with a broker who made it his business to collect, collate, and assess information from so many different sources.

The “Intelligencer” declared that “the Nature of the Office is such, the more it is encouraged the more useful it becomes to the Community.”  His services, he asserted, benefited more than just his clients.  That being the case, he “earnestly requests the Public’s Favours in general.”  Only in combining a growing clientele with correspondents and newspapers from other cities could his “OFFICE OF INTELLIGENCE” achieve its full potential in assisting others in acquiring whatever information they needed to successfully pursue their own endeavors.

August 1

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 1, 1771).

At the GOLDEN LION.”

In the early 1770s, John Carnan, a goldsmith and jeweler, ran a shop at the corner of Second and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia.  He promoted his “GOLD, SILVER and JEWELLERY WORK” in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette, assuring prospective customers that he made his wares “in the best and newest taste.”  Like many other purveyors of goods, he provided an overview of his inventory in a dense paragraph of text.  Carnan listed everything from “TANKARDS, cans, tea, coffee and cream pots” to “gold, silver, gilt, enamelled, Scotch pebble, moco, chrystal, paste and glass sleeve buttons” to “silver and enamelled snuff-boxes [and] silver mounted decanter corks.”  In addition, he offered customers the opportunity to select among “sundry other articles, too tedious to mention.”  In terms of advertising copy, Carnan’s notice very much resembled others placed by purveyors of goods and services in Philadelphia and other American towns and cities.

The woodcut that adorned Carnan’s advertisement, however, distinguished it from others.  Carnan marked his location with a sign depicting a golden lion.  A woodcut that also depicted a lion appeared in the upper left corner of his advertisement.  (Regular visitors to the Adverts 250 Project will likely recognize this lion as the image that has appeared on its home page since its inception.)  The woodcut in the advertisement may have replicated Carnan’s shop sign, serving as a logo or brand that identified his business.  Even if the woodcut did not resemble the sign, incorporating an image of a lion likely helped consumers associate the regal animal with the goldsmith and jeweler, making his shop all the more memorable.  Unlike the woodcuts depicting ships at sea, the only other images in the August 1, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette beyond the masthead, the woodcut of the lion belonged to the advertiser rather than the printer.  Carnan invested in an image reserved for his sole use.  Over time, he included the image in other advertisements, providing consistency via the image even as he generated new copy for his notices.  Inserting the same woodcut in multiple advertisements also allowed him a greater return on his investment.  Not every advertiser who commissioned unique woodcuts used them more than once.  Carnan, however, recognized the potential for enhancing his marketing efforts with an image that represented his business and attracted attention among prospective customers.

July 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 25, 1771).

“JAPANED WARE … now made and sold by TIMOTHY BERRET, and COMPANY.”

Advertisements for domestic manufactures, goods produced in the colonies, appeared in colonial newspapers with greater frequency when nonimportation agreements remained in effect in response to the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and the Coercive Acts in the 1760s and 1770s.  They tapered off, but did not disappear altogether, when colonists resumed regular trade with merchants in Britain.  Some advertisers continued to encourage consumers to acquire domestic manufactures, even if doing so did not have the same political valence when tensions between colonists and Parliament eased.

In the summer of 1771, for instance, Timothy Berret and Company advertised “JAPANED WARE” made in Pennsylvania.  The partners recognized the popularity and demand for fashionable housewares with patterns carved into thick black varnish, following styles and techniques that originated in Japan.  Such items testified to commercial networks that extended far beyond the Atlantic as well as to the cosmopolitanism of consumers who acquired and displayed “JAPANED WARE,” no matter whether made in Britain, the colonies, or elsewhere.  Berret and Company adamantly proclaimed their merchandise “Equal in quality to any that can be imported from Great-Britain.”  They underscored the point, declaring their wares “no way inferior, either in neatness of workmanship, japaning, painting, or polishing, to any that is made in England.”  For those consumers skeptical that Berret and Company achieved the same quality as imported items, the partners had on hand “very neat bread-baskets, tea-boards, and waiters” for sale and inspection.

In an effort to gain more orders for their “new Manufactory,” Berret and Company sought buyers among retailers as well as end-use consumers.  They offered discounts, a “great allowance,” to shopkeepers and others “who buy to sell again.”  In addition to quality that matched imported goods, they passed along bargains to their customers with prices “as cheap as in England.”  Purchasers did not have to pay a premium when acquiring domestic manufactures from Berret and Company instead of imported goods produced in greater quantities.

The “young beginners” in Philadelphia refrained from inserting political commentary into their advertisement, instead choosing to reassure hesitant buyers that the quality and price of their “JAPANED WARE” rivaled anything imported.  For many advertisers and consumers, politics did not matter as much in 1771 as they did in 1766 or 1769 or would again in 1774.  Several times in the 1760s and 1770s, the marketing appeals in newspaper advertisements, the arguments in favor of purchasing domestic manufactures, shifted depending on current events and the relationship between Parliament and the colonies.

July 4

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Journal (July 4, 1771).

“RUN-AWAY … a Mulatto Woman Slave, named VIOLET.”

On July 4, 1771, Philip Kearney told the story of Violet, an enslaved woman who liberated herself, though he certainly did not do so in celebration of her fortitude and courage.  In an advertisement that ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazetteand the Pennsylvania Journal, Kearney provided a brief account of what he knew about Violet’s whereabouts for the past decade.  Violet first liberated herself in October 1762.  In 1764, she was spotted “in company with one James Lock, somewhere on the Susquehanna.”  That led to her capture and imprisonment at the jail in Fredericks-Town (now Frederick), Maryland, “on suspicion of having runaway.”  Violet escaped and for seven years managed to elude detection by those who sought to return her to bondage.  In the spring of 1771, however, she “was discovered about fifteen miles from Ball-Fryer’s ferry” in Maryland.

According to Kearney, Violet now had three children.  He wished to enslave the entire family, including children who had only known freedom in the wake of their mother liberating herself.  According to the law, children followed the condition of the mother, and the law still considered Violet a slave.  When Kearney purchased Violet from the executors of Edward Bonnel’s estate, he also acquired any of her children born after the transaction.  Kearney offered ten pounds as a reward for the capture and return of Violet and fifteen pounds for Violet and her children.  Kearney was determined to re-enslave Violet, but she was equally determined to preserve her liberty and protect her children.  Kearney warned that anyone “who may take her up must secure her strictly, or she will certainly escape again, being remarkably artful.”  That artfulness already resulted in nearly a decade of freedom.  With three children, Violet now had even more reason to outwit anyone who attempted to capture her.  Kearney’s advertisement had the potential to bring Violet’s liberty to an end, but it may have also alerted her, her friends, or sympathetic members of her community that she and her children faced new danger.

As the American colonies experienced an imperial crisis that ultimately culminated in a war for independence, Violet seized freedom for herself, repeatedly.  In 1771, colonists did not know the significance that July 4 would gain five years later, but they did discuss liberty and lament their figurative enslavement to Parliament.  Violet, in contrast, experienced literal enslavement before liberating herself.  More than a decade prior to the first shots at Lexington and Concord, she waged her own fight for freedom, an ongoing battle that she might lose at any moment despite the many victories she won.  While certainly not Kearney’s intention, his advertisement told a story of hope and resistance … but it was an unfinished story because the enslaver most certainly aimed to enslave a family who experienced freedom as a result of a woman’s steadfast determination.

On Independence Day, the Adverts 250 Project commemorates the complicated history of the founding of the nation, the grand ideals and the unfulfilled promises, by recounting the experiences of enslaved people who liberated themselves during the era of the American Revolution.  Newspaper advertisements that offered rewards for their capture and return told incomplete stories of freedom, for each a tenuous liberation that brave men and women sought to make permanent but without any guarantee.  Violet and so many others waged their own battled for liberty, as countless advertisements from the early eighteenth century through the late nineteenth century demonstrate.

For other stories of enslaved people liberating themselves originally published on July 4 during the era of the American Revolution, see:

June 30

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 27, 1771).

“THE CARPENTERS ARMS.”

The woodcut that adorned the upper left corner of Samuel Caruthers’s advertisement demanded attention from readers, perhaps making it well worth the investment.  Three compasses appeared within an ornate cartouche, itself enclosed within a simple square border with “THE CARPENTERS ARMS” across the top.  In the advertising copy, Caruthers advised readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that he no longer operated a hardware shop but instead returned to making tools for carpenters.

The visual image made his advertisement unique among those in the June 27, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Only five advertisements included woodcuts of any kind; the other four all featured images of ships at sea, each announcing the upcoming departure of one vessel or another and seeking passengers and freight.  The printers, David Hall and William Sellers, supplied those woodcuts to the advertisers, drawing from stock images that most colonial printers kept on hand.  Those images could be used interchangeably.  It did not matter whether a ship set sail for Charleston, Dublin, or London.  Similarly, most printers also had woodcuts depicting houses (but not any particular house), horses, indentured servants running away (but not any particular indentured servant), enslaved people for sale (but not any particular enslaved person), and enslaved people liberating themselves (but not any particular fugitive from slavery). Each generic image corresponded to a common kind of advertisement that ran in colonial newspapers; the lack of specific details made these woodcuts appropriate to accompany any advertisement from the genre they represented.

On the other hand, Caruthers published an advertisement with an image specific to his business, making his notice both more visible on a page that consisted almost entirely of text and more memorable for the uniqueness of the image.  Caruthers incurred additional expense in commissioning a woodcut for “THE CARPENTERS ARMS,” but the image testified to his skill in creating all sorts of planes, saws, and other edged tools.  The rococo cartouche, reminiscent of those that appeared on trade cards that circulated in London and, to a lesser extent, Philadelphia and other major American port cities, enhanced his claims to “long experience” by presenting him as an accomplished craftsman rather than a mere mechanic.  Associating such a genteel image with tools suggested quality and a positive reputation, characteristics that Caruthers likely believed would resonate with fellow artisans.  Incorporating baroque images into advertisements was not a strategy reserved for merchants, shopkeepers, tailors, and milliners marketing their wares and services to the better sorts.  Instead, advertisers like Caruthers suspected that such images engaged customers from other backgrounds looking to purchase tools for earning a living.