April 5

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

Apr 5 - 4:5:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 5, 1770).

“A real good INK.”

When it came to opposing the taxes inflicted on the American colonies by Parliament, every small act of resistance mattered.  That was the message that Benjamin Jackson delivered in a lengthy nota bene to his advertisement for “New invented PHILADELPHIA INK-POWDER” in the April 5, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Jackson participated in a movement to encourage “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies as alternatives to items imported from Britain.  This movement gained popularity at the same time as American merchants and traders signed nonimportation agreements in response to the duties placed on imported paper, glass, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts, hoping to leverage their commercial power to achieve political goals.

“As all our American manufactures (tho’ ever so small),” Jackson proclaimed, “are attended with obvious good consequences to the British colonies in general” consumers had a duty to purchase his ink powder even “tho’ it is but a trifling manufacture.”  He suggested that small and repeated acts of resistance would amount to a bold collective statement.  Furthermore, “some of the chief ingredients of this excellent Ink-Powder, are the produce of this continent.”  Not only did Jackson manufacture his ink powder locally, he also acquired many of the materials he needed from domestic suppliers.  His enterprise had ripple effects that benefited producers and consumers alike.  Like many others who advertised domestic manufactures, Jackson also assured prospective customers that they need not sacrifice quality nor pay premiums for their political principles.  He asserted that he sold his ink powder “as cheap as the European can be imported, and will engage it superior to that in quality.”  In addition to substituting for goods no longer shipped across the Atlantic, domestic manufactures addressed a trade imbalance between Britain and the colonies that resulted in a scarcity of specie circulating in the colonies.  Jackson noted that buying his product would “help to keep and circulate money amongst us.”

Jackson made various arguments in favor of his ink powder, developing a sophisticated “Buy American” marketing campaign before the American Revolution.  Yet his efforts were not themselves innovative.  He joined a chorus or producers and retailers who increasingly encouraged American consumers to choose domestic manufactures in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:8:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 8, 1770).

“[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page.]”

The first page of the March 8, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette consisted almost entirely of the masthead and news items, though the last column did carry three advertisements followed by the brief notice that instructed readers “[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page.]”  Colonial printers and compositors made little effort to organize or classify the notices that ran in the page of their newspapers.  Advertisements for consumer goods and services ran alongside notices about wives, indentured servants, and horses that ran away and enslaved people who escaped from bondage.  Legal notices and announcements about ships preparing to sail for faraway ports were interspersed with those various kinds of advertisements.  Headlines had not yet been developed as a means of informing readers of the contents of articles.  As Joseph M. Adelman explains, “News was published by paragraphs with no headlines; the only way to determine what news was important was to read all of it.”

Advertisements did have headlines of sorts.  The Pennsylvania Gazette often featured generic headlines for advertisements, such as “TO BE SOLD” or “WANTED,” though many were more specific, “such as “AUCTION OF BOOKS.”  Advertisers sometimes used their names as their headlines, including “GARRETT & GEORGE MEADE” and “THOMAS STAPLETON, Brush-Maker.”  Some advertisements had introductory headers that provided overviews of the dense text that comprised the remainder of the advertisements, though most were too extensive to be considered headlines.  One of the more succinct versions extended five lines:  “Neat DRUGS and MEDICINES, / SOLD BY / ROBERT BASS, / APOTHECARY in MARKET-STREET, / Wholesale and Retail, at the usual moderate Rates.”  With few visual images, advertisements looked similar to news items.  All of the content of early American newspapers required close examination to determine purpose and significance.

Occasionally printers and compositors provided some aid intended to help readers navigate the contents of their newspapers.  Such was the case with the notice about “new Advertisements” on the “Fourth Page” of the March 8 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  That notice let readers interested in perusing new content know that they pass over the advertisements that filled half of the third page.  Those new advertisements were not organized by purpose.  Some had the headlines listed above, while most had no headline or introductory header at all.  Colonial printers and compositors still had work to do to make the contents of newspapers more accessible for their readers.  That brief notice, “[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page,]” suggested that some were contemplating what could be done on that count.

February 10

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

Feb 10 - 2:8:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (February 8, 1770).

“Advertisements, &c. of a moderate size, shall be done at two hours notice.”

Having previously advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal in November 1770 when he first acquired “ALL the large and valuable assortment of Printing-Types, together with all the other necessary utensils for carrying on the printing business” from the estate of Andrew Steuart, William Evitt placed a new advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in February 1770. That advertisement reiterated much of the previous one, but more extensively described the various services Evitt provided at “the Bible-in-Heart, in Strawberry-Alley,” the new location for his printing office.

The “various branches” of the printing trade practiced by Evitt included producing advertising materials, especially handbills and broadsides. He assured prospective customers that they “may depend upon having their work done with great care and dispatch” before noting that “Great care will be taken of blanks and hand-bills in particular.” Evitt also gave details about the extent of the assistance he provided in the production of advertisements. While advertisers were welcome to submit copy of their own, “Transient and other persons, who are not acquainted with drawing up advertisements in a proper manner … may have them done gratis.” Evitt meant that he guided advertisers through the process of writing copy as a free service.

Evitt also revealed how quickly he could produce advertisements in his printing office. He proclaimed, “Advertisements, &c. of a moderate size, shall be done at two hours notice, and larger ones in proportion.” Presumably this promise applied to those customers who submitted copy ready to go to press and excluded any time spent on consultation about the copy. The process required operating a manual press after first setting type, hence the variation in the amount of time needed to prepare an order. Evitt could produce handbills and broadsides with a “moderate” amount of copy in just two hours, but needed slightly more time to set type for advertisements with extensive copy.

Newspaper printers and job printers rarely discussed the mechanics of advertising in their newspapers or in the notices they placed to promote the “various branches” of the printing trade, although they did frequently call on colonists to employ them to print advertisements. Evitt provided more detail than most, encouraging a culture of advertising in early America while also helping readers understand how the process worked.

January 21

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

Jan 21 - 1:18:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 18, 1770).

“Every lover of his country will encourage … American manufactures.”

Benjamin Randolph, one of Philadelphia’s most prominent and successful cabinetmakers, was also a savvy advertiser. He inserted notices in the city’s newspapers, but he also distributed an elegant trade card that clearly demonstrated the influence of Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (1754). Known for his furniture, Randolph also promoted other carved items produced in his shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” including “a quantity of wooden BUTTONS of various sorts.”

Buttons often appeared among the extensive lists of imported merchandise published in advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers. When consumers purchased textiles and trimmings to make garments, they also acquired buttons. At a time when colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, Randolph offered an alternative to buttons from England. He made it clear to prospective customers that purchasing his buttons served a political function; doing so signaled support for the American cause. Rather than depend on consumer’s familiarity with current events and popular discourse about the political meaning of goods, Randolph plainly stated, “[E]very lover of his country will encourage [his buttons by purchasing them], as well as all other American manufactures, especially at this time, when the importation of British superfluities is deemed inconsistent with the true interest of America.” Randolph encouraged colonists to reject the “Baubles of Britain,” as T.H. Breen has so memorably named the consumer goods produced on the other side of the Atlantic and sent to American markets. Randolph made a bid not only for support of the items he produced but also others made in the colonies, showing solidarity with fellow artisans as they did their part in opposition to Parliament.

Such efforts, however, did not depend solely on Randolph and other artisans. Ultimately, consumers determined the extent of the effectiveness of producing “American manufactures” through the decisions they made about which and how many items to purchase and which to boycott. Randolph had “a quantity” of buttons on hand, but producing more depended on the reception he received from the residents of Philadelphia and its hinterlands. He would “keep a general assortment of them” but only “if encouraged.” Consumers had to demonstrate that they would partner with him in this act of resistance once Randolph presented them with the opportunity.

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 314th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

January 7

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

Jan 7 1770 - 1:4:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 4, 1770).

“At the sign of the Sugar-loaf, Pound of Chocolate, and Tea Cannister.”

In late 1769 or early 1770, Robert Levers opened a shop on Second Street in Philadelphia. There he sold “a large and general assortment of GROCERY GOODS,” many of which he listed in an advertisement in the January 4, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. His inventory included “raisins and currants, figs, pepper and ginger, alspice, nutmegs, cloves, mace, cinnamon, [and] rice.” He also stocked Portuguese wines, French brandy, rum distilled in the colonies, and other spirits.

Yet those were not the items that received top billing Levers’s advertisement. His list commenced with “HYSON green and bohea teas, loaf and lump sugar, muscovado sugars, by the barrel or pound, [and] coffee and chocolate.” Levers likely chose to place those items first because they were so popular with consumers, but they also happened to correspond to the wares depicted in his shop sign. Before making his pitch – an appeal to consumer choice, an appeal to price, a catalog of goods to demonstrate consumer choice, a statement of appreciation to former customers, an appeal to quality, and another appeal to price – Levers first informed readers that he was located at “the sign of the Sugar-loaf, Pound of Chocolate, and Tea Cannister.” That sign conjured an evocative image of some of the most popular commodities in Philadelphia and throughout the colonies.

Like most signs that marked eighteenth-century shops, Levers’s sign no longer exists except in newspaper advertisements. Those advertisements constitute a partial catalog of the iconography deployed to mark retail shops, taverns, and artisans’ workshops. They also hint at the visual landscape colonists encountered as they traversed the streets of cities and towns. The “sign of the Sugar-loaf, Pound of Chocolate, and Tea Cannister” helped Levers direct customers to his shop in an era before standardized street numbers. It suggested to passersby what kind of merchandise they could expect to find within the shop. It also aided colonists in navigating the streets of the bustling port city. One need not have any business with Levers to use his shop sign as a landmark in giving or following directions.

Levers noted that he had “lately opened shop.” His newspaper advertisement helped achieve visibility for his new enterprise, but so did his shop sign. He did not limit his marketing efforts to the public prints. Instead, his sign served as a visual invitation for colonists to visit and remember his shop.

December 21

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

Dec 21 - 12:21:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (December 21, 1769).

“A servant, that from Ireland came, / Catherine Waterson her name.”

Advertisements concerning runaway indentured servants as well as advertisements concerning runaway apprentices and enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage often comprised a significant portion of the notices that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The December 21, 1769, edition and its supplement included several such advertisements. A “servant boy, named RICHARD LITTLE, about 19 years of age,” ran away from Thomas Renick. An “English convict servant man, named JONATHAN STICKWOOD” ran away from William Goodwin. An “Apprentice lad, a German, and speaks but broken English, named GEORGE THOMAS GERHARD” ran away from Matthias Folk. Several other aggrieved masters described servants and apprentices who departed without their permission. Each offered rewards for apprehending and returning the rebellious servants and apprentices.

James Gibbons, an innkeeper, was among those who placed an advertisement in hopes of recovering a runaway servant. To attract more attention to his notice, he composed it in verse. A series of rhyming couplets transformed what otherwise would have been a mundane description of Catherine Waterson, an indentured servant from Ireland, into an amusing piece of entertainment for readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Its format alone distinguished it from the other advertisements on the page, each comprised of dense blocks of text.

Gibson provided the same information that appeared in other advertisements for runaways, but in a manner intended to make the details more memorable. He offered a physical description of Waterson, “Of a down look; complexion dark, / In her face much pock mark’d,” and described her clothing, including “Two handkerchiefs about her neck, / One a flag, the other check.” Waterson, who was “Very apt to swear and lie,” could not be trusted. Gibbons underscored that she “is very artful to deceive, / And an answer quick will give” (relying on a near rhyme to complete the couplet). He noted an encounter Waterson had with “one / Who stop’t her as away she run,” exclaiming that “by a cunning craft wile / She did him so much beguile.” Waterson had a talent for talking her way out of difficult situations; anyone who interacted with her needed to be wary of trusting anything she said. Gibbons suspected that Waterson would attempt to pawn a pincushion and a “very large silver spoon” that she had stolen, presenting perhaps the best opportunity to identify and apprehend her. In that case, he requested that prospective buyers think of him rather than completing the transaction “And safe secure her in some Goal [Jail] / That I may have her without fail.” In return, Gibbons would pay “reasonable charges” and “SIX DOLLARS Reward.”

In the course of thirty rhyming couplets, Gibbons presented a lively tale of runaway servant Catherine Waterson. Although the general narrative did not much differ from those in any of a half dozen other advertisements concerning runaway servants and apprentices in the same edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the innkeeper likely made his tale more memorable, increasing the likelihood that an observant reader would recognize the wayward Waterson. The clever poem was not a great work of literature, but it served its purpose by distinguishing his advertisement from the other notices for runaways.

December 7

“EQUAL, if not SUPERIOR, to any imported from ENGLAND. Witness our Hands.”

Dec 7 - 12:7:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 7, 1769).

When colonists adopted nonimportation agreements to protest duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts, many also advocated encouraging “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies. In turn, readers encountered newspaper advertisements that marketed goods made locally or elsewhere in North America rather than imported from England with greater frequency in the late 1760s. Advertisers often asserted that their domestic manufactures were equal or even superior in quality to imported goods. Some even proclaimed that reputable judges had affirmed their claims.

An advertisement that ran in the December 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette included an actual testimonial for “STEEL” (or iron) produced by Humphreys and Zane. Twenty-two residents of Philadelphia signed the testimonial, collectively endorsing Humphreys and Zane’s steel for readers. One, John Fox, even included his occupation, cutler, to give greater weight to his endorsement. As an artisan who worked with metal, he was particularly well positioned to assess the quality of steel produced locally.

The testimonial first reported that the signers had “made use” of various kinds of “COUNTRY STEEL,” having good experience with some but “a great Deal otherwise” with others. After acknowledging that some steel produced in the colonies did not meet their standards, the signers declared that “upon a late Trial of the STEEL, made by HUMPHREYS and ZANE, we have used it for different Kinds of Work; some of us have tried it in the very best of edged Tools, and do find that it is EQUAL, if not SUPERIOR, to any imported from ENGLAND.” Readers who needed to acquire steel or items made of iron did not have to sacrifice quality when choosing Humphrey and Zane’s steel or items made from it. This eliminated one of the potential pitfalls associated with encouraging domestic manufactures.

While other advertisers made general references to their domestic manufactures receiving accolades from qualified judges, Humphreys and Zane were among the first American advertisers to market their product with a testimonial. They did not ask prospective customers simply to trust their assurances concerning the quality of their product. Instead, they marshaled nearly two dozen artisans and others who staked their own reputations in promoting “STEEL, made by HUMPHREYS and ZANE.”

October 22

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

Oct 22 - 10:19:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 19, 1769).

“ELIZA BRAITHWAITE … is removed from Mrs. Wood’s, to Mrs. M’Cullouch’s.”

Eliza Braithwaite, a milliner originally from London, inserted an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in October 1769. She informed “the Ladies, and others” that she had changed locations, moving from “Mr. Wood’s, to Mrs. M’Cullouch’s,” still on Market Street but “a few Doors higher up.” She intended to continue pursuing her trade at the new location and called on “those Ladies, who have been kind enough to employ her before she removed” to “continue their Favours.”

Relatively few female entrepreneurs placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, certainly not in proportion to their presence in the marketplace as shopkeepers and tradeswomen. That made their advertisements notable, then and now. When they did inject themselves into the public prints, some women were bolder than others. Braithwaite took a fairly conservative approach in her advertisement, almost as though she hoped to limit the amount of attention she might receive as a result of making her business so visible. She adopted standard language that appeared in advertisements placed by tailors and milliners throughout the colonies. She did her work with “particular Care.” She charged “the cheapest Rate.” She made hats and other accessories “in the newest and genteelest Taste.” While this could indicate Braithwaite’s familiarity with the conventions of marketing in eighteenth-century America, it might also signal hesitation to distinguish herself too much from her competitors. That she conformed to the expectations of milliners, male and female, may have been the most important appeal Braithwaite wished to advance in her advertisement.

The circumstances that prompted Braithwaite to place a notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette also testified to a conservative approach to advertising. She did address “the Ladies, and others,” but her primary purpose seems to have been maintaining her clientele rather than expanding it. She wanted former customers to know that she had moved so they could find her at her new location and continue employing her. Although Braithwaite’s advertisement exposed her business to much larger audiences, any invitation to new customers was implicit rather than explicit. Did Braithwaite advertise in the Pennsylvania Gazette or any of the other newspapers printed in Philadelphia on other occasions? Whether she promoted her business in the public prints at other times merits further investigation.