June 4

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 4, 1772).

“At the Sign of the Scythe and Sickle.”

William Dawson advertised “A LARGE Quantity of SCYTHES and SICKLES, prepared for the ensuing Harvest” in a brief notice in the June 4, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  His advertisement likely attracted less notice than those placed by other cutlers who marketed their goods and services in the same issue.  Dawson’s competitors in Philadelphia used images to enhance their advertisements.

James Hendricks adorned his advertisement with a woodcut depicting a sickle.  Her announced that he had “ONE HUNDRED and Twenty DOZEN” sickles crafted “with the utmost care, and sold at the lowest Rates, and ensured to be good.”  It was not the first time that he incorporated that image into one of his advertisements.  Two years earlier, it ran in an advertisement that stated that the cutler had a workshop “at the Sign of the Sickle” on Market Street.

Benjamin Humphreys advertised both “SAW-MILL SAWS, And a large QUANTITY of SICKLES.”  An image of a saw occupied the upper third of his notice.  The cutler clearly commissioned the woodcut for his exclusive use.  No other advertiser could use it because the name “B. HUMPHREYS” appeared on the saw.  Like Hendricks, Humphreys incorporated his woodcut into a previous advertisement.  The repetition helped to create a visual identity for his business.  In another advertisement, placed in collaboration with Stephen Paschall in 1768, Humphreys used another woodcut.  That one depicted a scythe and sickle, both of them bearing his last name.

By 1772, Humphreys and Paschall advertised separately, perhaps as a result of the Paschall forming a partnership with his son.  The Paschalls determined that they also needed an image to make their advertisements memorable.  Their woodcut depicted several tools, including a scythe, a sickle, and mechanisms for gristmills, that they made and sold “at the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” on Market Street.  They also had the image personalized for their exclusive use, the initials “SP” on one of the tools. Paschall previously noted that he marked his work with “S. PASCHALL.”

Dawson offered the same merchandise as Hendricks, Humphreys, and Paschall and Paschall, but he might have experienced more difficulty attracting customers to his shop.  His competitors made their advertisements easier to spot in the newspaper as well as more memorable.  Did the images matter?  Were they effective?  Several cutlers in Philadelphia considered it worth the expense to commission their own woodcuts and pay for additional space to include them in their newspaper advertisements.

April 30

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (April 30, 1772).

“A servant lad of slender fame, / And WILLIAM COCHRAN is his name.”

To increase the chances that readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would take note of his advertisement about a runaway indentured servant, James Wilson resorted to more than a dozen rhyming couplets.  In the spring of 1772, he advised that “THIS instant April the twelfth day, / From the subscriber run away, / A servant lad of slender fame, / And WILLIAM COCHRAN is his name.”  Wilson then described Cochran’s clothing, age, and physical characteristics, incorporating as much information as appeared in other advertisements placed for the same purpose but in verse to entertain and to hold the attention of readers who might recognize the fugitive.  In addition, Wilson commenced his advertisement with a headline that proclaimed, “SIX DOLLARS Reward,” and concluded, as was common practice in such notices, with more details about the reward.  “Whoever will this lad secure, / That I again may him procure,” Wilson declared, “As I my honour do regard, / He shall get the above reward, / And all costs reasonable thereon, / By the subscriber, JAMES WILSON.”

Many of the rhymes were quite strained, though Wilson generally did better with the meter.  Still, composing a great work of literature was not his goal.  Instead, he sought to produce an advertisement that readers would notice and remember, especially considering how frequently advertisements for runaway apprentices and indentured servants as well as notices offering rewards for enslaved people who liberated themselves appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers published in the colony.  The combination of rhyming couplets and the white space within the advertisement that resulted from that format distinguished Wilson’s notice from others.  Three notices about runaway indentured servants appeared immediately above Wilson’s advertisement in the April 30, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, each of them a dense paragraph of text.  Such advertisements were so familiar to eighteenth-century readers that Wilson apparently believed that bad poetry was better than no poetry in drawing attention to his advertisement.

March 12

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (March 12, 1772).

The case and cure of Thomas Hewitt, sent to the Proprietor.”

An advertisement for Maredant’s Drops, a patent medicine, in the March 12, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazetteconsisted almost entirely of testimonials from patients who claimed that it cured impurities of the blood, scurvy, ulcers, “long continued inflammations of the eyes,” and a variety of other maladies.  Nicholas Brooks sold Maredant’s Drops at his shop on Market Street in Philadelphia.  In his advertisement, he directed prospective customers to visit in order to examine “the cases of the following persons, and many others, cured by Maredant’s drops.”  He listed several individuals, including “Joseph Feyrac, Esq; lately Lieutenant-Colonel in the 18th regiment of foot,” “Mr. Stoddard, brewer, Mr. Thomas Forrest, Attorney,” and “John Good, late surgeon to his Majesty’s sloop Ferrit.”  Brooks anticipated that the volume of testimonials would convince colonizers to take a chance on the patent medicines to see if they would benefit from similar results.

The shopkeeper noted that the patent medicine “may be taken in any season, without the least inconvenience or hindrance from business.”  In addition, this nostrum would “perfect digestion, and amazingly create an appetite.”  He did not say much else about Maredant’s Drops, but instead relied on two testimonials inserted in the advertisement.  In the first, dated “Kilkenny, June 25, 1771,” Thomas Hewitt explained that twenty years earlier he “was afflicted with a most violent scurvy” in his arms that eventually led to “large ulcers and blotches” on his face.  He consulted “several eminent physicians, and tried various medicines, prescribed by them, to little or no effect.”  Other residents of Kilkenny, where Hewitt lived for more than thirty years, could confirm that was the case.  Eventually, Hewitt saw Maredant’s Drops advertised by a printer in Kilkenny.  He purchased four bottles.  The medicine “quite restored” his appetite and the scurvy “gradually left [his] face, and all parts of [his] body.”  Hewitt declared himself “perfectly cured.”  The mayor of Kilkenny co-signed Hewitt’s testimonial to “certify the above case to be a fact.”

In another testimonial, Charles Ashley, an innkeeper, described the misfortunes of his son, afflicted with “the King’s evil” (scrofula, a form of tuberculosis) after surviving smallpox.  His son “was in so much misery, and without hopes of recovery” that Ashley “despaired of his life.”  When Ashley’s son recovered upon taking the “most excellent drops,” the innkeeper felt such “gratitude for so extraordinary a cure” that he “desired this to be made public.”  Furthermore, he invited readers to call at his house, “the Talbot inn, in the Strand,” to learn more and “see the child” for themselves.  Brooks apparently believed that he did not need to say more about Maredant’s Drops.  He depended on the testimonials to do all the necessary marketing.

February 10

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 10, 1772).

“ENGINES of all sorts for extinguishing of fire.”

Richard Mason constructed and sold “ENGINES of all sorts for extinguishing of fire” at his workshop in Philadelphia in the early 1770s.  In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he advised the public that he designed and built his engines “to answer every purpose for which they are calculated superior to those that are imported from London.”  Yet he did not expect readers simply to take his word for it.  Instead, he confided that “a very recent instance of the truth of their superiority hath been shewn to several persons well skilled in the principles of mechanic powers, who have given their approbation of them.”

To that end, Mason declared, “It hath been his chief aim to reduce friction as much as possible in these useful machines, in order thereby to make them as beneficial as possible towards the preservation of the persons and their properties.”  Reducing friction mattered because colonizers pumped these engines by hand after rolling them to the location of a fire.  An image that accompanied Mason’s advertisement depicted an engine shooting a stream of water at an unseen fire, but did not fully capture the number of people and the amount of labor required to operate it.  The wooden engine consisted of a pump enclosed within a tower mounted on a chassis.  Handles on either side of the tower worked the pump.  A leather hose fed the pump with water via a connection on the chassis.  Pumping the engine forced a stream of water to spray from an inflexible metal tube attached to the top of the tower.  As others worked the pump, an operator standing atop the tower manipulated the position of that tube, pointing it in the right direction and adjusting its position, in an effort to douse the fire.

Fire constituted a significant hazard in cities like Philadelphia with so many buildings made of wood crowded closely together.  Just a few years after Mason published his advertisement, a fire destroyed a large portion of New York.  Municipal fire departments did not yet exist.  Instead, colonizers formed their own companies.  Mason sought customers for his “ENGINES of all sorts for extinguishing of fire” among his fellow residents of Philadelphia rather than the local government.

Watch a brigade operate a replica of an eighteenth-century fire engine at Colonial Williamsburg.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 goods 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.