July 1

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

Jul 1 - 6:28:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 28, 1770).

“At the sign of the Scythe, Sickle and Brand-iron.”

Samuel Wheeler, a cutler, advised prospective clients that he “undertakes any kind of iron work that any business requires.”  In advertisement in the June 28, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he also listed a variety of items that he “makes and has for sale,” including “good scythes and sickles,” “steal stamps for carpenters or smiths,” “iron work for mills of any kind,” and “smiths work for houses.”  Wheeler listed two locations for customers to examine his merchandise and make purchases, his shop “at the sign of the Scythe, Sickle and Brand-iron” on Second Street and his house “at the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” in Church Alley.  Like many other artisans, Wheeler incorporated images of the items he made into the signs that marked his location.

Signs depicting scythes and sickles were a common sight in Philadelphia in 1700.  In the same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, two other cutlers inserted advertisements that mentioned signs that included images of one or both tools.  James Hendricks made and sold sickles “at the sign of the Sickle” on Market Street.  Stephen Paschall also ran a shop on Market Street, where he made and sold a variety of cutlery “at the sign of the Scythe and Sickle.”

These advertisements reveal both the variation in signs adopted by artisans who pursued the same occupation and the challenges they faced in identifying themselves with distinctive devices.  Hendricks chose a single item, the sickle, for his sign, while Wheeler multiplied the number of items, perhaps with the intention that the combination of scythe, sickle, and brand iron would be so distinctive that others were unlikely to adopt it.  That had not been the case with the sign that marked his home rather than his shop.  Wheeler and Paschall both mentioned signs that featured the scythe and sickle.  Other cutlers in the city may have also posted signs with this common imagery.  Signs helped to identify their workshops, but a sign alone was not necessarily sufficient to designate a business operated by a particular artisan.

June 24

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

Jun 24 - 6:21:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 21, 1770).

“Large quantities of sickles, stamped S. PACHALL, in imitation … of my stamp.”

For several months in the spring and summer of 1770, Stephen Paschall ran an advertisement for scythes, sickles, knives, and similar items in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Paschall made all of his wares and sold them, appropriately enough, “at the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” on Market Street in Philadelphia.  Paschall was confident in his skill, declaring that the products of his workshop “will prove as good as any made elsewhere.”

Others apparently shared this assessment, so much so that for several years counterfeit sickles attributed to Paschall circulated in Philadelphia.  He devoted half of his advertisement to describing the fraud and instructing prospective customers how to recognize authentic Paschall sickles.  He lamented that “some merchants of this city have … imported from Great Britain … and sold great quantities” of sickles “stamped S. PACHALL.”  Paschall marked his own sickles with his name, “S. PASCHALL.”  The difference could be easy to overlook:  “the letter S, between the A and C, is left out in the stamp on the English sickle.”  He deplored the unscrupulous purveyors of the counterfeit sickles for profiting off of his name and reputation when selling inferior goods, “many of which have been brought to me by farmers to alter.”  To add insult to injury, Paschall often found himself in the position of repairing sickles after farmers purchased them because they had been duped by the counterfeit mark.  He experienced some chagrin that those farmers confided that they “bought them for my make” only to discover “the workmanship is by no means equal to those formerly made by me.”

In addition to rehabilitating his own reputation, Paschall considered it important to bring this deception to public notice because he was in the process of “establishing my son in the same business (who is an apprentice to me).”  He defended his work not only for his own benefit but to safeguard the prospects of the next generation following the family business.

Labels, stamps, and other means of marking goods played an important role in marketing some products in the eighteenth century, but they could also be abused, adapted, and deployed to confuse consumers.  Paschall and others used newspaper advertisements to inform the public of this trickery, simultaneously protecting their own business interests and providing a service to unsuspecting consumers.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:14:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 14, 1770).

“Proposes to return as soon as the Importation is opened.”

Although many colonists promoted “domestic manufactures” as alternative to imported goods in the late 1760s and early 1770s, many consumers and purveyors of goods embraced those products only temporarily.  Items produced in the colonies gained popularity when nonimportation agreements were in effect as a means of economic resistance to Parliament imposing duties on certain imported goods, but many colonists anticipated repeal of such odious legislation and looked forward to resuming business as usual.  For some, domestic manufactures represented a temporary measure; merchants and shopkeepers intended to import goods from England once again when the political situation calmed, just as consumers intended to purchase those items as soon as they became available once again.

In the summer of 1770, Anne Pearson, a milliner in Philadelphia, was among those purveyors of goods who expressed enthusiasm about acquiring and selling imported merchandise once again.  She placed an advertisement in the June 14, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette to announce that she sought to liquidate her current inventory before traveling to London in the fall.  She offered a “LARGE and general Assortment of Millinery and Linen-drapery Goods” at low prices.  Yet Pearson did not plan to relocate to London; instead, she would stay for only a short time and then “return as soon as the Importation is opened” in the wake of the repeal of the duties on imported paper, glass, paint, and lead that had been established in the Townshend Acts.  Some colonists continued to argue for the importance of domestic manufactures even after Parliament capitulated, but they did not sway purveyors or consumers to continue to abstain completely from imported goods.  Recognizing the demand for such goods, Pearson attempted to put herself in the best position to serve customers in Philadelphia.  Not only would she “return as soon as the Importation is opened,” she would bring with her “a fresh Assortment of the very best and most fashionable Goods.”  In journeying to London to select those goods herself, Pearson seized an advantage over competitors who relied on English merchants and correspondents to supply them with goods.  Pearson would not have to rely on the judgment of others, judgment that might be compromised by their desire to rid themselves of wares unlikely to sell in England.  Instead, she could inspect the merchandise before placing her order and observe the current trends in London in order to make her case to prospective customers that she did indeed stock “the very best and most fashionable Goods” upon her return to Philadelphia.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:7:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 7, 1770).

“SICKLES, ready prepared for the Harvest.”

As summer approached in 1770, James Hendricks announced to readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that he had “ONE HUNDRED and Twenty DOZEN of SICKLES, ready prepared for the Harvest.”  Hendricks volunteered his location, “the Sign of the Sickle, the 4th Door above the Prison, in Market-street,” and made some of the standard appeals that colonial artisans incorporated into their advertisements.  He emphasized the skill that went into producing his wares, asserting that “these Sickles are carefully made.”  He made an appeal to price, declaring that the sickles “will be sold at the lowest Rates.”  He also highlighted the quality of the sickles, proclaiming that they were “ensured to be good.”  While Hendricks might have considered that a guarantee, he did not explicitly state that he would repair or replace defective items, a strategy sometimes adopted by artisans as a means of testifying to quality.

The most significant attribute, certainly the most visible, of Hendrick’s advertisement, however, may very well have been the woodcut depicting a sickle.  It accounted for half of the space that the advertisement occupied on the page.  Given that advertisers paid by the amount space rather than the number of words, including this visual image doubled the cost of the advertisement.  In addition, Hendricks commissioned the woodcut.  That expense more than doubled the cost of running his notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Yet this distinguished his advertisement from others that appeared on the same page and throughout the rest of the issue.  In the June 7 edition, only one other advertisement featured a visual image.  A woodcut of a ship at sea adorned an advertisement for a vessel preparing to sail for London.  The other advertisements consisted entirely of text, most of them dense paragraphs that did not have anywhere near the amount of white space that made Hendrick’s sickle especially noticeable in contrast.  While this woodcut may not seem elaborate to modern eyes, eighteenth-century readers could not have overlooked it when perusing the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Hendricks used the visual image to draw attention to the copy of his advertisement, the brief description of his wares and recitation of some of the most common marketing appeals.

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:24:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 24, 1770).

“AN entire Assortment of all Kinds of DRUGS.”

In eighteenth-century American newspapers, compositors did not organize advertisements according to category or classification.  Advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, advertisements concerning runaway servants and enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage, and notices placed for a variety of other purposes appeared one after the other.  This required active reading on the part of subscribers in their efforts to locate advertisements of interest.

Occasionally, however, compositors did cluster together certain kinds of advertisements.  When the female seed sellers of Boston placed their advertisements in the spring, compositors working for several of the newspapers published in that city often tended to place their notices in a single column in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Similarly, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Gazette often arranged legal notices placed by the sheriff one after the other during the same period, though this may have been prompted in part from receiving them all at once.  Still, notices placed by different sheriffs often tended to appear in succession in a single column.  Whatever the explanation, these examples were exceptions rather than standard practice.

Did compositors sometimes experiment with grouping other advertisements according to their purpose?  That may have been the case in the May 24, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Advertisements appeared on the third and fourth page of the standard issue as well as both pages of the supplement.  Advertisements placed by apothecaries and druggists could have been dispersed throughout the issue, yet three of them ran together in the upper left corner of the final page.  Robert Bass, apothecary, advertised “AN entire fresh Assortment of all Kinds of DRUGS [and] … a great Variety of Patent Medicines.”  Duffield and Delany, druggists, promoted their “fresh and general Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”  John Day and Company listed some of the items available among their “LARGE and general assortment of the very best Drugs” at their “Medicinal Store.”  Due to their placement one after the other, readers could easily consult and compare these advertisements.

Yet if that were the intention of the compositor, it was not fully realized.  Further down the column, separated by four advertisements (a real estate notice, another for horses and a carriage for sale, one for grocery items, and the last for hardware), another advertisement announced that John Gilbert, physician and surgeon, had opened “AN APOTHECARY’S SHOP.”  A newcomer to the city, Gilbert focused on establishing his credentials rather than providing a list of medicines similar to those that appeared in the advertisements by Bass, Duffield and Delany, and John Day and Company.  On the previous page, Isaac Bartram and Moses Bartram, apothecaries, ran an advertisement that more closely resembled those placed by their competitors.

The cluster of advertisements placed by apothecaries and druggists in the May 24,1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette was notable because such placement was unusual.  Elsewhere in the same issue and its supplement, the compositor arranged legal notices together, but not all of them.  No particular organizing principle seems to have guided the placement of other advertisements, except for fitting them to the page to achieve columns of equal length.  Perhaps the cluster of advertisements for Robert Bass, Duffield and Delany, and John Day and Company was a mere coincidence.  Alternately, it may have been a rudimentary attempt at classifying and organizing at least some of the advertisements for the benefit of readers.

May 17

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

May 17 - 5:17:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 17, 1770).

“At the Sign of the Crown and Shoe.”

Many shopkeepers and artisans adorned their places of business with imaginative signs, both painted and carved.  Although relatively few of those signs survive in museums and other collections today, newspaper advertisements provide a more complete accounting of their presence in early America.  Those advertisements reveal some of the visual culture that colonists encountered as they traversed the streets in port cities in the eighteenth century.

In the May 17, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Richard Dickinson, a “Silk and Stuff Shoemaker,” identified his shop in Philadelphia with “the Sign of the Crown and Shoe.”  Dickinson may have intended that this image communicate something regal about the shoes he made for his customers, that they were fit for a king.  Yet the shoemaker may have had another purpose in mind as well.  In his biography of shoemaker George Robert Twelves Hewes, historian Alfred F. Young explains that shoemakers ranked fairly low in the hierarchy of occupations in eighteenth-century America, just a step above seamen.  In pairing the crown and shoe on his sign, Dickinson may have endeavored to express the dignity that he found in his work, humble as his occupation may have seemed to his clients and others.

In the same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Jacob Reiser, “Tinman,” informed “his Customers in particular, and the Public in general” that he moved to a new location.  Although Reiser did not have a sign of his own, he made use of one displayed by a neighbor to give directions to his new shop.  Customers could now find him on Race Street, “next Door to the Sign of the Green-Tree, between Second and Third-streets.”  Unlike Dickinson’s sign, the “Sign of the Green-Tree” did not readily divulge what kind of business operated at that location.  It does, however, evoke images of how the sign might have appeared.  While Reiser’s advertisement did not reveal what kind of tree was depicted or how elaborately, it does testify to the presence of such visual images and their utility in navigating the streets of Philadelphia.

Shop signs served many purposes in eighteenth-century America.  They marked specific locations, but they could also be used as landmarks in giving directions to other places.  The images on some shop signs became logos of sorts, associated with particular shopkeepers or artisans.  Sometimes they represented the trade pursued at the location they marked, but other times they depended on a striking image that did not necessarily correspond to a specific occupation.  Collectively, they contributed to the visual culture of everyday life in early American cities.

May 3

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

May 3 - 5:3:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Postscript Extraordinary to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 3, 1770).

“The Sign of the Hunting-Side-Saddle.”

A striking image of a saddle embellished Elias Botner’s advertisement in the Postscript Extraordinary to the Pennsylvania Gazette published on May 3, 1770.  The woodcut announced Botner’s occupation before readers had a chance to peruse the advertising copy that described “GENTLEMENS English, hunting, full welted and plain, Hogskin, Buckskin, and Neats Leather, seated SADDLES,” “Ladies hunting Side-Saddles,” and all kinds of accessories.  Inserting this image represented a significant investment for Botner.  He had to commission the woodcut that corresponded to his business and would not be used in any other advertisements, plus he had to pay for the space that it occupied on the printed page.  Eighteenth-century advertisers paid by the amount of space required for their notices, not the number of words.  The image of the saddle nearly doubled the amount of space for Botner’s advertisement.

The saddler quite likely considered it worth the investment.  His saddle was the only visual image on either page of the Postscript Extraordinary, drawing the eye away from the dense text that constituted both news and every other advertisement.  Including an image was itself extraordinary in the various parts of the May 3 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  The standard four-page issue featured only two images, the shield that adorned the masthead on the front page and a generic image of a ship that accompanied a notice about a ship preparing to depart for Bristol.  In the two-page Supplement, another woodcut of a ship appeared in another notice about a ship sailing for Bristol.  Both images of ships belonged to the printer and could be deployed interchangeably in advertisements concerning maritime trade.  Over the course of the eight pages that constituted the standard issue, the Supplement, and the Postscript Extraordinary, readers encountered only four images.  Botner’s saddle was the only one that would have been unique or unexpected.  As a result, it may have been just as effective as (or even more effective than) his description of hjs goods or his promises of customer service in attracting the attention of prospective customers.

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.