February 9

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

The following large assortment of GOODS.”

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 9, 1768).

Daniel Benezet, John Benezet, and Thomas Bartow placed an advertisement for a “large assortment of GOODS” that filled an entire column in the February 2, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. Their advertisement did not appear in that publication the following week, but it did run in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 6 and in the Pennsylvania Gazette on February 9. The iteration in the Gazette featured the same copy as the original in the Journal, but the version in the Chronicle sported revisions to both content and format (which will be examined in a separate entry on February 12).

In addition to identical copy, the format of the advertisement in the Gazette replicated the notice that previously ran in the Journal in many ways. The two advertisements had the same headlines that introduced the merchants and instructed prospective customers where to find their store. Both advertisements concluded with the same nota bene that announced they expected to receive “a very large and compleat assortment of spring and summer GOODS” via vessels from England. The same words were capitalized in both advertisements. Beyond that both advertisements deployed italics for everything except the names of the merchants, even though most other advertisements on the page used italics sparingly, if at all. In the Journal, Philip Wilson’s list-style advertisement also used italics, suggesting that this may have been the format for that type of advertisement selected by the compositor. Alternately, either Wilson or the Benezets and Bartow may have specified that they wanted their advertisement in italics and the compositor chose to give the other the same treatment. Either way, the compositor for the Gazette copied the format from the Journal exactly, almost as if the Benezets and Bartow had cut their advertisement out of the Journal and submitted it to the Gazette. The line breaks were the only noticeable difference, with the Gazette squeezing more items onto each line. As a result, the version in the Gazette did not fill an entire column, but it very nearly did so.

This comparison suggests some likely printing practices when it came to advertisements, but does not present definitive evidence. What it does demonstrate for certain, especially when taken into consideration with the third advertisement in the Chronicle, is that some advertisers contemplated the significance of circulating their advertisements to as many readers and potential customers as possible. The Benezets and Bartow sought to maximize the number of colonists who would encounter their advertisement, so they moved it from newspaper to newspaper. Such a lengthy advertisement would have been a considerable investment. That being the case, the Benezets and Bartow chose not to run it for as many weeks as most other advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers appeared in the public prints. It ran once in both the Chronicle and Journal and twice in the Gazette. The Benezets and Bartow sacrificed the duration of their advertising campaign in favor of dissemination to the widest possible audience.

January 19

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 19, 1769).

“For HOGS BRISTLES, Ready Money, and best Price, is given.”

Relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers featured visual images, making those that did particularly notable. Along with their type, many printers had a limited number of stock images to accompany certain kinds of advertisements, including houses for real estate notices, ships for notices about vessels seeking freight and passengers, and horses for notices offering stallions “to cover” mares. In addition, many printers also supplied nondescript depictions of people to accompany advertisements concerning runaway servants, runaway slaves, and enslaved men, women, and children for sale. Most of the time they matched the sex seen in the image with that of the subject of an advertisement, but not always. For each sort of image – houses, ships, horses, people – the woodcuts were used interchangeably in advertisements placed for the corresponding purpose. Any woodcut of a house could accompany a real estate notice. Any woodcut of an enslaved man could appear in a runaway advertisement.

Some shopkeepers and artisans, however, commissioned their own woodcuts to represent their businesses in the public prints. Those woodcuts belonged exclusively to the advertiser; they did not appear in any other notices. Sometimes they replicated a shop sign, as was the case with a woodcut of a mirror on a decorative stand and a bell enclosed in a frame in John Elliott’s advertisement that once again ran in the January 19, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Elliott directed prospective customers to “his Looking-glass store, the sign of the Bell and Looking-glass, in Walnut-street.” He also mentioned a second location “at the Three Brushes, in Second-Street,” but did not include an image of that shop sign. The “Bell and Looking-glass” had circulated so widely in Philadelphia’s newspapers that it served as Elliott’s iconic image.

In the same issue, John Wilkinson, a brushmaker, placed an advertisement dominated by a woodcut depicting a boar. The visual image occupied more than twice as much space as the copy of the advertisement, a stark contrast to the notices comprised solely of text, all of them densely formatted, on either side of Wilkinson’s advertisement. Wilkinson called on readers to provide him with “HOGS BRISTLES” that he could then use in making brushes of “all Sorts and Sizes.” His woodcut depicted the source of his materials rather than the final product. When it came to the copy of his advertisement, the brushmaker adopted a less-is-more approach, depending on the woodcut to attract attention and distinguish his advertisement from the dozens of others in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

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 slaves as well as notices offering rewards for runaways.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-slave-19-161736
An advertisement for slaves 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 313th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

December 15

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (December 15, 1768).

“There may also be had at the same place … a great variety of millinery, made up in the newest and genteelest taste, by a person lately from London.”

Joseph Wood sold a variety of textiles, apparel, and millinery goods at his shop on the corner of Market and Second Streets in Philadelphia. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he published an extensive list of his wares to entice prospective customers. According to his advertisement in the December 15, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he stocked everything from “scarlet and other serges” and “fine and coarse broadcloths, of all colours” to “mens and womens beaver and other gloves” and “mens and womens cotton and worsted hose” to “gold and silver basket buttons” and “newest fashioned gold and silver trimmings for gentlemen and ladies hats.”

Wood did not rely on this impressive assortment of merchandise alone to attract customers. Instead, he provided an additional service: a milliner on site. “There may also be had at the same place,” Wood proclaimed, “a great variety of millinery, made up in the newest and genteelest taste, by a person lately from London, who understands perfectly every branch of that business.” Whether the unnamed milliner was an employee or a tenant was not clear, but that mattered far less than the service available at Wood’s shop. In addition to acquiring materials, customers could also receive advice about “the newest and genteelest taste” in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, and even have their hats and other accessories made by a skilled milliner who was familiar with the most recent trends by virtue of having resided there until quite recently. Furthermore, prospective customers did not need to fret about the costs. Wood assured them that “they may depend upon being served on the most reasonable terms, and as cheap as in London.” He promised the same sophistication without inflated prices. Wood played on the anxieties and desires of residents of Philadelphia eager to demonstrate that they were fashionable and genteel despite their distance from London.

Other merchants and shopkeepers made appeals to price and fashion in their advertisements. They also emphasized consumer choice with their own lengthy lists of merchandise. Wood, however, adopted a business model and marketing strategy that distinguished his shop from the competition. He realized that more readers were likely to become customers if he did more than just sell goods but instead provided services that enhanced the shopping experience.

December 8

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (December 8, 1768).

“THOMAS WEST … has imported in the last vessels from London and Liverpool, a neat assortment of MERCHANDIZE.”

When he placed an advertisement for “a neat assortment of MERCHANDIZE” in the December 8, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Thomas West adopted a standard format for advertisements for consumer goods. The amount of variation in the graphic design of such advertisements varied from newspaper to newspaper, but tended to be fairly fixed among those placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette by merchants and shopkeepers in the late 1760s. The printers and compositors may have exercised some influence over this standardization, especially considering that the Pennsylvania Gazette featured an especially high volume of paid notices compared to its counterparts in Philadelphia and throughout the colonies. Those who worked in the printing office may have discouraged, or at least not encouraged, innovations in the visual aspects of advertisements, finding that a no-frills format streamlined setting type. Advertisers may not have insisted on introducing new design elements into advertisements, content to submit copy and leave the format to the compositors.

Consider West’s advertisement. His name, all in capital letters, served as a headline. Next his advertisement featured a short introductory paragraph that provided an overview of his location, the sorts of goods he sold, and their origins. The introduction concluded with a brief appeal to price. The remainder of the advertisement consisted of a lengthy list of his inventory, presented in a paragraph of dense text. Elsewhere in the same issue, Edward Cottrell and James Reynolds inserted advertisements that followed this format. Other advertisers of consumer goods opted for slight variations, reversing the order of the headline and introductory paragraph or placing the headline in the middle of that overview. Despite lists of merchandise that ranged from short to lengthy, Alexander Bartram, James Budden, Benjamin Gibbs, William Nicholls, Richard Parker, and Samuel Taylor all deployed one of those variations.

In this regard, the Pennsylvania Gazette was a fairly conservative newspaper, but given its extensive circulation perhaps neither printers nor advertisers considered innovative graphic design particularly imperative. Advertisements comprised of chunky blocks of text certainly appeared in other newspapers throughout the colonies. Advertisements that deviated from that standard also found their way into the Pennsylvania Gazette. In general, however, many other newspapers ran advertisements that varied in appearance to a much greater degree, incorporating different fonts and font sizes, creative use of white space, and columns within advertisements, even when they also included the advertiser’s name as the headline, an introductory paragraph, and a list of merchandise. The unvarying format of advertisements within its pages made the Pennsylvania Gazette easy to recognize at a glance, even when the masthead was not visible.

December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 1, 1768).

“David Nelson returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC.”

When David Nelson opened “his new STORE, next door but one to the Rose and Crown, in High-street, Wilmington,” he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Although published in Philadelphia, that newspaper served both local and regional audiences. Colonists in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and cities and town in Pennsylvania beyond the busy port read the Pennsylvania Gazette and inserted advertisements in it. Nelson most likely did not anticipate gaining any customers from Philadelphia, but he knew that the Pennsylvania Gazette was one of the newspapers that residents of Wilmington and the surrounding area regularly read, in the absence of any printed locally.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Nelson provided a short list of merchandise he sold. His “VARIETY OF GOODS” included textiles (“velvets and velverets, serges, flannels, camblets, shaloons, tammies, durants, calimancoes,” and others), adorments (“knee and shoe buckles, mohair and metal buttons”), and groceries (“sugar and melasses”). Yet Nelson offered only a preview of his inventory, enticing prospective customers with a promise that he also stocked “a variety of other GOODS, too tedious to enumerate.” Those who visited his store would encounter many other wonders.

In addition to promoting his wares, Nelson inserted a nota bene that expressed his appreciation for those who had already patronized his new store. He “returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC, for the encouragement he has already had, and hopes for their further favours.” Many colonial merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged their customers in their advertisements. Doing so served two purposes. It encouraged those who had already made purchases to return, but it also communicated to others that their friends and neighbors shopped at that store. Especially since Nelson operated a “new STORE,” providing early indications of its success may have helped to convince other prospective customers to make a visit and examine the goods on offer. Even if Nelson had not yet done much business at that location, he attempted to make his store seem popular to the public. His expression of gratitude suggested that customers already appreciated the “variety of GOODS, too tedious to enumerate,” that he “sold at the lowest prices.”

November 13

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

Nov 13 - 11:10:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (November 10, 1768).

“Orders from the West-Indies, or any part of America, &c. shall be faithfully complied with.”

When Richard Mason placed an advertisement for his “FIRE-ENGINES of the newest construction” in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the fall of 1768, he anticipated reaching an audience far beyond the residents of Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Gazette, formerly published by Benjamin Franklin but then published by David Hall (Franklin’s partner who assumed control of the printing office upon his retirement from printing) and William Sellers, was one of the most successful and widely circulated newspapers in the colonies. It regularly included a supplement devoted entirely to advertising, sometimes two pages printing on both sides of a half sheet but often four pages that required an entire broadsheet and doubled the amount of content of a standard issue. The proportion of paid notices to other items made it clear that the Pennsylvania Gazette was a delivery mechanism for advertising that happened to carry some news.

And deliver advertising it did! After describing in detail the fire engines that he made and sold, Mason advised that “Orders from the West-Indies, or any part of America, &c. shall be faithfully complied with.” In addition, he “will also undertake to keep all the fire engines of this city in repair.” With a single advertisement, Mason strove to position himself in multiple markets, near and far. It comes as no surprise that he offered goods and services to residents of Philadelphia. His call for orders from the West Indies and mainland North America, however, suggests that he had a reasonable expectation that the Pennsylvania Gazette would find its way into the hands of readers and prospective customers in faraway places. Even if they did not maintain their own subscription, they might read the Pennsylvania Gazette at coffeehouses that made newspapers from Europe and the colonies available to their clients, or they might come into possession of a copy that passed from hand to hand via the networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic world. Mason may not have anticipated that the bulk of his business would derive “from the West-Indies, or any part of America,” but he recognized the possibility. Another advertisement on the same page offered “Freight or Passage” aboard the Clarendon bound for “KINGSTON, in JAMAICA.” In addition to goods and people, it likely carried news, including copies of the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers, to other port cities.

October 6

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

Oct 6 - 10:6:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 6, 1768).

“Encouraging all our own Manufactures.”

Shopping became an increasingly political act during the years of the imperial crisis that culminated with the American Revolution. As a means of resisting Parliament’s attempts to overstep its authority, colonists joined nonimportation agreements in the 1760s, first in response to the Stamp Act and later in response to the Townshend Act. They hoped to apply economic pressure to achieve political goals, drafting English merchants harmed by the boycotts to advocate on their behalf. At the same time, colonists also envisioned that “domestic manufactures” would reduce their dependence on goods imported from Britain. In the late 1760s advertisers increasingly addressed this public discourse as they devised “Buy American” campaigns in their advertisements.

Much of Benjamin Jackson and John Gibbons’s advertisement for their “Mustard and Chocolate Store” in Philadelphia expressed such concerns. The partners acknowledged that “there now seems a noble and magnanimous Disposition diffused, and daily diffusing itself more and more, amongst the British Colonies in America, of encouraging all our own Manufactures.” Jackson and Gibbons joined in that call. Because they were “desirous to contribute thereto all in their Power as Individuals,” they proclaimed that they sold their “flour of Mustard … at very low Profits by Wholesale Quantities.” They considered it their civic obligation to make their product as affordable as possible, even if that meant less profit for their own business. In turn, they hoped that this would “induce the true patriotic Merchants, Masters of Vessels, &c. trading to and from New-York, Boston, West Indies, Halifax, &c. to favour them with their Orders.” Jackson and Gibbons did their part, but the scheme depended on others, especially those who supplied “Flour of Mustard” to other colonies, participating as well. If they did, Jackson and Gibbons imagined their plan “would be a Means of annually vending some, perhaps several Hundred, Bushels of Mustard-seed, that might be raised here with little Trouble, and be as a net Gain to the Province.” That would shift the balance of trade that previously favored England. Even a “trifling article” like mustard could have a significant impact on commerce and, in turn, politics if enough suppliers and consumers opted for a product produced in the colonies.

Furthermore, Jackson and Gibbons directly addressed the provisions of the Townshend Act later in the advertisement. “For the Sake of those that are not inclined to encourage the Duty on Glass,” the partners had acquired “a Quantity of neat Earthen Jars” to package their wares. This had the advantage of “helping out own Earthen Ware” industry while depriving Parliament of revenues from the taxes placed on imported glassware. This also yielded additional savings for consumers since the earthenware jars cost “One Shilling per Dozen cheaper than Glass.” The partners still offered “neat Glass Bottles, as usual,” as an option, but they encouraged consumers to make decisions that reduced the demand for those containers.

Jackson and Gibbons made many of their customary appeals to price and quality in their lengthy advertisement, but they also devoted significant space to convincing potential customers – consumers, wholesalers, and retailers – about the political ramifications of their commercial decisions. They offered a means for “true patriotic” colonists to follow through on the rhetoric so often expressed in conversation and in the news and editorial items that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.