What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Wire work of all sorts, particularly for flaxseed and wheat.”
In the September 3, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, John Sellers updated an advertisement that he had previously inserted in other issues. The copy remained the same (and does not appear to have been reset), but he added an image of a rolling wire screen for separating flaxseed and “cleansing wheat.” In and of itself, the woodcut enhanced the advertisement and likely caught the attention of more readers, especially since images were a relatively rare component of eighteenth-century advertisements. When they did appear, they tended to fall into four main categories – ships, houses, slaves, and horses – that could be used interchangeably in any advertisements related to the corresponding image. Those woodcuts belonged to printers.
On the other hand, advertisers had to commission more specialized images, which then belonged to them and were not associated with other advertisements. This made Sellers’ woodcut of a rolling wire screen all the more extraordinary in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette. The advertisements in the September 3 issue and its supplement featured only six images. Three depicted ships, including one announcing that the Phoenix would soon depart for Cork and encouraging readers to make arrangements for “Freight or Passage.” Another depicted Benjamin Jackson and John Gibbons’ seal flanked by a bottle of mustard and a block of chocolate, the two specialty items at the center of their grocery business. The remaining two both had images of wire screens “for cleaning all sorts of Grain.”
That may help to explain why Sellers chose to spruce up his advertisement with an image of the rolling screens he produced. Even though the copy in his advertisement made stronger appeals concerning his skill and the quality of his screens, it may have been overshadowed by Richard Truman’s advertisement that simply presented the image of one of his screens and let it do most of the work in the absence appeals made over the course of many lines of dense text. Sellers may have decided that he needed to increase his investment in his marketing efforts in order to make his advertisements competitive. After all, if the competition’s advertisements got all the attention, it was not worth the expense to advertise at all. Sellers increased the likelihood that potential customers would consider the appeals made in the copy by providing some art as a hook to interest them.