September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 3, 1767).

“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.

Sep 3 - 9:3:1767 Truman Advert Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 3, 1767).

August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:20:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 20, 1767).

“A considerable number of rolling screens for cleansing wheat.”

John Sellers and Richard Truman both advertised their “SCREENS for cleaning all sorts of Grain” in the August 20, 1767, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Truman devoted more than half of the space in his notice to a woodcut depicting a machine that used one of the screens he made. This strategy likely garnered a fair amount of attention since visual images were relatively rare in eighteenth-century newspapers; even the most humble woodcuts distinguished the advertisements they adorned from the vast majority of others.

Sellers purchased the same amount of space, but, like most advertisers, densely filled it with text. He used that space to develop two marketing strategies: an appeal to unparalleled expertise in his field and roll call of existing customers who could testify to his abilities and their experience using the screens he made.

Sellers not only “MADES and sold” screens for cleaning flaxseed and wheat, he claimed to be “the original inventor and institutor of that branch of business in America.” Furthermore, he protected his trade secrets by not sharing his techniques with anyone else. As evidence that former customers recognized the quality and utility of his “wire work of all sorts,” Sellers argued that he had made “all the wire boults used in the cities of Philadelphia and New-York” as well as a “considerable number” of rolling screens akin to those advertised by Truman. Due to his “long experience” and status as “the best master of the work,” he believed that he was “best intitled” to the patronage of those who needed to purchase such equipment.

Potential customers did not need to take Sellers’ word. Instead, he listed eight associates in Philadelphia and another eight in New York, encouraging readers to enquire of them for further endorsements. Realizing that consumers would rightfully be skeptical of what amount to nothing more than braggadocio, Sellers made it possible for them to independently verify his claims by speaking with satisfied customers.

Without a woodcut decorating his advertisement, John Sellers instead worked to convince potential customers of the superiority of his product over others marketed and sold by his competitors. Richard Truman’s advertisement was rudimentary in comparison. It included an eye-catching visual image, but did little beyond announcing that he sold fans and screens for cleaning grains. In contrast, Sellers explained why customers should prefer the products he made and sold. In addition, he directed them to satisfied customers who could speak authoritatively about his screens.