June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (June 23, 1766).

“Having served a regular Apprenticeship to the Business, he flatters himself he cannot fail of giving general Satisfaction.”

“DALLAS, Silk Dyer and Scourer, from London” had a lot going for him and he wanted potential customers to know it. Being a “Silk Dyer and Scourer” required particular skills; novices or pretenders might end up ruining any garments turned over to their care, but Dallas had “served a regular Apprenticeship to the Business.” He had received the training necessary for his occupation. As a result, clients could trust the other claims he made in his advertisement. Dallas did not just market the services he provided or the products he sold. He also marketed himself, especially his expertise and training, much as many modern advertisers list their qualifications, certifications, or degrees when promoting their businesses.

Dallas “clean’d or dyed” a variety of textiles, sometimes seeming to work magic on them. No matter how damaged they happened to be when delivered to his shop “at the Sign of the Dove and Rainbow,” Dallas was able to remove spots and otherwise clean fabrics so “they shall look equal to any new imported.” He pledged that he did this work “to the greatest Perfection.” He was able to accomplish this in part because of his specialized training, but also because he learned during his apprenticeship that it was necessary to have the proper supplies and equipment. Accordingly, “he hath every necessary Dye-Stuff, and proper Utensils superior to any ever erected in America.”

Apparently Dallas was so skilled as a “Silk Dyer and Scourer,” a celebrity in his occupation, that he needed only one name!

March 13

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

Mar 13 - 3:13:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 13, 1766).

“BOLTON and SCOTLAND, At the Sign of the Blue Hand.”

As soon as I saw this advertisement I knew that I had to select it. It didn’t matter what it said, only that it included a visual image, a woodcut of a (presumably blue) hand that likely replicated the “Sign of the Blue Hand” where Bolton and Scotland operated their business “in Race-street, between Front and Second-streets, Philadelphia.”

Most newspaper advertisements for goods and services did not include images of any sort during the eighteenth century. Unlike type that could be used repeatedly and for any purpose (set, broken up, and reset for a new job), images were often very specific to a particular advertiser’s business. This image of a hand would not have worked for any advertiser who did not happen to run a business “At the Sign of the Blue Hand.”

This is not to say that other kinds of advertisements were devoid of images. Printers usually had a small selection of woodcuts, especially ships, houses, and runaway slaves, that could be used interchangeably and generically in advertisements for vessels preparing to leave port, real estate, or seeking the return of runaways.

Shopkeepers, artisans, and merchants who wanted to spruce up their advertisements, however, had to commission their own woodcuts, but then those woodcuts belonged exclusively to them and did not appear in other advertisements. This may be obvious when looking at the Blue Hand, but it is worth keeping in mind that it applied to other sorts of woodcuts associated with particular shops. For instance, a woodcut of a spinning wheel that accompanied John Kean’s advertisements was used exclusively in his advertisements – as a brand of sorts – and was not inserted in other advertisements for textiles.

Today we are accustomed to advertisements that include stimulating visual images. In the eighteenth century, however, advertisements were typically comprised mostly of text. Images were an exception rather than the rule.