December 10

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

Providence Gazette (December 10, 1768).

“The Sign of the Black Boy and Butt.”

No advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children happened to appear in the December 10, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, but that did not mean that the black body was absent from the commercial landscape of the port city that newspaper served. Jonathan Russell inserted an advertisement for his “large and fresh Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS,” noting that readers would easily recognize his store “on the West Side of the Great Bridge” because “the Sign of the Black Boy and Butt” marked its location. It was not the first time that he invoked his shop sign when giving directions to prospective customers, though he had previously referred to it simply as “the Sign of the BLACK-BOY.” Perhaps he had acquired a new sign, but it may have always included a depiction of a butt, a large cask. Russell’s description of it could have shifted over time.

Even when Russell was not advertising in the local newspaper, his sign was constantly on display in Providence, reminding residents and visitors alike of the connections between black bodies and colonial commerce. Nor was Russell the only merchant or shopkeeper to adopt such iconography. Two years earlier Augustus Deley placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Courant to proclaim that he “CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO … for chewing or smoaking.” Interested parties could find him “At the Sign of the Black Boy, Near the North Meeting-House in Hartford.” Signs depicting black boys had a long history in New England. More than thirty years earlier, Jonathan Williams placed an advertisement for imported wine and New England rum sold “at the Black Boy and Butt.”[1] In some instances, the youths represented enslaved workers closely associated with the products sold. Such was the case for Deley’s tobacco, grown on plantations in other colonies, and Williams’s rum, produced from molasses acquired as a byproduct of sugar cultivation on Caribbean plantations. The connection between Russell’s “Black Boy” and his “ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” was not as immediate. Instead, it offered a shorthand description of the networks of trade, production, and consumption that crisscrossed the Atlantic in the eighteenth century. Commercial exchange in Providence was part of a larger system that included the transatlantic slave trade and forced labor at sites of cultivation and production. Residents of Providence did not need “the Sign of the Black Boy and Butt” to inform them of that. Instead, it testified to a reality that was familiar to consumers throughout the Atlantic world.

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[1] New England Weekly Journal (March 8, 1737).

September 10

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

Sep 10 - 9:10:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 10, 1768).

“The Sign of the Elephant.”

Richard Jackson and John Updike informed prospective customers that their shop was located at “the Sign of the Elephant, opposite John Angell’s, Esq,” in an advertisement in the September 10, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Elsewhere on the same page, Clark and Nightingale also used the combination of shop sign and landmarks to denote their location: “At the Sign of the Fish and Frying-Pan, opposite Oliver Arnold’s, Esq; near the Court-House.” Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, did not list their location in either of the advertisements they inserted in the issue, but the colophon stated that “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” adorned their printing office. Joseph Russell and William Russell also did not indicate their location in their advertisements in the September 10 issue, but these prominent merchants regularly ran other advertisements that told readers to seek them out at “the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House.” Collectively, these advertisers paint a portrait of some of the sights colonists would have seen as they traversed the streets of Providence in the late 1760s.

Jackson and Updike marketed many of the same goods as Clark and Nightingale. Both sets of partners led their advertisements with “English and India Goods” before providing more complete accountings of their various sorts of merchandise. In selecting the visual images to identify and, in effect, brand their shops, however, they opted for different strategies. Jackson and Updike chose an elephant, an exotic beast unlikely to have been glimpsed by the vast majority of residents of Providence. Known only to most colonists through texts and perhaps a limited number of woodcuts and engravings in circulation in the Atlantic world, the elephant conjured images of the faraway origins of the “India Goods,” including textiles, sold at Jackson and Updike’s shop. Associating their wares with the elephant linked the merchant-shopkeepers to extensive networks of exchange that reached to the other side of the globe. Clark and Nightingale, on the other hand, advanced a much more utilitarian and familiar image. Neither the fish nor frying pan required imagination on the part of readers or passersby who saw their sign, but the image did communicate that the partners competently and efficiently outfitted their customers with the necessities. Their choice of logo emphasized the practical aspects of their merchandise.

Unfortunately, very few eighteenth-century shop signs have survived. The descriptions in newspapers advertisements do not indicate whether Jackson and Updike’s elephant or any of the other signs were carved or painted, but they do testify to their presence in colonial towns and cities. They also suggest that merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans not only displayed signs to assist prospective customers navigating the streets but also sometimes adopted images intended to convey messages about their wares.

December 20

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

Dec 20 - 12:17:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 17, 1767).

“At the Sign of.”

Magdalen Devine frequently placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette throughout 1767. Often a woodcut depicting some of her merchandise, two rolls of fabric and two swatches showcasing the patterns, accompanied her advertisements. This effectively created a logo for Devine, making her advertisements instantly recognizable without potential customers needing to even read a word.

For many eighteenth-century shopkeepers and artisans, the woodcuts that supplemented their advertisements illustrated the signs that marked the places where they conducted business. The devices in the woodcuts reflected the descriptions of shop signs in many advertisements, but that did not necessarily mean that those woodcuts exactly replicated the signs they represented. For instance, leather dressers James Haslett and Matthew Haslett included several visual variations on “the Sign of the Buck and Glove” in their advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette. One may have faithfully duplicated the actual sign; the others offered a similar likeness that distinguished their advertisements from others, attracted the attention of readers, and helped guide potential customers to their shop. Similarly, other woodcuts in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements likely provided representations but not exact replications of shop signs, hinting at what colonial consumers saw when they traversed the streets.

Devine, however, suggested that the woodcut in her advertisements did indeed accurately reproduce her shop sign. In the course of giving directions to her shop, she indicated that she had recently moved “to the House lately occupied by FRANCIS WADE, on the East Side of Second-Street, between Black-Horse Alley and Market-Street.” To further aid “her FRIENDS, and the PUBLIC” in finding her, she noted that her shop was “at the Sign of” but did not conclude the sentence with a description or name for the sign. Instead, she inserted the woodcut that by then served as her logo. While other advertisers implied that woodcuts in their advertisements depicted their signs without commenting on how well they did so, Magdalen Devine provided one of the most explicit indications that what readers saw in the newspaper replicated the actual sign that marked her shop.

August 14

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

Aug 14 - 8:14:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 14, 1767).

“Now open’d for Sale, at the Sign of the LION and MORTER.”

Little and Jackson sold “A large and fresh Assortment of genuine Medicines” at their apothecary shop near the Crown Coffee House in Portsmouth. The sign the druggists displayed made it easier for residents and visitors to the port to locate their shop. Its device, the “LION and MORTER,” testified to the type of merchandise they carried, including popular patent medicines imported from England as well as ingredients for compounding remedies on the spot.

The mortar alone, a symbol widely recognized among potential customers, would have sufficiently described Little and Jackson’s business. Adding the lion, a regal symbol, imbued their business with more prestige, but that was not all it accomplished. It also replicated a shop sign already in use by one of their counterparts in Salem, Massachusetts. As early as January 1764, Philip Godfrid Kast advertised in the Boston Post-Boy that he imported and sold “a very large Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES” at his shop “at the Sign of the Lyon and Mortar.” In 1774, Kast even distributed a trade card that featured his sign, a rare visual image of what would have been a ubiquitous sight in colonial cities.

In choosing to pair a lion with a mortar, had Little and Jackson infringed on Kast’s efforts to brand his business? Not by the standards of the eighteenth century. The devices depicted on many shop signs had long been in use in England, first appearing in an earlier period with lower literacy rates. Just as the mortar and pestle were associated with druggists, other symbols denoted specific occupations. For instance, a sign showing a dog with its head in a bucket indicated that a smith practiced his trade at that location. Leather dressers who made all sorts of clothing, including James and Matthew Haslett, did so at the “Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE.”

Throughout London and the provinces and, eventually, the colonies, the consistent use of these and other easily recognized symbols conveniently marked where shopkeepers and artisans carried on specific activities. To some extent they could be deployed as branding in a certain area, but they did not tend to be the sole domain of entrepreneurs and advertisers beyond their local markets.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 27, 1767).

“For sale at their Shop at the Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE.”

It would have been difficult not to notice the woodcut that accompanied James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the July 17, 1767, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Except for the insignia of the lion and unicorn within the masthead at the top of the first page, it was the only visual image in the entire issue, immediately drawing the eye away from the text that surrounded it.

The Hasletts reminded potential customers that “they still carry on the Leather Dressing Business … at their Shop at the Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE in King Street” in Portsmouth. The woodcut indeed depicted a sign that featured a buck and glove, as well as a pair of breeches. The text of the advertisement also promoted “all sorts of Breeches ready made.”

This was not the first time that the leather dressers inserted a woodcut alongside their advertisement, but it had been ten months since they last did so. In the interim, their commercial notices had been unadorned, relying on the copy alone to convince potential customers to avail themselves of the Hasletts’ services.

When they decided to once again include a woodcut, they did not return to either of the two that previously appeared in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette. This woodcut was new, though it included the same elements incorporated into at least one of the previous iterations. All three depicted a signboard with a buck, a glove, and a pair of breeches hanging alongside a separate glove on the same pole. The first version included the date they founded their business and the Hasletts’ names in the same locations as the newest woodcut, but the second one eliminated their names and moved the date to the top of the sign. This version included decorative finials at the top and bottom of the sign that had not been present in either previous woodcut.

With this woodcut, the Hasletts further developed their brand. Their advertisement helps to create a better sense of the visual aspects of eighteenth-century signs that marked all kinds of businesses. However, the variations among the various woodcuts used by the Hasletts suggests that any woodcut should be considered a general or stylistic representation of how a sign might have looked rather than an attempt to closely or exactly replicate its appearance.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:7:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 7, 1767).

“KEARNY and GILBERT, At the sign of the Snuff Bottle, and their names over the store door.”

Newspaper advertisements from the period suggest visual elements of marketing erected in eighteenth-century cities and villages. Residents and visitors alike encountered an array of shop signs that retailers used to identify their businesses. Such was the case in the first issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette published in May 1767. Although their signs have been lost to time, several advertisers included descriptions of them alongside other directions intended to guide customers to their shops.

Nathaniel Tweedy, a druggist, announced that he could he sold medicines “At the Golden Eagle, in Market-street, near the Court-house.” Dyers Joseph Allardyce and Company practiced their trade “at the Sign of the Blue Hand, in Race-street, between Front and Second Streets.” Edward Penington, an attorney, advertised a real estate auction to be held “at the house of John Biddle, at the sign of the Indian King, in Market-street.” William Dawson, a cutler, not only stated that he made a various kinds of knives and other implements “At the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” but also included a woodcut depicting those instruments suspended from a signpost. Each of these, especially Dawson’s advertisement, hints at the rich visual cityscape of marketing in Philadelphia in the decade before the Revolution.

In many instances, such signs provided the sole means of identifying a shop or tavern, but other advertisers stated that they also labeled their places of business with their own names. Kearny and Gilbert, for instance, stocked an array of merchandise “At the sign of the Snuff Bottle … in Water Street.” To alleviate any potential confusion, customers could also look for “their names over the store door.” George Frederick Boyer, one of Dawson’s competitors in the cutlery business, displayed “a Sign in Front-street, and another in Water-street, with his Name thereon, and on which are painted Swords, Knives, Lancets, Razors, and Grinding Tools.”

How often did eighteenth-century shopkeepers, artisans, and other entrepreneurs label their locations with their own names or include them on their fanciful signs? Did most signs provide visual identification exclusively? Or did they also tend to incorporate at least a minimal amount of text, even if just the name of the proprietor? In the absence of devices like the Golden Eagle or the Blue Hand, did others at least post placards with their names so potential customers knew they had arrived at the correct destination? Or did they assume the extensive directions provided in advertisements sufficed?

I do not have satisfactory answers to these questions, but they remind me that the history of advertising in eighteenth-century America requires research along multiple trajectories, utilizing multiple sorts of sources. Newspaper notices and other printed ephemera (magazine wrappers, broadsides, trade cards, catalogs) tell much of the story, but material culture (such as shop signs or packaging materials, both more likely in museum collections rather than archives) reveals other important aspects of how marketing worked in early America.

November 14

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-14-11141766-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 14, 1766).

“Buckskin and Sheepskin Gloves – The neatest made Gloves for Funerals.”

In this advertisement from the New-Hampshire Gazette, James and Matthew Haslett offered several leather goods. The first thing I noticed was the description of gloves that were specifically made for funerals.

For my research, I found “The Handsome Tokens of a Funeral: Glove-Giving and the Large Funeral in Eighteenth-Century New England” by Steven Bullock and Sheila McIntyre. Bullock and McIntyre explain that the family of the deceased distributed leather gloves to funeral attendees. They write that this tradition was short-lived, but when it was popular it was a very important funeral custom in British North America. “Well-to-do families distributed them to everyone, often using far more than twelve dozen pairs. A particularly substantial ceremony might require a thousand – or more.”[1] This tells us that a wide variety of people might have responded to this advertisement for funeral gloves: both common people and the elite. The difference between the groups would most likely be that the elite would purchase a large amount of gloves that would be more widely distributed, while common people would purchase a smaller number of gloves that would be reserved for specific funeral attendees.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

James and Matthew Haslett advertised regularly in the New-Hampshire Gazette. The Adverts 250 Project featured one of their advertisements just two months ago, selecting that advertisement because of the woodcut depicting the “Sign of the Buck and Glove” that accompanied it. Over a period of several weeks the Hasletts published three advertisements that included two different woodcuts depicting the sign that marked their place of business. Considering that very few newspaper advertisements included visual images (and that those that did usually relied on stock images of houses or ships that belonged to the printer), it was quite exceptional that the Hasletts commissioned not only one but two woodcuts.

Just two months later, however, neither woodcut was anywhere in evidence in their advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette. The image was missing and so was any mention of the sign. The Hasletts previously announced that “they have set up their Factory at the Sign of the Buck and Glove, adjoining Canoe Bridge.” Now they reported that they had REMOVED from the Canoe Bridge, to the House lately belonging to Mr. Matelin, next Door to Capt. George Boyd’s, and almost opposite the Sign of the State House.” These new directions were extensive, which would have allowed new and returning customers to find the Hasletts.

What happened to the “Sign of the Buck and Glove” that marked their previous location? Presumably it moved with them. After all, other colonial artisans and shopkeepers were known to have operated under the same shop sign for years or decades. For some, it became a brand of sorts, especially when they commissioned woodcuts that consistently appeared in their newspapers advertisements and on their trade cards and billheads. The Hasletts were in a position to create their own brand with their shop sign. Considering the verbiage involved in the directions they provided in today’s advertisement, it would not have been any more complex to include the name of their shop sign as a means of encouraging readers to always associate their products with the Sign of the Buck and Glove. This appears to have been a missed opportunity.

It may have also been a pragmatic decision. Although this advertisement did not include a woodcut, very little else changed from the previous iteration. The headline was identical. The text was identical from the fifth line of the body of the advertisement until the conclusion of the nota bene, although an additional call for ashes was eliminated. If the Hasletts paid for a certain amount of space or to have type reset, then it made sense to leave out a reference to their shop sign in favor of inserting sufficient information to direct customers to their new location.

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[1] Steven Bullock and Sheila McIntyre, “The Handsome Tokens of a Funeral: Glove-Giving and the Large Funeral in Eighteenth-Century New England,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 68, no. 2 (April 2012): 336.

September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 12, 1766).

James & Mathew Haslett … have set up their Factory at the Sign of the Buck and Glove.”

Relatively few artisans or shopkeepers included images in their newspaper advertisement during the eighteenth century. Although printers already possessed the type, advertisers were responsible for providing any woodcuts beyond the stock printers ornaments. As a result, most advertisements placed by artisans and shopkeepers lacked images. In contrast, advertisements for runaway slaves, real estate, and vessels clearing port often sported woodcuts of slaves, houses, or ships, respectively. Each type of those stock ornaments could be used interchangeably for advertisements from the associated genre.

On the other hand, when advertisements placed by artisans and shopkeepers included woodcuts, those images were specific to a particular advertiser. In most cases, the text of the advertisement suggested that the image illustrated the shop sign that marked the advertiser’s establishment. The woodcut in James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement even depicted a shop sign!

The visual culture of the newspaper corresponded to the scenes readers saw on the street. But how closely did these woodcuts replicate the shop signs they were intended to portray? It’s tempting to assume that they were designed to reproduce the original as much as possible, yet the woodcut in the Hasletts’ advertisement throws that supposition to question. The image that appeared in the September 12 issue was the second one used by the Hasletts. Just two weeks earlier they published the same advertisement with a different (but similar) woodcut, before replacing it in the September 4 and September 12 issues. (The woodcut did not appear in the New-Hampshire Gazette again after that throughout the rest of 1766.)

Why did the Hasletts switch from one woodcut to another? What kind of expenses were involved in that decision? Was including a woodcut in their advertisement worth the investment? Did the Hasletts distribute any handbills or billheads that incorporated the same woodcut? Did the new woodcut more closely replicate their actual shop sign?

Today’s advertisement offers some refreshing visual culture among eighteenth-century advertisements usually comprised exclusively of text. However, it also raises questions about the decisions made by advertisers and how closely the crude proto-logos that appeared in newspaper advertisement portrayed the shop signs they were supposed to reference.

While researching this entry, I consulted the original newspapers in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society in addition to the digital surrogates in Readex’s Early American Newspapers.

Sep 12 - Haslett 8:29
Detail of James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette (August 29, 1766). American Antiquarian Society.
Sep 12 - Haslett 9:4
Detail of James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette (September 4, 1766). American Antiquarian Society.
Sept 12 - Haslett 9:12
Detail of James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette (September 12, 1766). American Antiquarian Society.

July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:24:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 24, 1766).

“ROBERT HARRIS, At the sign of the Golden Pestle, in Second-street.”

Not only did a variety of shop signs announce where entrepreneurs operated their businesses, those signs also aided colonists in navigating the streets of cities and towns in an era before street numbers and addresses were either common or standardized. Some shopkeepers and artisans had signs that were memorable and imaginative but did not necessarily correspond to their occupation in any way other than their decision to adopt them as their own logo. For instance, shopkeeper William Murray could be found at the Sign of General Wolfe in Marlborough Street in Boston. Murray’s sign celebrated the British general, a hero of the empire, but in depicting Wolfe it did not reveal what kind of business operated at that location.

Robert Harris, on the other hand, chose a device directly connected to the merchandise he sold. He advertised “Drugs, Chymical and Galenical Medicines, of all sorts,” including an extensive list of popular patent medicines familiar on both sides of the Atlantic. He sold them “At the sign of the Golden Pestle, in Second-street” in Philadelphia. The mortar and pestle were perhaps the equipment most frequently associated with apothecaries in the colonial era, just as they continue to be a recognized symbol and emblem for pharmacists today.

During the second half of the eighteenth century, some colonists used their shop signs in ways that transformed them into what we would today consider a logo that branded their goods and services. They commissioned woodcuts that replicated their shop signs to accompany newspaper advertisements. They distributed trade cards and billheads that also made use of the same images. Robert Harris may not have been quite that innovative when it came to using multiple media and visual images to promote his business, but he was savvy in choosing a sign that unambiguously announced his occupation. This may have been especially imperative in Philadelphia, the largest city in the colonies and an extremely busy port with large numbers of people unfamiliar with the city and its vendors arriving regularly.