What advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Sign of the Hunting-Side-Saddle.”
A striking image of a saddle embellished Elias Botner’s advertisement in the Postscript Extraordinary to the Pennsylvania Gazette published on May 3, 1770. The woodcut announced Botner’s occupation before readers had a chance to peruse the advertising copy that described “GENTLEMENS English, hunting, full welted and plain, Hogskin, Buckskin, and Neats Leather, seated SADDLES,” “Ladies hunting Side-Saddles,” and all kinds of accessories. Inserting this image represented a significant investment for Botner. He had to commission the woodcut that corresponded to his business and would not be used in any other advertisements, plus he had to pay for the space that it occupied on the printed page. Eighteenth-century advertisers paid by the amount of space required for their notices, not the number of words. The image of the saddle nearly doubled the amount of space for Botner’s advertisement.
The saddler quite likely considered it worth the investment. His saddle was the only visual image on either page of the Postscript Extraordinary, drawing the eye away from the dense text that constituted both news and every other advertisement. Including an image was itself extraordinary in the various parts of the May 3 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. The standard four-page issue featured only two images, the shield that adorned the masthead on the front page and a generic image of a ship that accompanied a notice about a ship preparing to depart for Bristol. In the two-page Supplement, another woodcut of a ship appeared in another notice about a ship sailing for Bristol. Both images of ships belonged to the printer and could be deployed interchangeably in advertisements concerning maritime trade. Over the course of the eight pages that constituted the standard issue, the Supplement, and the Postscript Extraordinary, readers encountered only four images. Botner’s saddle was the only one that would have been unique or unexpected. As a result, it may have been just as effective as (or even more effective than) his description of hjs goods or his promises of customer service in attracting the attention of prospective customers.