July 1

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

Jul 1 - 6:28:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 28, 1770).

“At the sign of the Scythe, Sickle and Brand-iron.”

Samuel Wheeler, a cutler, advised prospective clients that he “undertakes any kind of iron work that any business requires.”  In advertisement in the June 28, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he also listed a variety of items that he “makes and has for sale,” including “good scythes and sickles,” “steal stamps for carpenters or smiths,” “iron work for mills of any kind,” and “smiths work for houses.”  Wheeler listed two locations for customers to examine his merchandise and make purchases, his shop “at the sign of the Scythe, Sickle and Brand-iron” on Second Street and his house “at the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” in Church Alley.  Like many other artisans, Wheeler incorporated images of the items he made into the signs that marked his location.

Signs depicting scythes and sickles were a common sight in Philadelphia in 1700.  In the same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, two other cutlers inserted advertisements that mentioned signs that included images of one or both tools.  James Hendricks made and sold sickles “at the sign of the Sickle” on Market Street.  Stephen Paschall also ran a shop on Market Street, where he made and sold a variety of cutlery “at the sign of the Scythe and Sickle.”

These advertisements reveal both the variation in signs adopted by artisans who pursued the same occupation and the challenges they faced in identifying themselves with distinctive devices.  Hendricks chose a single item, the sickle, for his sign, while Wheeler multiplied the number of items, perhaps with the intention that the combination of scythe, sickle, and brand iron would be so distinctive that others were unlikely to adopt it.  That had not been the case with the sign that marked his home rather than his shop.  Wheeler and Paschall both mentioned signs that featured the scythe and sickle.  Other cutlers in the city may have also posted signs with this common imagery.  Signs helped to identify their workshops, but a sign alone was not necessarily sufficient to designate a business operated by a particular artisan.

June 24

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

Jun 24 - 6:21:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 21, 1770).

“Large quantities of sickles, stamped S. PACHALL, in imitation … of my stamp.”

For several months in the spring and summer of 1770, Stephen Paschall ran an advertisement for scythes, sickles, knives, and similar items in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Paschall made all of his wares and sold them, appropriately enough, “at the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” on Market Street in Philadelphia.  Paschall was confident in his skill, declaring that the products of his workshop “will prove as good as any made elsewhere.”

Others apparently shared this assessment, so much so that for several years counterfeit sickles attributed to Paschall circulated in Philadelphia.  He devoted half of his advertisement to describing the fraud and instructing prospective customers how to recognize authentic Paschall sickles.  He lamented that “some merchants of this city have … imported from Great Britain … and sold great quantities” of sickles “stamped S. PACHALL.”  Paschall marked his own sickles with his name, “S. PASCHALL.”  The difference could be easy to overlook:  “the letter S, between the A and C, is left out in the stamp on the English sickle.”  He deplored the unscrupulous purveyors of the counterfeit sickles for profiting off of his name and reputation when selling inferior goods, “many of which have been brought to me by farmers to alter.”  To add insult to injury, Paschall often found himself in the position of repairing sickles after farmers purchased them because they had been duped by the counterfeit mark.  He experienced some chagrin that those farmers confided that they “bought them for my make” only to discover “the workmanship is by no means equal to those formerly made by me.”

In addition to rehabilitating his own reputation, Paschall considered it important to bring this deception to public notice because he was in the process of “establishing my son in the same business (who is an apprentice to me).”  He defended his work not only for his own benefit but to safeguard the prospects of the next generation following the family business.

Labels, stamps, and other means of marking goods played an important role in marketing some products in the eighteenth century, but they could also be abused, adapted, and deployed to confuse consumers.  Paschall and others used newspaper advertisements to inform the public of this trickery, simultaneously protecting their own business interests and providing a service to unsuspecting consumers.