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.

September 19

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

Sep 19 - 9:19:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 19, 1769).

“At the Sign of the Green Dragon.”

When Henry Sanders opened a “House of Public Entertainment” in Marblehead, Massachusetts, late in the summer of 1769, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to invited “Gentlemen, Strangers and others” to experience his hospitality. He informed prospective patrons that they could find the tavern “near the Wharf of the Hon. Robert Hooper, Esq.” In addition to naming a landmark he assumed readers found familiar, Sanders noted that “the Sign of the Green Dragon” marked the precise location.

Like many other colonial tavernkeepers, as well as a good number of shopkeepers and artisans, Sanders adopted a device to represent his business and then displayed it on a sign and incorporated it into his newspaper advertisements. Over the years, those advertisements have become the sole evidence of the existence of some of the signs on display in the streets of colonial cities and towns. Although some were memorialized in letters or diaries and others mentioned in news items when they were connected to momentous events, newspaper advertisements provide the most complete catalog of eighteenth-century shop signs.

Such signs served several important purposes in early America. Standardized street numbers had not yet been developed in the late 1760s, though some of the largest cities would begin to institute them in the final decade of the eighteenth century. Sanders did not have the option of directing “Gentlemen, Strangers and others” to a particular number on a specific street. As we have seen, he instead relied on landmarks, a wharf already familiar to prospective patrons to get them to the general vicinity and a sign that marked his exact location. Once the sign had been erected for sufficient time, locals could incorporate it into the directions they gave for finding other people and businesses. The sign also doubled as the name of his establishment and likely became a logo that visitors and passersby associated with the tavern. Whether the sign depicted a dragon that was fierce or friendly the advertisement does not reveal, but it does hint at the visual culture colonists encountered as they traversed the streets of cities and towns in the eighteenth century. Almost certainly even more signs marked all sorts of businesses than those that appear in newspapers advertisements from the period.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post- Boy (June 6, 1768).

“His House is very well calculated for an Inn.”

When Josiah F. Davenport opened an inn on Third Street in Philadelphia, he advertised in newspapers published in both Philadelphia and New York. Doing so made sense since he billed “the Bunch of Grapes” as “a genteel House of Entertainment, for Travellers and others, who may depend on the best Fare and civilest Treatment.” Davenport positioned his tavern and inn as a destination not only for visitors to the city but also for local residents “who may have Occasion to meet on Business or Recreation.” In addition to the “best Liquors” and the “elegant and spacious” accommodations for guests, Davenport also promoted the location. He proclaimed that Third Street “is becoming one of the grandest Avenues into this City.” The Bunch of Grapes “stands in the Neighbourhood of many principal Merchants and capital Stores.” Furthermore, it was also located “very near the Market.” Visitors traveling to Philadelphia on business could lodge in an establishment close to their associates, one that also happened to be in a swank neighborhood. Local patrons could also take advantage of the convenient location for conducting business or enjoying the various entertainments at the Bunch of Grapes.

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (June 6, 1768).

Davenport submitted identical copy to the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the Pennsylvania Chronicle (but the compositors for each made their own decisions about capitalization and italics throughout the advertisement). He also adorned the notice in the Chronicle with a woodcut depicting the sign that marked his establishment, a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. He acknowledged that the “large and commodious Inn” he now operated had been “for some time known by the Name of the Bull’s Head.” However, it was now known as the Bunch of Grapes under the management of the new proprietor. The new sign and an image in one of the city’s newspapers helped to cement the switch in branding for the inn. This was especially important considering that the Bull’s Head had established its own reputation for operating at that location.

Davenport realized that the success of the Bunch of Grapes depended on attracting a mixture of customers, both residents of Philadelphia who patronized his “House of Entertainment” for an afternoon or evening and visitors from other places who spent one or more nights. Accordingly, he highlighted a variety of amenities and, especially, the location of the inn in newspapers published in more than one city. Through his marketing efforts, he encouraged travelers to think of the Bunch of Grapes, rather than Philadelphia, as their destination.