What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At the Sign of the Scythe and Sickle.”
William Dawson advertised “A LARGE Quantity of SCYTHES and SICKLES, prepared for the ensuing Harvest” in a brief notice in the June 4, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. His advertisement likely attracted less notice than those placed by other cutlers who marketed their goods and services in the same issue. Dawson’s competitors in Philadelphia used images to enhance their advertisements.
James Hendricks adorned his advertisement with a woodcut depicting a sickle. Her announced that he had “ONE HUNDRED and Twenty DOZEN” sickles crafted “with the utmost care, and sold at the lowest Rates, and ensured to be good.” It was not the first time that he incorporated that image into one of his advertisements. Two years earlier, it ran in an advertisement that stated that the cutler had a workshop “at the Sign of the Sickle” on Market Street.
Benjamin Humphreys advertised both “SAW-MILL SAWS, And a large QUANTITY of SICKLES.” An image of a saw occupied the upper third of his notice. The cutler clearly commissioned the woodcut for his exclusive use. No other advertiser could use it because the name “B. HUMPHREYS” appeared on the saw. Like Hendricks, Humphreys incorporated his woodcut into a previous advertisement. The repetition helped to create a visual identity for his business. In another advertisement, placed in collaboration with Stephen Paschall in 1768, Humphreys used another woodcut. That one depicted a scythe and sickle, both of them bearing his last name.
By 1772, Humphreys and Paschall advertised separately, perhaps as a result of the Paschall forming a partnership with his son. The Paschalls determined that they also needed an image to make their advertisements memorable. Their woodcut depicted several tools, including a scythe, a sickle, and mechanisms for gristmills, that they made and sold “at the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” on Market Street. They also had the image personalized for their exclusive use, the initials “SP” on one of the tools. Paschall previously noted that he marked his work with “S. PASCHALL.”
Dawson offered the same merchandise as Hendricks, Humphreys, and Paschall and Paschall, but he might have experienced more difficulty attracting customers to his shop. His competitors made their advertisements easier to spot in the newspaper as well as more memorable. Did the images matter? Were they effective? Several cutlers in Philadelphia considered it worth the expense to commission their own woodcuts and pay for additional space to include them in their newspaper advertisements.