May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 19, 1768).

“The Cork of each Bottle will be stamped.”

Timothy Matlack promoted his “Philadelphia brewed BOTTLED BEER” in an advertisement in the May 19, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. The brewer encouraged “Masters of Vessels, and others” to purchase his beer, describing it as “remarkably pale, and very good.” His advertisement also revealed that he engaged in a practice that amounted to branding his beer, marking his product in such a way that made it easy for consumers to recognize and associate it with a particular brewer. He informed prospective customers that “[t]he Cork of each Bottle will be stamped” with his name and an abbreviation for Philadelphia.

Matlack had been marking the corks that stoppered bottles containing his beer for quite some time. Two years earlier, in an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, he reported that his beer “will be stamped on the cork with black letters.” (For more biographical information about Matlack, including his famous connection to the Declaration of Independence, see the entry that examined that previous advertisement.) His advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, however, featured an innovation. With increased attention to typography, this advertisement more accurately depicted the likely appearance of the stamp. It arranged the three words that identified the beer on three lines, centering them just as they would appear on the cork:




No matter where throughout the Atlantic world “Masters of Vessels” happened to transport Matlack’s beer, those who consumed it would always be able to identify its origins and its brewer. Matack planned ahead in anticipation that those who drank his beer would appreciate its taste or quality, especially after being stored and shipped long distances. He made sure they encountered tangible reminders of where to obtain more the next time they needed to provision their ships or make purchases for other sorts of consumption. While he certainly did not achieve the name recognition associated with modern breweries, Matlack made efforts – in print and on the packaging of his product – to induce customers to associate his name with a beverage that might otherwise have seemed generic.

May 1

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

May 1 - 5:1:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 1, 1766).

“It will be stamped on the cork with black letters.”

This advertisement caught my eye for two reasons. When he informed potential customers that his “BOTTLED BEER … will be stamped on the cork with black letters,” Timothy Matlack branded his product. He made it easy to distinguish his beer from any competitors at a glance. He also created a mechanism for his product to be recognized or identified long after it left his store on Fourth Street and found its way into public and private spaces in and around Philadelphia. Branding is an important element of modern advertising, a core component of a product’s and a business’s identity, but it is not an invention of modern advertising executives. Some eighteenth-century entrepreneurs experimented with various ways to mark and identify their wares.

May 1 - Timothy Matlack
Timothy Matlack (Charles Willson Peale, ca. 1790).  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This advertisement also caught my eye because of the advertiser himself, Timothy Matlack. Many of the advertisers featured here are fairly anonymous today, having left behind very few documents from their lives. Others played fairly prominent roles in their communities during their lifetimes, leaving sufficient documentation to be traced, to greater or lesser degrees, by historians.

Timothy Matlack, however, was a man of prominence in eighteenth-century America. At least one biographer has chronicled his life as a brewer and politician during the American Revolution. Though he is not as famous today as Samuel Adams, another brewer and popular revolutionary leader, Matlack has entered popular culture as the answer to one of the riddles in the film National Treasure.   While much of the history is that movie is more than suspect, Matlack did indeed engross (write the official copy of) THE Declaration of Independence. His master penmanship lives on, not only in the Declaration of Independence but also in several modern typefaces inspired or influenced by his handwriting.