January 8

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

Jan 8 1770 - 1:8:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 8, 1770).

“Hart’s Vendue Store.”

Relatively few eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements featured visual images. Most that did relied on woodcuts of ships, houses, horses, or people that belonged to the printer for repeated use in various advertisements, but some advertisers did commission woodcuts that appeared exclusively in their notices. Oftentimes such woodcuts depicted their shop signs, creating consistent marketing iconography, but that was not always the case. Whether or not tied to shop signs, unique woodcuts stood to attract more attention to advertisements than they would have garnered without visual images.

Readers of the January 8, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle could hardly have overlooked the advertisement for an auction house, Hart’s Vendue Store, with its exceptionally large woodcut depicting a hand ringing a bell enclosed in a frame. Even though it was not the only visual image, it dominated the page, in large part due to its size. The woodcut occupied more space than the copy for the advertisement! The frame formed a square with the length of each side the same as the width of the column in which the advertisement ran. Woodcuts that the printer supplied, including one of a ship in the advertisement immediately to the left of the one for Hart’s Vendue Store, were much smaller icons. They usually appeared in the upper left corner of advertisements, with copy to the right and continuing below. In featuring such a large visual image, Hart invested not only in commissioning the woodcut but also in the space required to publish it in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. It more than doubled the amount of space filled by the advertisement. Hart may have considered it very well worth the investment if the woodcut managed to distinguish his advertisement and attract bidders to his auction house. Footman and Jeyes placed an advertisement for their “New VENDUE-STORE” on the same page. It lacked visual images. Indeed, the entire advertisement filled the same amount of space as Hart’s woodcut alone.

In the process of mobilizing a visual image, Hart’s advertisement may have engaged readers in other ways as well. Did colonists hear the ringing of the bell when they saw the woodcut? Did they imagine someone walking through the streets of Philadelphia proclaiming that they should visit Hart’s Vendue Store and participate in “the Sales of a large and very neat ASSORTMENT of Merchandize” on Tuesday afternoon? Did the woodcut evoke some of the sounds of the colonial city, prompting readers to imagine that they were already part of the sales that would soon take place?

No other advertisement in that issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle compared to the notice for Hart’s Vendue Store. The image of the hand and bell may look crude by model standards, but the size of the woodcut and its inclusion in the advertisement at all would have been notable to colonial readers.

March 2

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

New-York Journal (March 2, 1769).

“Windsor Chairs made in the best and neatest Manner.”

The most striking aspect of this advertisement is the use of an image to sell “A Large and neat Assortment of Windsor Chairs.” Often, illustrations were not included in eighteenth-century newspapers, neither with news nor with advertisements. It was most common to see small symbols for incoming ships or runaway slaves. Larger images for consumer goods were rare. The image of the chair in Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement catches viewers’ attention and makes them more susceptible to buying the piece of furniture.

In fact, there was a multi-step process for including an image in an advertisement. According to Colonial Williamsburg’s overview of the trade, being a printer was “among the most labor intensive” professions. In order to produce newspapers using the printing press, printers worked long days on hand-operated presses. Including an image tacked on more labor.  There were two important types of employees who worked for the printer, the compositor and the pressman, William Parks, a printer in Virginia in the eighteenth century, wrote, “The Compositor is he who arranges the Letters and makes up the Forms; the Pressman only works at the Press, takes off the Impression, and requires no other Qualification than Strength and a little Practice.” Publishing newspapers called for collaboration, cooperation, and time. It is quite impressive how printers, compositors, and pressmen repeated these processes each day, in order to publish newspapers and other printed materials.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Chloe is correct the woodcut depicting a Windsor chair distinguished Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement from others that appeared on the same page issue. Very few visual images appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers. Even fewer unique images directly correlated to the content of advertisements appeared, in part because of the time and, especially, expense required to incorporate them. Woodcuts were also fragile; they broke or wore down over time. The missing arm on Hampton’s Windsor chair was not a printing error. The arm was also missing when the same woodcut accompanied an advertisement placed four months earlier.

To demonstrate that images like Hampton’s Windsor chair were not a standard part of advertisements or other content in eighteenth-century newspapers, consider the newspapers published on March 2, 1769. The Boston Chronicle did not include any visual images, not even in the masthead.   The Boston Weekly New-Letter did not include any visual images, neither in the standard issue nor in the supplement that accompanied it. Richard Draper disseminated the Massachusetts Gazette with the Boston Weekly News-Letter, printing them on the same broadsheet. The Massachusetts Gazette did include a visual image in the masthead, the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, but no others elsewhere in the newspaper. The New-York Journal included six visual images spread over the six pages of the regular issue and the supplement. In addition to the royal arms in the masthead, five advertisements incorporated images: Hampston’s Windsor chair, two ships in advertisements for freight and passage, and two houses in advertisements for real estate. The Pennsylvania Gazette did not include any visual images among the news items and advertisements, but did feature the coat of arms of the Penn family in the masthead. The Pennsylvania Journal also had an image in its masthead, though it drew on different iconography than the other newspaper printers deployed. It showed a Native American and Britannia flanking a ship and the Journal itself. An advertisement for freight and passage also incorporated a woodcut of a ship.

South-Carolina Gazette (March 2, 1769).

The South-Carolina Gazette included by far the most visual images, fifteen in all. In addition to the royal arms in the masthead, an image of a ship and a man on horseback heading toward town, each representing the circulation of information, preceded the first news item. One advertisement passage and freight included an image of a ship. Three advertisements for real estate included images of houses. Three advertisements for stallions to “cover” mares included images of houses. Four advertisements describing escaped slaves included generic images of the runaways, woodcuts that could have been used interchangeably since they did not depict any particular person. In that issue of the South-Carolina Gazette, printer Peter Timothy displayed the four woodcuts that commonly supplemented type in colonial newspapers: horses, houses, ships, and runaways. The South-Carolina Gazette included one unique image that decorated an advertisement for consumer goods and services. Jonathan Sarrazin decorated his advertisement for “JEWELLERY & PLATE” with a woodcut of teapot. Sarrazin used that image so often that it became his brand. Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette likely recognized it on sight.

This census of visual images in newspapers published on March 2, 1769, further illustrates the argument that Chloe advanced in her analysis of Hampton’s advertisement. Woodcuts were indeed rare and usually limited to only a few standard symbols. Hampton’s image of a Windsor chair was certainly exceptional. He apparently considered it an important element of his marketing, continuing to use it even after it had been damaged.