September 19

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 19, 1772).

“John White Stay-Maker”

Most advertisements in colonial newspapers did not feature visual images.  Those that did usually used a stock image provided by the printer, such as a ship at sea, a house, a horse, or an enslaved person liberating him- or herself by “running away.”  Never elaborate in the scenes depicted, such woodcuts could be used interchangeably in advertisements from the appropriate genre.  Some advertisers, however, commissioned images that corresponded to the shop signs that marked their locations or illustrated one or more items available among their merchandise.

Two such images appeared in the September 19, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Robert Parrish once again included the woodcut depicting a “ROLLING SCREEN for cleaning wheat and flaxseed,” though he did not use a woodcut showing a Dutch fan or winnowing fan that previously appeared with it.  Perhaps he did not wish to incur the additional cost for the space required to publish two images.

Another entrepreneur, John White, adorned his advertisement with an image of a stay (or corset), the body and holes for the laces on the left and the laces on the right.  Readers would have easily recognized the garment and understood how it wrapped around and confined a woman’s body.  The words “John White” and “Stay-Maker” flanked the woodcut.  The image accounted for half of the space for the advertisement, an additional investment beyond commissioning the woodcut.

White announced that he moved to a new location where “he continues to carry on the Staymaking business as usual.”  He pledged “to give satisfaction to all who are pleased to employ him.”  He also solicited “orders from any part of the country” and provided mail order service, making it unnecessary for clients to visit his shop in Philadelphia.  Instead, they could send measurements “in respect to length and width of the Stays, both at top and bottom exactly, in the front and back parts.”  The staymaker warned that customers who opted for that convenience needed to pay postage for such orders rather than expect him to take responsibility for those charges.

The woodcut depicting a stay, its body and laces unfurled, almost certainly helped attract attention to White’s advertisement, his promises of customer satisfaction, and the option for submitting orders “by the post” rather than visiting his shop.  Most newspaper advertisements consisted solely of text, so any sort of visual enhancement, whether an image or decorative type, distinguished those advertisements from others.

June 18

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 18, 1772).

“HATS manufactured and sold by the advertiser.”

Of the five newspapers published in Boston in the summer of 1772, the Massachusetts Spy had the most elaborate masthead, but it also had featured the fewest innovations in design for the rest of the contents, including advertisements.  For instance, a decorative border enclosed Jolley Allen’s advertisement when it appeared in each of the other newspapers, but that distinctive format was not incorporated into Allen’s notice when he submitted identical copy to the Massachusetts Spy.

That did not prevent Martin Bicker from attempting to draw more attention to his advertisement with an image of his merchandise in the upper left corner.  Bicker advertised that he “manufactured and sold” hats.  A woodcut depicting a tricorne hat, a popular style at the time, alerted readers to the contents of the advertisement before they read it.  Bicker did not provide many details about his hats, but he did declare that he “hopes he has given such satisfaction to his customers as will induce them to continue their favours.”  In other words, he invited repeat business and recommendations via word of mouth.

New-York Journal (June 18, 1772).

The same day that Bicker’s advertisement ran in the Massachusetts Spy, Nesbitt Deane once again inserted his advertisement for hats in the New-York Journal.  Both the appeals he made to customers and the image that accompanied the notice were more sophisticated.  Deane trumpeted that he made hats “to exceed in Fineness, Cut, Colour and Cock.”  In addition, he devised a means “to turn rain, and prevent the Sweat of the Head damaging the crown.”  Prospective customers would not find that feature in other hats, Deane asserted, because he invented “a Method peculiar to himself. He also gave a discount to retailers who bought in volume, offering “Encouragement to those who buy to sell again.”  Like Bicker, Deane acknowledged his existing customers and asked them to promote his hats.  “Such Gentry and others, who have experienced his Ability, ’tis hoped will recommend.”  The image at the top of Deane’s advertisement included both a tricorne hat and a banner with his name.  Rococo flourishes further enhanced that image.

Bicker did not deploy as many appeals as Deane in his effort to entice consumers to purchase his hats, but including an image in his advertisement distinguished it from most others in the Massachusetts Spy.  Relatively few advertisements published in the eighteenth-century newspapers featured images of any sort.  Did including images give advertisers an advantage?  Deane apparently thought so.  By the time Bicker placed his notice, Deane had been running his advertisement for nearly a year.  He likely would not have inserted it in the New-York Journal so many times if he did not believe he received a return on his investment.

April 6

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 6, 1772).

“At the GOLDEN MORTAR … A compleat and fresh Assortment of Drugs & Medicines.”

Very few images appeared in the April 6, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  The masthead ran on the first page, as usual, featuring a cartouche with an ornate border enclosing an image of a crown suspended over a heart.  Immediately below, the colophon stated that the newspaper was “Printed by THOMAS and JOHN FLEET, at the HEART and CROWN in Cornhill.”  Readers encountered only two other images in that issue, both of them adorning advertisements on the second page.  A woodcut depicting a ship at sea embellished a notice that announced the London would soon sail for London.  It helped draw attention to instructions for anyone interested in “Freight or Passage [to] apply to the Captain on board, or to Nath. Wheatley’s Store in King-Street.”

That woodcut belonged to the printers, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet.  The woodcut that accompanied Oliver Smith’s advertisement, however, did not.  It depicted a mortar and pestle, replicating Smith’s shop sign, “the GOLDEN MORTAR,” in the same way the image in the masthead represented the sign that marked the Fleets’ printing office.  The Fleets and other printers supplied a small number of woodcuts – ships at sea, houses, horses, enslaved people – for eighteenth-century advertisers to include in their newspaper notices.  If advertisers wished for specialized images associated exclusively with their businesses, they commissioned the woodcuts and provided them to the printers.  That also meant they could retrieve their woodcuts from one printing office and submit them to another.

Smith did so in the early 1770s.  His woodcut depicting a mortar and pestle enhanced an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in the fall of 1771.  More than half a year later, the same woodcut appeared in an advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post.  Not only did Smith attempt to widen his share of the market for “Drugs & Medicines” in Boston by advertising in multiple newspapers, he also sought to increase the visibility of the device associated with his shop.  The “GOLDEN MORTAR” served as a rudimentary trademark or brand that made his advertisements and his shop easy for consumers to identify.

December 22

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

New-York Journal (December 19, 1771).

“MUFFS, TIPPETS, ERMINE and lining for CLOAKS.”

In the fall of 1771, furriers Fromberger and Siemon placed a series of advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal.  On several occasions, an image of a muff and tippet adorned their notices, helping to draw attention to the various appeals they made concerning fashion, quality, and price.  The partners even offered ancillary services to entice prospective customers, including caring for furs “gratis for the summer season.”

The furriers apparently considered the image of the muff and tippet so effective in promoting their enterprise that when Siemon traveled to New York to conduct business there he took the woodcut with him in order to enhance advertisements he placed in newspapers published in that busy port.  He placed a notice in the December 19, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal that included both the image and copy, effectively doubling the cost.  According to the newspaper’s colophon, John Holt charged five shillings to insert “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth” for four weeks and “larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”  The woodcut doubled the length of Siemon’s advertisement, but very well may have been worth the additional expense if it aided in cultivating a clientele previously unfamiliar with the furrier.

Familiar appeals accompanied the visual image.  Siemon informed “the LADIES and others” that he brought with him “a general assortment of the newest fashion’d MUFFS, TIPPETS, ERMINE and lining for CLOAKS … now worn by the LADIES at the Court of Great-Britain,” echoing appeals to fashion, taste, and gentility advanced in advertisements that ran in newspapers in Philadelphia.  He also encouraged prospective customers to make their purchases soon because he would be in New York for a limited time.  Siemon had plans to return to Philadelphia, so would stay “a month only in this city.”  Milliners and shopkeepers who missed that window of opportunity, however, could direct orders to Fromberger and Siemon in Philadelphia.

Although printers provided stock images of ships, houses, horses, indentured servants, and enslaved men and women, woodcuts with images that represented specific businesses belonged to the advertisers to transfer from newspaper to newspaper as they saw fit.  Some advertisers did indeed deploy the same woodcut in multiple newspapers printed in a city, but it was much more unusual for advertisers to transport an image to newspapers published in other cities. Fromberger and Siemon did so, their advertisement running in the Pennsylvania Journal without an image on the same day that Siemon’s advertisement first appeared in the New-York Journal with an image.  Having gained some visibility in Philadelphia over the course of several months, the furriers likely aimed to achieve maximum effectiveness through using the woodcut to call attention to their advertisements in another city when one of the partners visited and temporarily conducted business there.

November 3

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (October 31, 1771).

“THOMAS SHIELDS … at the Golden Cup and Crown.”

When Thomas Shields, a goldsmith, advertised his services in the October 31, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he adorned his notice with a depiction of a crown suspended above a cup.  That image corresponded to the sign that marked his location on Front Street in Philadelphia.  It also helped to distinguish his advertisement from others in the same issue.  Ten other notices incorporated images, but all of them featured woodcuts of vessels at sea.  Each of those advertisements sought passengers and freight for ships preparing to leave the busy port.

The images of the ships belonged to David Hall and William Sellers, the printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Along with stock images of houses, horses, enslaved people, and indentured servants, colonial printers provided images of ships to advertisers.  Those who desired more specialized images, on the other hand, commissioned them and retained ownership.  That being the case, some advertisers used their woodcuts in one newspaper for a while before transferring them to another newspaper.  At about the same time that Shields ran his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, James Cunning, a shopkeeper “At the sign of the SPINNING WHEEL,” supplied his woodcut of a spinning wheel to two other newspapers, first the Pennsylvania Journal and then the Pennsylvania Packet.  The notation at the end of Shields’s advertisement, “5 W,” indicated that he arranged for it to run for five weeks.  After that, he could collect his woodcut from Hall and Sellers and transfer it to another printing office.

I regularly choose these unique images that adorned newspaper advertisements when I select notices to feature on the Adverts 250 Project.  Relative to their numbers and frequency in the early American press, such images are overrepresented on this project, meriting a disclaimer that Shields’s advertisement and others with such images were not typical.  They do, however, testify to what was possible in eighteenth-century advertising and the choices that advertisers made when it came to format, incurring additional expenses, and placing notices in multiple newspapers.  In addition, the Adverts 250 Project has compiled an informal census of woodcuts that advertisers commissioned in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  After nearly six years producing the Adverts 250 Project, I get the impression (though this needs to be tested against a more systematic accounting) that the frequency of such images accelerated in the early 1770s, a sign that greater numbers of advertisers embraced the additional expense if those woodcuts garnered greater attention for their newspaper notices.

August 29

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

New-York Journal (August 29, 1771).

“HATS MANUFACTURED by … NESBITT DEANE.”

For many weeks in the summer of 1771, Nesbitt Deane took to the pages of the New-York Journal to advertise hats he made and sold “Aside the Coffee-House Bridge.”  His hats had several qualities he expected consumers would appreciate, including exceptional “Fineness, Cut, Colour and Cock.”  These were not ordinary hats that prospective customers could acquire in just any shop, Deane confided, but instead “MANUFACTURED … by a Method peculiar to himself, to turn rain, and prevent the Sweat of the Head damaging the crown.”  Such promises may have enticed some readers to visit his shop to examine his hats for themselves to see what distinguished them from others available in the bustling port city.  Deane also called on “Such Gentry and others, who have experienced his Ability” by purchasing and donning his hats to recommend them to others.

Eventually, the hatter determined that he might attract more attention and incite greater demand if an image accompanied his advertisement.  Without revising the copy, he doubled the length of his notice, beginning on August 29, with a woodcut depicting a tricorne hat.  A banner bearing Deane’s name, adorned with rococo flourishes completed the image.  Such finery likely prompted the “Gentry and others” among readers of the New-York Journal of the engraved images on trade cards and billheads that circulated in London and, to a lesser extent, the largest cities in the colonies.  Another advertiser, Gerardus Duyckinck, had been enclosing the copy of his advertisements within a baroque cartouche for several years.  His most recent advertisement, perhaps an inspiration for Deane, appeared once again in the August 29 edition.

The sophistication inherent in Deane’s image testified to the “Fineness” of his hats, but it also meant that he invested more in his marketing efforts.  In addition to commissioning a woodcut unique to his business, he also paid for twice as much space in the New-York Journal each time his advertisement appeared.  The compositor’s notation at the end, “95 –,” indicated that the notice with the woodcut first appeared in issue 1495 but Deane had not selected an end date.  Neither had he done so for his first advertisement composed entirely of text.  In both instances, the hatter committed to more than the standard four weeks that the printer set as a minimum.  Between the indefinite duration of his notices and enhancing them with a striking image, Deane demonstrated his belief that more and better advertising would produce results.

June 30

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 27, 1771).

“THE CARPENTERS ARMS.”

The woodcut that adorned the upper left corner of Samuel Caruthers’s advertisement demanded attention from readers, perhaps making it well worth the investment.  Three compasses appeared within an ornate cartouche, itself enclosed within a simple square border with “THE CARPENTERS ARMS” across the top.  In the advertising copy, Caruthers advised readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that he no longer operated a hardware shop but instead returned to making tools for carpenters.

The visual image made his advertisement unique among those in the June 27, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Only five advertisements included woodcuts of any kind; the other four all featured images of ships at sea, each announcing the upcoming departure of one vessel or another and seeking passengers and freight.  The printers, David Hall and William Sellers, supplied those woodcuts to the advertisers, drawing from stock images that most colonial printers kept on hand.  Those images could be used interchangeably.  It did not matter whether a ship set sail for Charleston, Dublin, or London.  Similarly, most printers also had woodcuts depicting houses (but not any particular house), horses, indentured servants running away (but not any particular indentured servant), enslaved people for sale (but not any particular enslaved person), and enslaved people liberating themselves (but not any particular fugitive from slavery). Each generic image corresponded to a common kind of advertisement that ran in colonial newspapers; the lack of specific details made these woodcuts appropriate to accompany any advertisement from the genre they represented.

On the other hand, Caruthers published an advertisement with an image specific to his business, making his notice both more visible on a page that consisted almost entirely of text and more memorable for the uniqueness of the image.  Caruthers incurred additional expense in commissioning a woodcut for “THE CARPENTERS ARMS,” but the image testified to his skill in creating all sorts of planes, saws, and other edged tools.  The rococo cartouche, reminiscent of those that appeared on trade cards that circulated in London and, to a lesser extent, Philadelphia and other major American port cities, enhanced his claims to “long experience” by presenting him as an accomplished craftsman rather than a mere mechanic.  Associating such a genteel image with tools suggested quality and a positive reputation, characteristics that Caruthers likely believed would resonate with fellow artisans.  Incorporating baroque images into advertisements was not a strategy reserved for merchants, shopkeepers, tailors, and milliners marketing their wares and services to the better sorts.  Instead, advertisers like Caruthers suspected that such images engaged customers from other backgrounds looking to purchase tools for earning a living.

May 20

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

Boston-Gazette (May 20, 1771).

UMBRILLOES.”

A brief advertisement in the May 20, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette informed readers of “ALL Sorts of UMBRILLOS, made in the neatest Manner, and very cheap, to be sold at the Golden Cock, Marlboro’ Street, Boston—Where Ladies may have their own Silk made into Umbrillos, or old Umbrillos mended.”  That advertisement likely garnered less attention than the one placed by competitor Isaac Greenwood in the same issue of the Boston-Gazette.  As part of his marketing campaign, Greenwood used graphic design to his advantage.

Like many other advertisers, Greenwood led with a headline, in this case “UMBRILLOES” in capitals, italics, and a slightly larger font.  He paired the headline with a visual image depicting a woman holding an umbrella.  A close view of the woman, it included only her head and shoulders, thus allowing readers to see that she wore a necklace and had an elaborate hairstyle.  The umbrella contributed to her aura of refinement.  The entire umbrella was not visible; instead, it extended beyond the frame of the image, suggesting that the amount of protection it provided from sun or rain could not be fully represented in the image.  More importantly, this also communicated that a woman who carried an umbrella would occupy a greater amount of both physical and visual space.  That, in turn, meant greater notice by observers.  As a fashionable accoutrement, an umbrella enhanced a genteel woman’s image or even a young girl’s image.  Greenwood proclaimed that “Ladies may be supplied with all Sizes, so small as to suit Misses of 6 or 7 Years of Age.”  As Kate Haulman explains, umbrellas appeared in England and its American colonies in the 1760s, “stylistic spoils of empire hailing from India,” but many critics considered umbrellas “effeminate, appropriate only for use by women.”[1]  Note that both advertisements positioned women and girls as the primary consumers of umbrellas or parasols, the decidedly feminine counterpart.

Carrying an umbrella, the entire concept an exotic import in the early 1770s, likely meant attracting attention.  Greenwood underscored that was the case with a visual image that undoubtedly drew notice, especially since so few newspaper advertisements featured visual images of any sort.  In depicting both an umbrella and the woman who carried it, Greenwood anticipated the fashion plate that became such an integral part of marketing in the nineteenth century.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 632.

February 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 14, 1771).

“HART and PATTERSON … opened a VENDUE-STORE.”

Unlike the vast majority of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements composed primarily of text, a visual image dominated the notice that Hart and Patterson placed in the February 14, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal to announce that they “opened a VENDUE-STORE, in Front-street, below the Draw-bridge.”  The partners pledged that “ALL those who please to favour them with their custom, may depend on their best endeavours to render satisfaction,” but a woodcut depicting a hand holding a bell enclosed in a frame occupied far more space than the copy of the advertisement.  With the exception of the masthead, Hart and Patterson’s notice featured the only visual image in that edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Both its size and its uniqueness surely demanded attention from readers.

When images did accompany newspaper advertisements, they were usually a fraction of the size of Hart and Patterson’s woodcut.  They tended to depict ships at sea, houses, horses, and enslaved people, a small number of standard images that could adorn any relevant advertisement.  Printers provided those woodcuts for advertisers interested in including them in their notices.  For other images, those associated with specific businesses, advertisers commissioned woodcuts that then belonged to them.  Such woodcuts often replicated shop signs or represented some aspect of the business featured in the advertisement.  For Hart and Patterson, the hand and bell suggested that they vigorously called attention to the items available for sale and auction after their “VENDUE-STORE.”

The previous publication history of that woodcut makes clear that it belonged to the advertisers rather than printers of the Pennsylvania Journal.  A year earlier, Hart included it in an advertisement he placed in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on January 8, 1770.  Irregularities in the border, perhaps due to damage sustained from making so many impressions on a hand-operated press, demonstrate that the same woodcut appeared in both newspapers.  Hart originally provided it to William Goddard and Benjamin Towne, the printers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but later reclaimed it.  After Hart formed a new partnership with Patterson, the auctioneers supplied William Bradford and Thomas Bradford with the woodcut when they submitted their advertising copy to the Pennsylvania Journal.

A year after first including the woodcut in an advertisement, Hart aimed to achieve a greater return on the investment he made in commissioning it.  He used the image of the hand and bell once again when he launched a new advertising campaign after embarking on a new enterprise with a new partner.  That the woodcut ran in a different newspaper than the one that first published it demonstrates that advertisers, not printers, usually owned any specialized images that appeared in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.