May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (May 16, 1768).

“BURROWS DOWDNEY … MAKES and repairs all Kinds od Clocks and Watches.”

 

When it came to advertising, watch- and clockmaker Burrows Dowdney was industrious, advertising in more than one newspaper published in Philadelphia in the late 1760s. Although he deployed fairly standard language to describe his services, pledging “the utmost care and dispatch” in doing his work “after the neatest and best manner,” he adopted other means of distinguishing his advertisements from those placed by other artisans. In particular, Dowdney embellished his notices with visual images related to his occupation and his wares.

Yesterday the Adverts 250 Project examined one of those advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette. It included a woodcut of an engraved clock dial with hours in Roman numerals and minutes in Arabic numerals as well as other decorative elements. Dowdney placed another advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle the same week that he advertised in the Gazette, repeating the copy almost exactly but with a different and even more impressive woodcut. It depicted an elegant dial with an arched top that denoted the phases of the moon. Readers could also view the day of the month on the dial. These additional elements further testified to the complexity of the clocks Dowdney constructed, proclaiming to prospective customers that they were not intended merely for keeping time. Instead, they were meant for display, to create genteel living spaces, to impress friends and visitors. Although not depicted in the woodcut, readers could expect the ornamentation of the cases to rival the engraved dials.

Commissioning not one but two woodcuts represented a significant investment for Dowdney, but he may have considered it a necessary expense as he commenced his own business “in the Shop lately occupied by Mr. Emanuel Rouse” on Front Street. As a newcomer, he needed to attract a clientele for his shop quickly to avoid failing before even having a chance to get started. Commissioning woodcuts that featured much more detail than most of the images that appeared in colonial newspapers demonstrated his commitment and attention to detail, reassuring prospective customers that he did not merely reiterate the usual marketing pitches but did indeed construct clocks “after the neatest and best manner.” The woodcuts certified the quality and elegance associated with clocks made by Burrows Dowdney.

May 15

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

May 15 - 5:12:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 12, 1768).

“BURROWS DOWDNEY, Clock and Watch Maker, in Front-street.”

Relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers included visual images. Those that did tended to feature stock images that belonged to the printer and could be inserted interchangeably in advertisements from the appropriate genre, such as woodcuts of horses, houses, slaves, and ships. Woodcuts of houses could be used in any real estate notice. Woodcuts depicting runaway slaves could be used in any notice alerting colonists about fugitives that might be in their midst.

Some advertisers, however, did invest in woodcuts to enliven their advertisements, distinguishing them from others that consisted solely of text or that were decorated with generic images readers were accustomed to seeing in the pages of the public prints. Unlike the stock images, these woodcuts belonged to advertisers rather than printers. Even if the image happened to match the contents of other advertisements, such woodcuts appeared only in connection to those who had commissioned them. For instance, clock- and watchmakers regularly advertised in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, yet the woodcut depicting the face of a clock appeared solely in notices placed by Burrows Dowdney. That unique image made his advertisements distinctive and memorable for potential customers, especially since it was sometimes the only image on a page otherwise composed of text (as was the case on the final page of the supplement that accompanied the May 12, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette).

Many of the woodcuts commissioned by advertisers dominated the notices in which they appeared, but that was especially true for Dowdney’s advertisement. The image of the clock dial accounted for approximately half of the space his notice occupied on the page. Readers would have been able to identify his occupation and wares at a glance, even if “CLOCKS” and “WATCHES” had not been listed in all capitals in the copy that appeared to the right of the image. Printing technologies of the period did not particularly facilitate including images in advertisements, yet some advertisers still invested both money and energy in experimenting with woodcuts that would set their advertisements apart from others that flooded the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers.

December 11

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

Dec 11 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 11, 1767).

“A LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE.”

Approximately two-thirds of the December 11, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette consisted of advertising. Among the dozens of advertisement in the issue, Jonathan Sarrazin’s notice had a feature that distinguished it from all others: an image of one of the products he sold at his shop on the corner of Broad Street and Church Street in Charleston.

Sarrazin’s advertisement was not the only one that included a woodcut, but it was the only one with an image, a teapot, created exclusively for the advertiser. Nine advertisements for freight and passage had images of ships. Despite some variation, several had woodcuts that replicated an image used elsewhere in the same issue, including three nearly identical ships on the same page as Sarrazin’s coffeepot. Three advertisements incorporated woodcuts of enslaved men, women, and children, while another three included images of houses and land for sale. One for a “FINE bay MARE” had an image of a horse that in another issue could have been used to advertise a steed “to cover.” For advertisements of the same genre – freight and passage, slaves, real estate, horses – these common images were inserted interchangeably in the eighteenth century. These woodcuts belonged to the printer, a necessary supplement to the type since they were used so often.

Some artisans and shopkeepers, however, commissioned their own woodcuts to accompany their advertisements exclusively. Sarrazin, a jeweler, did so, choosing an image that represented the “LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE” listed in his notice, an ornate teapot with a decorative bird’s-head spout. (For a similar teapot crafted in New York earlier in the century, see this example from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Unlike others who advertised consumer goods and services in the same issue, Sarrazin mobilized text and visual image simultaneously to market his wares to potential customers. On the pages of dense text in South-Carolina and American General Gazette, this set apart his advertisement from others. This strategy likely attracted increased attention from readers.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:7:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 7, 1767).

“KEARNY and GILBERT, At the sign of the Snuff Bottle, and their names over the store door.”

Newspaper advertisements from the period suggest visual elements of marketing erected in eighteenth-century cities and villages. Residents and visitors alike encountered an array of shop signs that retailers used to identify their businesses. Such was the case in the first issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette published in May 1767. Although their signs have been lost to time, several advertisers included descriptions of them alongside other directions intended to guide customers to their shops.

Nathaniel Tweedy, a druggist, announced that he could he sold medicines “At the Golden Eagle, in Market-street, near the Court-house.” Dyers Joseph Allardyce and Company practiced their trade “at the Sign of the Blue Hand, in Race-street, between Front and Second Streets.” Edward Penington, an attorney, advertised a real estate auction to be held “at the house of John Biddle, at the sign of the Indian King, in Market-street.” William Dawson, a cutler, not only stated that he made a various kinds of knives and other implements “At the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” but also included a woodcut depicting those instruments suspended from a signpost. Each of these, especially Dawson’s advertisement, hints at the rich visual cityscape of marketing in Philadelphia in the decade before the Revolution.

In many instances, such signs provided the sole means of identifying a shop or tavern, but other advertisers stated that they also labeled their places of business with their own names. Kearny and Gilbert, for instance, stocked an array of merchandise “At the sign of the Snuff Bottle … in Water Street.” To alleviate any potential confusion, customers could also look for “their names over the store door.” George Frederick Boyer, one of Dawson’s competitors in the cutlery business, displayed “a Sign in Front-street, and another in Water-street, with his Name thereon, and on which are painted Swords, Knives, Lancets, Razors, and Grinding Tools.”

How often did eighteenth-century shopkeepers, artisans, and other entrepreneurs label their locations with their own names or include them on their fanciful signs? Did most signs provide visual identification exclusively? Or did they also tend to incorporate at least a minimal amount of text, even if just the name of the proprietor? In the absence of devices like the Golden Eagle or the Blue Hand, did others at least post placards with their names so potential customers knew they had arrived at the correct destination? Or did they assume the extensive directions provided in advertisements sufficed?

I do not have satisfactory answers to these questions, but they remind me that the history of advertising in eighteenth-century America requires research along multiple trajectories, utilizing multiple sorts of sources. Newspaper notices and other printed ephemera (magazine wrappers, broadsides, trade cards, catalogs) tell much of the story, but material culture (such as shop signs or packaging materials, both more likely in museum collections rather than archives) reveals other important aspects of how marketing worked in early America.

December 4

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

dec-4-1241766-pennsylvania-gazette-supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (December 4, 1766).

“THOMAS HEWES, UPHOLSTERER … Easy Chairs.”

I first began studying advertising in eighteenth-century America shortly after I finished my comprehensive exams in graduate school. During the very early stages of the project I discussed my work with a senior colleague at a reception held during a conference. “Don’t get too enamored of the advertisements with the pictures,” this professor counseled. “Those are certainly quaint, but make sure that you look at other advertisements as well.” In hindsight, I recognize both good and poor advice bound together in that conversation. The professor was certainly correct that the world of eighteenth-century advertising was much more extensive than the relatively few newspaper advertisements that included woodcuts. However, he dismissed those woodcuts too quickly when he implied that they were only of antiquarian, rather than scholarly, interest. Because I wanted to be a serious scholar and I wanted others to take my work seriously, I did not give woodcuts in newspaper advertisements as much attention as they merit.

In recent years, however, my interest in the production of advertising in early America has shifted to encompass visual culture and innovative graphic design much more extensively, partly as a result of my exposure to the conferences and other programs sponsored by the Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society. I have come to realize that woodcuts, like the one depicting a wingback chair in upholsterer Thomas Hewes’s advertisement, have real significance beyond merely being “quaint.”

Hewes’ advertisement appeared in the two-page supplement that accompanied the December 4, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. The contents of the supplement consisted exclusively of advertising, without other sorts of content. This more than doubled the space devoted to advertising for the December 4 edition. Amid all those advertisements, only six included any sort of visual image. The other five all featured a ship, the image produced by a woodcut that would have belonged to the printer. Most printers had a few stock images – ships, houses, slaves – that could be inserted interchangeably into advertisements. Other sorts of images, like Hewes’ chair, were commissioned by particular advertisers and used only in their advertisements. Compared to most other advertisers, Hewes invested additional creativity and expense in creating his advertisement.

The five advertisements with woodcuts of ships all promoted ships departing for Europe and encouraged colonists to book passage. That made Hewes’ advertisement unique in that issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. It was the only advertisement for consumer goods that mobilized any sort of visual image to attract the attention of readers and make the advertisement more memorable. For anybody glancing through the six pages of the regular issue and its supplement, Hewes’ advertisement would have stood out. While the illustration may appear primitive to modern eyes (and perhaps even relatively crude to colonists familiar with engraved trade cards), that Hewes’ included an image at all amounted to an innovation intended to distinguish his business from others.

The Adverts 250 Project regularly documents the significance of the seemingly innumerable newspaper advertisements that lacked any sort of visual image. However, it’s also necessary to acknowledge the significance of those that di have some sort of “quaint” woodcut, an important aspect of the evolution of advertising in early America.

February 8

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Feb 8 - 2:6:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette Full Page
Final Page of Pennsylvania Gazette (February 6, 1766).

“This is to inform the PUBLIC …”

In first taking a look at this particular set of advertisements from the Pennsylvania Gazette, I believed that it was a single advertisement, but came to learn that instead it was multiple advertisements that were not separated from one another as was customarily done. It is believable that an advertisement might take up an entire page during the twenty first century in America, as many magazines feature full-page advertisements for different products, but this was not done in Colonial times. Instead, the fact that this was featured without separations between each advertisement was an indicator of some sort of issue or malfunction with technologies. The fact that the advertisement was not properly sectioned into different advertisements posed tremendous difficulty for me in trying to discern what the advertisement was for and what it focused upon. Analysis of this is best done while zoomed in closely upon the featured text, as the quality of the modern photography of the Pennsylvania Gazette is not high and this poses a difficulty in providing a historical understanding of its structure and content.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, a newspaper printed by Benjamin Franklin for many decades, was esteemed and often did not feature advertisements on its front page, as some others did, but instead, seems to have kept these advertisements, for the most part, separate from the rest of the newspaper, putting them within the last few pages all together beside one another.

Feb 8 - 2:6:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (February 6, 1766).

This particular advertisement is unique in its construct, as the majority of eighteenth-century advertising did not feature visuals of any kind.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

As Kathryn indicates, this issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette illustrates some of the difficulties working with digitized sources, especially for those who have not had opportunities previously to work with the sources in their original format.

Kathryn notes that at first she thought the entire page might be one extensive advertisement. To better understand her initial confusion, it would be helpful to describe how the Early American Newspapers database visualizes the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers. In most instances they have been indexed in such a manner that each item has a separate index entry on a menu at the left of the screen. Upon selecting the index entry or clicking on the text itself, that item appears separately, enlarged for easier viewing. In some cases, however, the multiple items on the page have not been disambiguated by the software and/or the people who prepared the index. This can lead to frustration for researchers and confusion for novice users. It suggests some of the limits of using digitized sources: sometimes flawed metadata affects how users interpret the sources.  In the case, Early American Newspapers classified the entire page as one “Advertisement.”

Feb 8 - PA Gaz Screen Shot
Note in this screen shot from Early American Newspapers that the index at the left classifies this entire page of the February 6, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette as a single advertisement.

 

Feb 8 - Boston-Gazette Screen Shot
Note in this screen shot from Early American Newspapers that the index at the left includes a separate entry for each advertisement from this page of the February 10, 1766, issue of the Boston-Gazette.  Individual advertisements are also disambiguated by highlighting each in yellow when positioning the cursor over them.

Kathryn also notes that many of the advertisements for this issue have been grouped together at the end of the newspaper. She is correct in making this observation, but it also opens the door for a bit of printing history. As we saw with yesterday’s featured advertisement and issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, most eighteenth-century newspapers were broadsheets folded in half to create a four-page issue. The extremely successful Pennsylvania Gazette, printed in the largest urban center in the colonies, often had more advertising than it could include in just four pages. As a result, it often issued an additional half sheet with advertisements printed on both sides. That explains the fifth and sixth pages of this particular issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. The extra half sheet would have been tucked in the fold, between the traditional second and third pages. Other newspapers sometimes issued half sheet “supplements” (with news and/or advertising) and “extras” (usually just news).