What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“For HOGS BRISTLES, Ready Money, and best Price, is given.”
Relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers featured visual images, making those that did particularly notable. Along with their type, many printers had a limited number of stock images to accompany certain kinds of advertisements, including houses for real estate notices, ships for notices about vessels seeking freight and passengers, and horses for notices offering stallions “to cover” mares. In addition, many printers also supplied nondescript depictions of people to accompany advertisements concerning runaway servants, runaway slaves, and enslaved men, women, and children for sale. Most of the time they matched the sex seen in the image with that of the subject of an advertisement, but not always. For each sort of image – houses, ships, horses, people – the woodcuts were used interchangeably in advertisements placed for the corresponding purpose. Any woodcut of a house could accompany a real estate notice. Any woodcut of an enslaved man could appear in a runaway advertisement.
Some shopkeepers and artisans, however, commissioned their own woodcuts to represent their businesses in the public prints. Those woodcuts belonged exclusively to the advertiser; they did not appear in any other notices. Sometimes they replicated a shop sign, as was the case with a woodcut of a mirror on a decorative stand and a bell enclosed in a frame in John Elliott’s advertisement that once again ran in the January 19, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Elliott directed prospective customers to “his Looking-glass store, the sign of the Bell and Looking-glass, in Walnut-street.” He also mentioned a second location “at the Three Brushes, in Second-Street,” but did not include an image of that shop sign. The “Bell and Looking-glass” had circulated so widely in Philadelphia’s newspapers that it served as Elliott’s iconic image.
In the same issue, John Wilkinson, a brushmaker, placed an advertisement dominated by a woodcut depicting a boar. The visual image occupied more than twice as much space as the copy of the advertisement, a stark contrast to the notices comprised solely of text, all of them densely formatted, on either side of Wilkinson’s advertisement. Wilkinson called on readers to provide him with “HOGS BRISTLES” that he could then use in making brushes of “all Sorts and Sizes.” His woodcut depicted the source of his materials rather than the final product. When it came to the copy of his advertisement, the brushmaker adopted a less-is-more approach, depending on the woodcut to attract attention and distinguish his advertisement from the dozens of others in the Pennsylvania Gazette.