What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Said EVITT prints Advertisements.”
In the early 1770s, William Evitt regularly placed advertisements in several newspapers published in Philadelphia to announce that he “PERFORMS PRINTING IN ALL ITS BRANCHES, With the utmost CARE and EXPEDITION.” He did not provide much more detail in an advertisement in the March 9, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, though he did include a nota bene about one of the “BRANCHES” of the printing business. “Said EVITT,” he explained, “prints Advertisements, &c. at two hours notice, as usual.” The “&c.” (an eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) likely referred to printed blanks such as indentures, bills of lading, and other forms for legal agreements and commercial transactions.
Evitt did not print a newspaper, but he assisted colonizers in disseminating other kinds of advertising media. The advertisements he printed “at two hours notice” probably included handbills, broadsides (or posters), trade cards (a combination of a handbill and business card), and billheads (a trade card with space for writing receipts by hand). Each of those items consisted of a single sheet. At the direction of his customers, Evitt may have embellished the advertising copy with ornamental type of the sort that ran across the top of his newspaper notice or woodcuts with visual images that he supplied. To produce advertisements in such a short time, he quickly set the type and then worked with employees in operating a manual press.
In declaring that he printed advertisements “as usual,” Evitt suggested that handbills, broadsides, trade cards, billheads, and other items constituted a regular part of his business. Marketing materials flowed off of his press into the hands of advertisers and, eventually, to colonizers in Philadelphia and beyond. Compared to eighteenth-century newspapers and the advertisements that appeared in them, however, relatively few handbills, broadsides, trade cards, and billheads survive today. I believe that historians have underestimated the extent that advertising media circulated in early America, especially in bustling port cities, as a result. Evitt’s advertisement about printing advertisements suggests that colonizers encountered an array of marketing media on a daily basis.