July 22

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 22, 1771).

“DUTCH FANS, upon different constructions.”

Yesterday’s entry featured an advertisement for “ROLLING SCREENS for Cleaning Wheat or Flax-seed” placed in the July 18, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal by Christian Fiss.  That advertisement was notable for the image that accompanied it, a woodcut depicting a winnowing fan (better known as a “DUTCH FAN” in the eighteenth century) for separating the wheat from the chaff.  Printers provided several stock images of ships, horses, houses, indentured servants, and enslaved people for advertisers to incorporate into their notices, but not other images with more limited usage.  Instead, advertisers like Fiss commissioned woodcuts specific to their businesses when they wanted to draw greater attention to their newspaper notices.

At the same time that Fiss included an image of a winnowing fan in an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, one of his competitors, Robert Parrish, pursued the same strategy in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Fiss divided the space in his advertisement more or less evenly between image and text, but Parrish devoted more space to images than to his description of the “various kinds of wire work” he made.  In addition to a woodcut depicting a winnowing fan, he included a second woodcut of a rolling screen.  That represented even greater expense for his marketing efforts, but Parrish presumably believed that investing in such images would result in more sales and the woodcuts would pay for themselves in the end.

Parrish previously included his woodcut depicting a winnowing fan in an advertisement in the October 29, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  He may have chosen to resume running advertisements that included that image upon seeing Fiss publish advertisements with a similar image.  Having made the initial investment, he did not want to lose any advantage once a competitor commissioned a woodcut of his own.  Not long after that, he collected his woodcuts from the Pennsylvania Chronicle and delivered them to the Pennsylvania Gazette to include in an advertisement with identical copy on October 15.  Unlike the stock images that printers provided, such specialized images belonged to the advertisers, who could choose to insert them in more than one newspaper.  Parrish sought to increase the exposure, achieve a greater return on his investment, and ward off a rival by inserting the images in more than one newspaper.

June 26

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

Jun 26 - 6:23:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 23, 1768).

“The BUNCH of GRAPES.”

When Josiah F. Davenport opened the Bunch of Grapes inn and tavern in Philadelphia in the late spring of 1768 he placed advertisements in newspapers published in both New York and Philadelphia, alerting travelers and local residents alike to the many entertainments and amenities he provided. Davenport’s first advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle included a woodcut that presumably depicted the sign that marked the location of his establishment: a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. Such a specialized woodcut, specific to Davenport’s business, certainly enhanced the advertisement and increased the probability that it would attract the attention of potential patrons, but it was also an additional expense. Unlike the woodcuts of horses, houses, ships, and slaves that were part of any newspaper printer’s collection of type, other woodcuts that appeared in eighteenth-century advertisements belonged to the advertisers who had commissioned them.

Such was the case with Davenport’s woodcut that replicated his sign. He likely considered it an important investment when it came to building his brand, especially since the Bunch of Grapes occupied an inn “for some time known by the name of the BULL’s HEAD.” The success of his new enterprise depended in part on those previously familiar with the former tavern now associating the same location with the Bunch of Grapes. Both the sign and the woodcut aided in strengthening his brand recognition among residents of Philadelphia he hoped would visit his “genteel HOUSE of ENTERTAINEMNT … for the best fare and civilest treatment,” whether they gathered for “business or recreation.”

Yet there were limits to how much Davenport considered necessary to invest in visual representations of his brand. He did not commission separate woodcuts to accompany his advertisements that appeared in newspapers published in Philadelphia. Instead, he had one woodcut that first accompanied his advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle before reappearing in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette. A notch or indentation in the upright portion of the signpost confirms that Davenport shuttled a single woodcut between printing offices. He was not the only advertiser who made that choice. In New York, Gerardus Duyckninck inserted his elaborate woodcut in multiple newspapers, one after the other in succession. Although an effective means of making advertisements distinctive, woodcuts incurred additional expenses. Some advertisers who commissioned them attempted to maximize the returns on their investments by rotating them through several newspapers.