October 25

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

Oct 25 - 10:22:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 22, 1767).

“A NEAT assortment of coarse, fine and superfine broadcloths.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would have recognized Magdalen Devine’s advertisement at a glance even if it had not featured her name in capital letters. Why? Devine used a woodcut that depicted some of her merchandise. In so doing, she successfully branded her business, repeatedly inserting it along with extensive lists of the merchandise she stocked.

The Adverts 250 Project previously examined another advertisement Devine placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette in May 1767. The content changed significantly. Then, Devine announced that she had imported a variety of goods in the Carolina from London and the Peggy from Glasgow. In her new advertisements, she hawked goods that had recently arrived via the Mary and Elizabeth from London as well as “the last vessels from Liverpool and Glasgow.” Both advertisements listed hundreds of items potential customers would find among her inventory; although the types of goods were similar, she enumerated different items in each.

Some aspects of Devine’s advertisements remained consistent. In May and October she gave her address, “In Second-street, between Market and Chestnut-streets, the fourth door from the Quaker meeting-house,” and concluded by assuring readers that “she will sell at the lowest terms, for cash or short credit.” Yet the most significant feature of her advertisements had to have been the woodcut that appeared at the top, a woodcut that occupied as much space as some of the shorter advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Devine deployed the woodcut as a brand to identify her business and distinguish it from others, but it also illustrated some of her merchandise. The shopkeeper sold all kinds of imported textiles; her advertisements filled half a column because she listed so many different styles, colors, and qualities of fabrics. Her woodcut provided visual affirmation of her inventory. It showed two rolls of patterned cloth (suggesting quantity) flanked by swatches that revealed distinctive patterns (suggesting fashion).

Commissioning a woodcut would have been an additional expense for Devine, but the length and frequency of her advertisements indicate that she was willing to invest in advertising. She likely considered the woodcut a good investment since it immediately identified her advertisements whenever they appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the newspaper that usually included more advertising (including a two-page supplement) than any other newspaper printed in the American colonies in the 1760s. Devine relied on standard marketing appeals throughout her advertisements, but her woodcut attracted attention and distinguished her marketing efforts.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 3, 1767).

“Wire work of all sorts, particularly for flaxseed and wheat.”

In the September 3, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, John Sellers updated an advertisement that he had previously inserted in other issues. The copy remained the same (and does not appear to have been reset), but he added an image of a rolling wire screen for separating flaxseed and “cleansing wheat.” In and of itself, the woodcut enhanced the advertisement and likely caught the attention of more readers, especially since images were a relatively rare component of eighteenth-century advertisements. When they did appear, they tended to fall into four main categories – ships, houses, slaves, and horses – that could be used interchangeably in any advertisements related to the corresponding image. Those woodcuts belonged to printers.

On the other hand, advertisers had to commission more specialized images, which then belonged to them and were not associated with other advertisements. This made Sellers’ woodcut of a rolling wire screen all the more extraordinary in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette. The advertisements in the September 3 issue and its supplement featured only six images. Three depicted ships, including one announcing that the Phoenix would soon depart for Cork and encouraging readers to make arrangements for “Freight or Passage.” Another depicted Benjamin Jackson and John Gibbons’ seal flanked by a bottle of mustard and a block of chocolate, the two specialty items at the center of their grocery business. The remaining two both had images of wire screens “for cleaning all sorts of Grain.”

That may help to explain why Sellers chose to spruce up his advertisement with an image of the rolling screens he produced. Even though the copy in his advertisement made stronger appeals concerning his skill and the quality of his screens, it may have been overshadowed by Richard Truman’s advertisement that simply presented the image of one of his screens and let it do most of the work in the absence appeals made over the course of many lines of dense text. Sellers may have decided that he needed to increase his investment in his marketing efforts in order to make his advertisements competitive. After all, if the competition’s advertisements got all the attention, it was not worth the expense to advertise at all. Sellers increased the likelihood that potential customers would consider the appeals made in the copy by providing some art as a hook to interest them.

Sep 3 - 9:3:1767 Truman Advert Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 3, 1767).

July 27

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

Jul 27 - 7:27:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 27, 1767).

“THOMAS HALE … undertakes the Business of hanging Bells through all the Apartments of Houses.”

Thomas Hale, a carpenter, turned to the advertising pages of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to announce that he “undertakes the Business of hanging Bells through all the Apartments of Houses.” Appropriately, he adorned his notice with a woodcut depicting a bell. Somewhat crude compared to other woodcuts that sometimes appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers, Hale’s bell served its purpose of drawing attention to his advertisement. It was the only visual image on the page, as well as the only woodcut that accompanied any advertisement in the July 27, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, making Hale’s notice difficult to overlook.

When woodcuts did accompany advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, they often replicated familiar shop signs and promoted businesses operated by colonists already well known to many readers and potential customers. That was not the case, however, for Thomas Hale. He noted that he was “LATELY from London” and so recently arrived in Philadelphia as to be considered a “Stranger” (for which he offered assurances of his integrity to anyone who contemplated hiring him). As a newcomer to the city, as someone attempting to find his footing and establish his business, Hale needed to increase the likelihood that possible patrons would notice his advertisement among the dozens of others published in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Including an image offered one way to distinguish his notice from so many others that consisted exclusively of text on a densely formatted page.

This woodcut did not confirm Hale’s “Integrity” or the quality of his work, but it did demonstrate to potential customers that the carpenter was conscientious and thoughtful. Placing the advertisement was one of the first steps in establishing a clientele that could also yield further business via word-of-mouth recommendations. Accordingly, readers willing to take a chance on Hale could reasonably expect that he would exert the same care in hanging bells and other tasks that he devoted to designing his newspapers notices, his first introduction to the residents of Philadelphia.

Hale advertised that he installed “Bells through all the Apartments of Houses,” bells intended to alert residents when someone desired their attention. His own woodcut of a bell figuratively rang loudly, announcing his presence and demanding the attention of potential customers.

May 17

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

May 17 - 5:14:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 14, 1767).

“Imported … by MAGDALEN DEVINE … the following goods.”

Compared to their male counterparts, female shopkeepers placed relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers (and turned to other forms of marketing media, such as magazine wrappers, trade cards, and broadsides, even less often). Women’s participation in the marketplace as retailers rather than consumers was disproportionately underrepresented among advertisements in colonial and Revolutionary-era newspapers.

Magdalen Devine’s lengthy list-style advertisement was notable, however, not only because she was a female entrepreneur who turned to the public prints to promote her business. To draw attention to her notice, Devine included a woodcut that depicted the sorts of textiles she imported and sold at her shop on Second Street near the Quaker Meetinghouse. A border surrounded two rolls of cloth positioned next to two swatches, all of them arrayed to demonstrate four different patterns. This visual image reinforced the work done in Devine’s dense list of merchandise: customers could expect to make choices among the assortment of dry goods she stocked.

Given that few male advertisers, whether shopkeepers, artisans, or others, commissioned woodcuts to include in their marketing efforts, Devine’s advertisement was quite extraordinary. To paraphrase Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s analysis of gendered women’s activities in colonial New England, Devine’s advertisement demonstrates what was possible rather than what was probable when women took on some of the same tasks and responsibilities most often reserved for or associated with men.

Three other women played a role in advertisements that appeared in the same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. A notice placed by “JOHN HOLLIDAY, TAYLOR,” included a final paragraph about “Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound” for removing hair. Unlike her husband, Mrs. Holliday’s name did appear in all capitals. “WILLIAM SYMONDS” and “MARY SYMONDS, Millener,” cooperated in placing an advertisement, though Mary seems to have been the driving force. The advertisement briefly noted that William “has just imported in the last vessels, a neat assortment of merchandize.” Mary, on the other hand, provided a list of her “neat assortment of millenery goods” that exceeded Devine’s in length. (Symonds was one of the few female entrepreneurs who distributed her own trade card in eighteenth-century America, though she would not do so for another decade.) Finally, “ANN PEARSON, MILLENER,” also inserted a list-style advertisement, seemingly of her own accord. It did not mention any male relatives who might have overseen her participation in the marketplace.

The woodcut that accompanied Devine’s advertisement made her marketing memorable. The May 14 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette consisted of eight pages (the four-page standard issue as well as a four-page supplement) with nearly seven of them devoted to advertising. Only two other advertisements included woodcuts, a generic ship with Alexander Lunan’s notice about freight and passage on a ship about to sail for South Carolina and an extended hand with dyer Joseph Allardyce’s advertisement for his shop “at the Sign of the Blue Hand.” Although men most actively advertised consumer goods and services in early America, women also adopted marketing innovations and experimented with various methods for marketing their wares.

May 7

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

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

“SUPPLEMENT to the PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE.”

The masthead of the Pennsylvania Gazette declared that it “Contain[ed] the Freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic.” Readers expected a variety of news updates from Europe, especially England, the Caribbean and other locales in the Atlantic world, and neighboring colonies. The Pennsylvania Gazette also carried some local news, but when it came to local affairs word of mouth often scooped newspapers published only once a week.

Readers also expected to encounter a variety of advertising. The Pennsylvania Gazette, like its counterparts in the largest colonial port cities, attracted so much advertising that the printers frequently issued a half sheet supplement devoted exclusively to paid notices of various sorts. Doing so shifted the relative balance of news items and advertising, though sometimes the supplement resulted from the regular issue including more news than usual.

Such was not the case with the May 7, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette and the accompanying Supplement. News items appeared on only two of the four pages of the standard issue. Instead of two pages, a half sheet, Hall and Sellers created a four-page supplement, an entire broadsheet filled entirely with advertising. This doubled the number of pages in the May 7 issue. It also underscored the newspaper’s roles as a delivery mechanism for advertising. Paid notices covered three-quarters – six out of eight – pages.

Even with the supplement, space was at a premium. The paid notices were composed primarily of text with little variation in font size. Hall and Sellers incorporated few woodcuts into the advertisement: none of the houses or fleeing figures that accompanied real estate and runaway slave advertisements, respectively, and only one ship in a brief notice about “Accommodations for Passengers” aboard a ship departing “For KINGSTON, in JAMAICA,” in three weeks. Four advertisers drew attention to their notices by including woodcuts specific to their businesses that they commissioned. William Dawson, cutler, presumably replicated his shop sign, “the Scythe and Sickle,” as did dyers Joseph Allardyce and Company “at the Sign of the Blue Hand.” John Young, Sr., a saddler, and Richard Truman, who made “Dutch FANS and SCREENS,” each included images of the products they constructed.

Rather than examine a single advertisement published 250 years ago today, consider the entire issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Doing so underscores the importance of advertising in the dissemination of some of the most successful and widely circulated early American newspapers. It also demonstrates the extensive culture of consumption in port cities, practices of purchasing and display that filtered out to the provinces as merchants and shopkeepers distributed goods from their point of entry to customers throughout the colonies.

January 29

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

jan-29-1291767-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (January 29, 1767).

WILLIAM HAWXHURST, HAS lately erected a Finer and great hammer, for refining the Sterling pig iron, into bar.”

By the end of January 1767 William Hawxhurst had been placing this advertisement – with its detailed woodcut – in the New-York Journal for several weeks. The woodcut depicts a furnace “for refining he Sterling pig iron, into bar” surrounded by five workers undertaking several tasks. To the right, three pack animals seems to be loaded with supplies to deliver to Hawxhurst. With the exception of the stock images in notices for slave auctions or runaway slaves and indentured servants, few woodcuts in eighteenth-century advertisements depicted people. Andrew Gautier’s advertisement in the same issue of the New-York Journal, for instance, included a woodcut of a Windsor chair, giving potential customers a glimpse of the product offered for sale rather than the artisan who produced it. Hawxhurst testified to the industriousness of American colonists by showing men at work.

Hawxhurst also offered assurances about his domestically produced iron and the array of products made from it. He promised “reasonable terms” and a “considerable abatement … to those that purchase quantities.” He also offered a guarantee, pledging that his hammers and anvils were “warranted for three months (or any reasonable time).” In addition, “the castings will also be warranted to stand the fire any reasonable time.” He even compared his iron goods he produced favorably to any “imported … from Europe,” stating customers could purchase from him “at a lower rate.” Hawxhurst combined an image of American industriousness with guarantees about the quality of his merchandise and comparisons to the prices of European imports as he encouraged potential customers to purchase items manufactured locally. Although he did not make any explicitly political comments in his advertisement, these attributes fit within marketing discourses developed by the first generation of advertisers who adopted “Buy American” campaigns during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution.

As an aside, I am pleased to finally share this advertisement with readers of the Adverts 250 Project. The woodcut has drawn my attention, as it must have drawn the attention of eighteenth-century readers, every time it appeared in the New-York Journal. However, no previous iterations of this advertisement included an image of the woodcut clear enough to merit inclusion in the project. For the 1760s, it was an exceptionally detailed image, one executed by an artist of modest abilities. Between the original printing and poor photography much later, the woodcut often appears as a dark square in the digitized surrogates available to modern historians. I made a deliberate decision not to examine this advertisement until it featured an image that did justice to the original woodcut.

For more on William Hawxhurst’s advertising efforts, see his public dispute with competitor Daniel Offley in Philadelphia.

December 12

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

dec-12-12121766-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 12, 1766).

“RAN AWAY … NERO … many scars about his head.”

Woodcuts frequently accompanied advertisements offering slaves for sale or warning about runaway slaves. As a result, images of Africans and African Americans appeared in newspapers regularly, in contrast to white colonists who were rarely illustrated with visual images. These woodcuts did not depict particular enslaved men, women, or children. Instead, they were stock devices used interchangeably, erasing the individuality of any of the slaves they purported to represent. Significantly, images of black bodies appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers at all because Africans and African Americans were marketed as commodities, just as the multitude of woodcuts depicting ships represented imported goods.

Last week I discovered that I have access to digitized copies of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, a newspaper not previously incorporated into the Adverts 250 Project. As a result, today I chose to feature an advertisement from that newspaper rather than one either of the other two published 250 years ago today. Both the New-London Gazette and, especially, the New-Hampshire Gazette have contributed a good number of advertisements to this project over the past year. Featuring an advertisement from the South-Carolina and American General Gazette not only increases the number of newspaper included in this project, it also further augments the geographic scope of the project, bringing the number of newspapers printed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1766 that have since been digitized to three. This rivals Boston with four, New York with three, and Philadelphia with two.

As I perused the December 12, 1766, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to make my selection for today, I was drawn to this runaway slave advertisement because of the woodcut. This is not the first time that I have examined a woodcut depicting a slave, but this one had an interesting aspect that was not part of similar woodcuts in other newspapers. The torso of the escaped slave was emblazoned with a capital “R,” presumably for “runaway.” The imaginary slave’s body was marked, almost as if it had been branded, while the actual slave – Nero, a sawyer and woodcutter – was also marked with “many scars about his head.” Advertisements for runaway slaves usually included some sort of physical description that allowed readers to scrutinize the black bodies they encountered beyond the pages of the newspaper. Those descriptions often included marks that had been inflicted upon them by masters and overseers. Nero’s scars may have derived from African cultural traditions or they may have been the result of his labors as a sawyer and woodcutter, but it was just as likely that they were indications of punishment and mistreatment. The real Nero was not marked with a capital “R,” but his body may have born other evidence of his enslavement.