January 11

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

Pennsylvania Packet (January 11, 1773).

“THOMAS HALE … CONTINUES to hang BELLS.”

When Thomas Hale, a carpenter, arrived in Philadelphia from London in the late 1760s, he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advise prospective customers that he “undertakers the Business of hanging Bells through all the Apartments of Houses.”  A woodcut depicting a bell adorned his advertisement.  Hale acknowledged that he was “a Stranger” in the city, but asserted that “any Person can be credibly assured of his Integrity.”

Hale was no longer “a Stranger” when he inserted a similar advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet in January 1773.  He reminded readers that he “CONTINUES to hang BELLS through all the apartments of houses, in the most neat and lasting manner.”  He once again adorned his advertisement with an image of a bell, likely the same woodcut from his advertisement in 1767.  Hale sought a return on his initial investment in commissioning the woodcut, using it to draw attention to his notice.  Elsewhere in the January 11 edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, an image of a ship in the masthead was the only other image.  The bell certainly distinguished Hale’s advertisement from others.  The two-page supplement that accompanied that issue featured two woodcuts, both of them stock images of runaway indentured servants provided by the printer.  Among the merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who placed notices, Hale was the only advertiser who incorporated an image, humble through it was, directly linked to the business he operated.

If it was the same woodcut that Hale used in his advertisement more than half a decade earlier, that suggests that he collected it from the printing office and retained possession of it after he discontinued his previous advertisement.  The same week that he advertised in the Pennsylvania Packet he also ran an advertisement with identical copy but no image in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the newspaper that previously carried his advertisement with the woodcut of the bell.  Including an image enhanced an advertisement, but when Hale opted to advertise in more than one newspaper, he had to make a choice about which one should feature the image … or invest in a second woodcut.  He apparently did not consider the image so essential to his business that he needed to make the additional investment.  It was one of several choices that he made when budgeting for marketing, including the length of his advertisement and where to publish it.  For instance, he did not insert it in the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, or the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, the other newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.  With limited resources to devote to marketing, Hale decided to get more use out of the woodcut in one newspaper and supplement that advertisement with a notice in a second newspaper.

December 9

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 9, 1772).

“MUFFTS, TIPPITS, ERMINE.”

When furriers John Fromberger and John Siemon formed their partnership, they placed advertisements in newspapers published in Philadelphia.  A woodcut depicting a miff and tippet adorned the notice they placed in the Pennsylvania Journal in September 1771.  Several weeks later, they transferred the woodcut to the printing office of the Pennsylvania Chronicle so it could appear in advertisements they ran in that newspaper.  In December, the furriers once again made arrangements for the image to accompany their advertisements in the Pennsylvania Journal.  Within in a few weeks, it appeared in yet another newspaper, the New-York Journal.  Siemon visited the city, advised prospective customers that “he intends to stay a month only,” and took the woodcut with him to help draw attention to his advertisements.  Given his short stay, Siemon did not manage to transfer the woodcut from one printing office to another.  His advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury did not feature any image.

Siemon returned to New York in November 1772.  In a new advertisement in the New-York Journal, he informed readers that “he intends settling here” and requested “a further continuance of those Ladies and Gentlemen who were pleased to favour him with their custom last winter.”  That advertisement did not mention any connection to Fromberger; apparently the furriers dissolved their partnership.  The advertisement did include a familiar image, at least a portion of one.  Siemon included the muff, but not the tippet formerly arranged above it.  Perhaps he modified the woodcut to acknowledge his new enterprise.  Perhaps the portion depicting the tippet had been damaged so he had that part removed and salvaged the rest.  Perhaps he had the tippet removed because it occupied so much space.  A smaller woodcut cost less to include in his advertisements.  Whatever the explanation, Siemon had a familiar, but updated, image for customers to associate with his business.

Fromberger apparently thought that was a good idea.  A month after John Siemon and Company advertised in the New-York Journal, John Fromberger and Company placed a notice with an image in the Pennsylvania Journal.  Since Siemon retained the original woodcut, Fromberger commissioned a new woodcut.  He exercised some consistency in selecting what appeared in the image, a muff and a tippet.  This time, however, the muff and the tippet appeared side by side rather than one above the other.  Both items had the same patterns as the muff and the tippet in the original woodcut. Fromberger likely believed that consumers in Philadelphia associated a similar image with the business he operated.  A similar image repeatedly accompanied his previous notices, making a new one that depicted both a muff and a tippet familiar and appropriate for marketing his new enterprise.

December 7

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

Pennsylvania Packet (December 7, 1772).

“At the sign of the Spinning Wheel.”

In December 1772, James Cunning took the pages of the Pennsylvania Packet to advertise the “large assortment of Dry Goods” available at his shop on Market Street in Philadelphia.  He took the opportunity to express his “grateful acknowledgments to his friends and customers,” thanking them for “the many obliging favours he has received since he first commenced business.”  In order to “merit a continuance of their favours,” Cunning declared that he would set favorable “terms” for both wholesale and retail sales.  Those “terms” certainly included price and likely credit as well.  They may have also included packaging, delivery, and other services.

Cunning advised readers that they would find his shop “At the sign of the Spinning Wheel.”  To strengthen the association between that symbol of industriousness and his business, Cunning adorned his advertisement with a woodcut that depicted a spinning wheel.  Larger than the stock images of vessels at sea and horses in the upper left corners of half a dozen advertisements in the December 7 issue and its supplement, the spinning wheel accounted for more than half the space occupied by Cunning’s advertisement.  That represented significant expense for Cunning, first for commissioning a woodcut tied to his business and for his exclusive use, then for the space required to publish it.  Printers charged by the amount of space, not the number of words.

Cunning apparently considered including the image in his notices worth the expense, especially since he continued to use it when placing new advertisements.  The image first appeared in advertisements Cunning inserted in the Pennsylvania Journal in October 1771.  By the end of the month, he transferred the woodcut to the printing offices of the newly-launched Pennsylvania Packet.  It appeared in an advertisement in the inaugural issue.  More than a year later, Cunning included the image in a new advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet, convinced that it would result in a satisfactory return on his investment in commissioning it.  He could have retired the image after it appeared in that initial run of advertising if he did not believe that it resulted in greater attention for his business.  That he used it again suggests that he determined that image and text together helped to draw “friends and customers” to his shop.

November 21

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

Providence Gazette (November 21, 1772).

“At the Sign of the Greyhound.”

Nathaniel Wheaton sold a “new Assortment of English and India GOODS, of almost every Kind,” as well as “West-India Goods” at his shop on Williams Street in Providence.  In an advertisement that ran in the Providence Gazette for several weeks in November 1772, he thanked his current customers and invited new ones to examine his merchandise, pledging that all of “their Favours will be gratefully acknowledged.”

To help readers find his shop, Wheaton noted that “the Sign of the Greyhound” marked his location.  A woodcut depicting a greyhound, sitting on its haunches and its town hanging out, adorned the advertisement.  The image may have replicated the shop sign.  Even if Wheaton had not been that precise, he still resorted to some sort of depiction of a greyhound to encourage consumers to associate that emblem with his shop.  Like other eighteenth-century newspaper advertisers who published images that correlated to their shop signs, Wheaton devised a marketing strategy that could be considered a precursor to branding his business.  The woodcut encouraged readers to associate the greyhound with Wheaton’s shop, especially when considered in combination with the sign displayed on Williams Street.

The image also directed attention to Wheaton’s advertisement.  Except for the image of a lion and a unicorn flanking a crown and shield in the masthead, the greyhound was the only image in the November 21 edition of the Providence Gazette.  Readers could not have missed it!  Wheaton incurred additional expense to achieve that.  He paid for the woodcut and he paid for the space it occupied.  Newspaper advertisers paid for the amount of space required to publish their notices, not by the number of words, so both larger fonts and images increased the costs of running advertisements.  Wheaton devoted as much space to the image of the greyhound as he did to advertising copy, doubling the price of his notice compared to what he would have paid if he published solely text.  He likely considered the additional expense a good investment to distinguish his advertisement from those of his competitors.  After all, it was not the first time he incorporated the image into his newspaper advertisements.

An imperfection in the copy of the November 21 edition available in the database of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers mars the image of the greyhound in Wheaton’s advertisement. This image shows the woodcut without flaws. (Providence Gazette, November 14, 1772).

November 16

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 16, 1772).

“SABLE MUFFS and TIPPETS.”

When furrier John Siemon returned to New York in the fall of 1772 after having spent several months in Philadelphia, he announced his intention to remain in the busy port with advertisements in at least two of the newspapers published in the city, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal.  (Unfortunately, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy has not been digitized, making it more difficult to consult.)  Siemon inserted identical copy in the two newspapers, first in the New-York Journal on November 12 and then in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on November 16, though the compositors in the printing offices made different decisions about the format of the advertisements.

Despite differences in typography, an image of a muff remained consistent between the notices in the two newspapers.  Upon examining digitized editions, it appears that the printing offices used the same woodcut, which suggests that Siemon invested some effort in having that woodcut transferred from one printing office to another.  He may have retrieved it himself or he may have made arrangements with the printers to exchange the woodcut.  Either way, that resulted in some inconvenience in the printing offices, especially since Siemon’s advertisement did not run just once.  A notation at the end of his advertisement in the New-York Journal, “58 61,” indicated that he initially intended for the notice to run for four issues from “NUMB. 1558” to “NUMB. 1561.”  According to the colophon, that was a standard run: “Five Shillings, four Weeks.”  The advertisement actually ended up running through “NUMB. 1566” on January 7, 1773, for a total of nine consecutive weeks.

In contrast, Siemon’s advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for only four weeks.  After the first insertion, the image no longer adorned the notice, further evidence that the furrier commissioned only one woodcut rather than one for each printing office.  After moving the woodcut from one printing office to another and back again when he first began advertising in the middle of November, Siemon may have decided that he did not have the time to oversee its transfer between the two printing offices twice a week.  Alternately, the printers may have made the decision for the furrier, determining that adding and removing the woodcut from type already set each time they took an issue to press was too disruptive.  Either way, Siemon likely had to settle for the image appearing in his advertisements the first time they ran in each newspaper, drawing attention to his return to New York, and then continuing in only one of those publications.

November 12

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

New-York Journal (November 12, 1772).

“SABLE Muffs and Tippets.”

When John Siemon, a furrier from London, first arrived in New York in December 1771, he took to the pages of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal to alert prospective customers that he “he intends to stay a month only in this city,” encouraging them to acquire “the newest fashion’d MUFFS, TIPPETS, ERMINE and lining for CLOAKS … now worn by the LADIES at the Court of Great-Britain” before he departed.  Siemon advised that any milliners and shopkeepers “who intend to purchase after his departure” could direct their orders to “FROMBERGER and SIEMON, in Second Street, Philadelphia.”  Rather than arriving in New York directly from London, the furrier had first visited the Quaker City, established a partnership, and set up shop there.

Siemon returned to New York in November 1772.  In an advertisement in the New-York Journal, he once again described himself as “from London,” but this time added “but last from Philadelphia.”  He reminded readers that he “resided in this city last winter,” but this time he “intends settling here.”  He brought with him “to this Metropolis” a “General Assortment of FURS.”  Siemon hoped to resume relationships with his clients “who were pleased to favour him with their custom last winter,” pledging that new and returning clients “may depend on” him producing muffs, tippets, and other items “agreeable to fashion and beauty, on reasonable terms.”  He did not mention an ongoing partnership with Fromberger; instead, the headline promoted “JOHN SIEMON, and Co.”

Some readers may have remembered Siemon, his furs, and his advertisements.  They may have also remembered that an image adorned some of his advertisements.  When Siemon ventured to New York, he took with him a woodcut depicting a muff and tippet that previously appeared in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal.  Siemon’s new advertisement included an image of the muff, but the woodcut appears to have been modified to remove the tippet.  Eliminating the long scarf significantly reduced the size of the woodcut.  Since advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied rather than the number of words, that reduced how much Siemon spent to publish his new advertisement.  Reducing costs, however, may not have been the reason for reworking the image.  Upon dissolving his partnership with Fromberger, he may have considered the updated image an appropriate representation of his new enterprise.  On the other hand, Siemon may not have put that much thought into the image if the woodcut simply broke and he could salvage only the portion depicting the muff.

Whatever the explanation, the woodcut experienced greater mobility than others created for advertisers, transported back and forth between two cities and delivered to three different printing offices.  Including the image in his advertisements required some effort by Siemon, suggesting that he considered it effective in attracting clients.

November 5

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

New-York Journal (November 5, 1772).

At the Sign of the Three Sugar Loaves.”

In the fall of 1772, George Webster joined the ranks of advertisers who attempted to draw more attention to their newspaper notices by adorning them with images related to their businesses.  Webster, a grocer, kept shop “at the Sign of the Three Sugar Loaves” on Leary Street in New York.  A woodcut at the top of his advertisement depicted three sugar loaves, a tall one flanked by two shorter ones.  The border that surrounded the sugar loaves suggested that the image replicated the sign that marked Webster’s location.

Throughout the colonies, entrepreneurs who placed notices in the public prints sometimes incorporated such images, but the use of images in advertising was not a standard practice in the eighteenth century.  When Webster first used his woodcut in the October 22, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, it was one of only three images in the entire issue.  As usual, the lion and unicorn appeared on either side of a crown and shield in the masthead on the front page.  Elsewhere in the issue, Nesbitt Deane’s image of a tricorn hat and a banner bearing his name once again took up as much space as the copy it introduced.  The remainder of the advertisements, dozens of them filling fourteen of the eighteen columns in the six-page edition, did not have images.  That made Webster’s new woodcut depicting the Sign of the Three Sugar Loaves all the more noteworthy.  The following week, his image appeared once again, this time alongside two advertisements that featured stock images provided by the printer, a ship and a horse.  Neither of those familiar images had been crested for the exclusive use of any particular advertisers.  Webster, like Deane, made an additional investment in commissioning a woodcut so closely associated with some aspect of his own business.

By the time that the image appeared in Webster’s advertisement on November 5, regular readers would have recognized it, but that does not necessarily mean that the novelty had dissipated.  The woodcut continued to distinguish the grocer’s notice from the dozens of others in that issue.  Its mere presence demanded attention on a page that lacked other images in a newspaper with only four other images distributed across all six pages.  It likely also helped to encourage brand recognition as both image and text in Webster’s newspaper advertisement corresponded to the sign that colonizers glimpsed when they visited or passed his shop.

October 8

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

South-Carolina Gazette (October 8, 1772).

“Dancing & Fencing.”

“THE Sign of the Golden Cup.”

Mr. Pike, a dancing master, and Thomas You, a silversmith, both used graphic design to draw attention to their advertisements in the October 8, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, yet they adopted different strategies.  Their notices further enlivened the vibrant graphic design that distinguished notices in that newspaper from those that ran in other newspapers.  The compositor for the South-Carolina Gazette made liberal use of varying font sizes, gothic letters for headlines, italics, capitals, and centering compared to advertisements.

That being the case, the compositor may have played a role in how the dancing master used decorative type and gothic letters to enhance his advertisement.  The headline “Dancing & Fencing” in gothic letters appeared inside a border composed of printing ornaments above a secondary headline spread over three lines: “PIKE’s ACADEMY / for / DANCING and FENCING.”  Compare that to a similar advertisement that Pike ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  It featured only one headline, “DANCING and FENCING,” that did not appear in a different font than the rest of the advertisement.  Rather than constituting a second headline, “PIKE’s ACADEMY, for FENCING and DANCING” was part of the first paragraph of the advertisement.  An enterprising compositor at the South-Carolina Gazette likely played a significant role in designing Pike’s advertisement, perhaps assuming full responsibility without consulting the advertiser.

On the other hand, You almost certainly submitted instructions to include a woodcut depicting a golden cup in his advertisement for the merchandise he sold at the “Sign of the Golden Cup.”  You commissioned that image for his exclusive use, previously inserting it in advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette in December 1770 and March 1771.  Prior to that, he used a different woodcut in his advertisements in December 1766 and July 1767.  He seemed to appreciate that images helped draw attention to his notices.  How to incorporate an image, however, he may have left to the discretion of the compositor.  In 1772, his woodcut of a golden cup appeared in the center, flanked by his name and location.  In earlier advertisements, it was positioned to the left, replicating the placement of woodcuts depicting ships that adorned other notices.

The advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette testify to both the role of the compositor in designing newspaper notices and occasional collaboration or consultation involving both the compositor and the advertiser.  Rather than dense text, variations abounded in the advertisements in that newspaper, making the South-Carolina Gazette one of the most visually interesting publications in the early 1770s.

October 7

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (October 7, 1772).

“A quantity of large and small silver work.”

In the fall of 1772, John David, a goldsmith, placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette to inform prospective customers that he recently imported a “Neat Assortment of JEWELLERY” as well as a “quantity of large and small silver work.”  To entice consumers, he provided some examples of the merchandise they would find at his shop near the drawbridge in Philadelphia.  The jewelry included “paste shoe, knee, and stock buckles,” “stone sleeve buttons, of different sorts,” “coral necklaces,” and “very neat paste and garnet ear-rings.”  He also stocked “silver soup and punch ladles” and “silver and steel top thimbles.”  He pledged that he would “dispose of” these goods “on the most reasonable terms,” leveraging price in his effort to attract customers.

David used an image of a silver teapot to draw attention to his advertisement.  The woodcut occupied the left third of his advertisement, accounting for a significant amount of the space he purchased in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In addition, he paid to have the image created for his exclusive use.  Of the fifty advertisements that appeared in the October 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, only four included an image. The other three all used stock images of ships at sea in notices that alerted readers of ships seeking passengers and freight.  The printer provided those familiar woodcuts.  In contrast, David made special arrangements for his image of a silver teapot, an image not previously seen by readers of any of the newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.

The use of images commissioned by advertisers seemed to accelerate in the early 1770s compared to their frequency in newspapers in earlier decades, especially newspapers published in major urban ports.  As merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and other entrepreneurs experimented with marketing strategies, a growing number decided that visual images augmented advertising copy.  Images commissioned for the exclusive use of particular advertisers remained relatively rare compared to the overall volume of advertising, due to both cost and technology, yet more advertisers decided to enhance their newspaper notices with images that replicated their shop signs or depicted their merchandise.

September 19

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 19, 1772).

“John White Stay-Maker”

Most advertisements in colonial newspapers did not feature visual images.  Those that did usually used a stock image provided by the printer, such as a ship at sea, a house, a horse, or an enslaved person liberating him- or herself by “running away.”  Never elaborate in the scenes depicted, such woodcuts could be used interchangeably in advertisements from the appropriate genre.  Some advertisers, however, commissioned images that corresponded to the shop signs that marked their locations or illustrated one or more items available among their merchandise.

Two such images appeared in the September 19, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Robert Parrish once again included the woodcut depicting a “ROLLING SCREEN for cleaning wheat and flaxseed,” though he did not use a woodcut showing a Dutch fan or winnowing fan that previously appeared with it.  Perhaps he did not wish to incur the additional cost for the space required to publish two images.

Another entrepreneur, John White, adorned his advertisement with an image of a stay (or corset), the body and holes for the laces on the left and the laces on the right.  Readers would have easily recognized the garment and understood how it wrapped around and confined a woman’s body.  The words “John White” and “Stay-Maker” flanked the woodcut.  The image accounted for half of the space for the advertisement, an additional investment beyond commissioning the woodcut.

White announced that he moved to a new location where “he continues to carry on the Staymaking business as usual.”  He pledged “to give satisfaction to all who are pleased to employ him.”  He also solicited “orders from any part of the country” and provided mail order service, making it unnecessary for clients to visit his shop in Philadelphia.  Instead, they could send measurements “in respect to length and width of the Stays, both at top and bottom exactly, in the front and back parts.”  The staymaker warned that customers who opted for that convenience needed to pay postage for such orders rather than expect him to take responsibility for those charges.

The woodcut depicting a stay, its body and laces unfurled, almost certainly helped attract attention to White’s advertisement, his promises of customer satisfaction, and the option for submitting orders “by the post” rather than visiting his shop.  Most newspaper advertisements consisted solely of text, so any sort of visual enhancement, whether an image or decorative type, distinguished those advertisements from others.