April 17

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

Apr 17 - 4:11:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (April 11, 1768).

“Two young HORSES.”

Samuel Harnden placed an advertisement seeking to sell “two young HORSES” in the April 11, 1768, edition of the Boston Post-Boy.  An image of a horse accompanied his advertisement, distinguishing it from most others.  More than thirty advertisements appeared in that issue, but only four featured images of any sort.  In addition to Harnden’s advertisement, a real estate notice included a woodcut of a house and two others concerning maritime trade and transportation incorporated woodcuts of ships.  Otherwise, the issue was devoid of visual images, with the exception of the masthead. A ship at sea and a post rider flanked the newspaper title at the top of the first page of each issue of the Boston Post-Boy.

Visual images constitute an important aspect of twenty-first-century media, in general, and advertising, in particular.  Printing technologies of the eighteenth century, however, made visual images in newspapers relatively rare.  In addition to their type, printers also had a limited number of stock images, woodcuts that could accompany some of the most common types of advertisements. Most of these generic images were represented in the April 11, 1768, edition of the Boston Post-Boy, but advertisements also frequently included woodcuts of slaves in addition to horses, houses, and ships.  Since they belonged to printers and could be used interchangeably for advertisements with the same purpose, such images were not associated with any particular advertisers.  However, some advertisers did invest in woodcuts that represented their businesses, often replicating their shop signs.  Compared to the stock images, significantly fewer paid notices had woodcuts commissioned by the advertiser.

Woodcuts were not the only way to introduce visual variation into eighteenth-century newspapers.  Printers typically possessed a variety of printing ornaments that could be deployed to add visual interest to the page, though the extent of ornamental printing varied from newspaper to newspaper.  The compositors in Green and Russell’s printing shop, for instance, did not tend to insert much ornamental printing into the pages of the Boston Post-Boy, but their counterparts in Edes and Gill’s shop used ornaments to separate news items and advertisements.  In the process, they presented a more sophisticated graphic design.  Given the scarcity of visual images in eighteenth-century newspapers, readers may have been even more attuned to the variations in ornamental printing than modern readers who quickly become overwhelmed by the density of the text in both news items and advertisements.

February 27

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

Feb 27 - 2:27:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 27, 1768).

“At the Sign of the Brazen Lion.”

Its length alone would have made Edward Thurber’s advertisement in the February 27, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette difficult to miss. Listing dozens of items he offered for sale, it extended for nearly an entire column. Yet Thurber did not rely solely on the amount of space the advertisement occupied to attract the attention of potential customers. He incorporated a bit of visual flair by inserting a woodcut.

For quite some time he had been advertising in the Providence Gazette, but usually in conjunction with Benjamin Thurber. Their shared notices informed readers that they operated separate shops even though they worked together to acquire merchandise. Benjamin could be found at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes and Edward at the Sign of the Brazen Lion. They did not insert any images in their joint advertisements, but when Edward commenced advertising on his own he commissioned a woodcut that depicted his Sign of the Brazen Lion. Perhaps he had more creative freedom on his own. Maybe Benjamin had not wished to invest in a corresponding woodcut of the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes. Maybe the partners thought that two woodcuts in a single advertisement would have appeared too crowded or too confusing. Maybe they mutually determined that when they bought space in the local newspaper that they wanted to fill it with copy rather than woodcuts. Whatever their reasons, the Thurbers did not experiment with visual images in their joint advertisements. That changed when Edward advertised separately.

Although it did inject a visual element into his advertisement, Edward’s woodcut was rather primitive compared to some that accompanied advertisements in newspapers published in larger cities, especially New York and Philadelphia. His woodcut quite literally depicted a signpost with a crudely carved lion suspended from it. While not the most impressive woodcut, it does testify to a sight that colonists would have glimpsed as they traversed the streets of Providence. Apparently Edward Thurber’s sign was not a board painted with the image of a lion but rather a piece of wood carved into either a two- or three-dimensional lion. In and of itself, such a sign would have been a significant investment, but well worth the price as it became a brand consistently used on the exterior of the shop and in newspaper advertisements. Edward Thurber further advanced his use of this brand in his advertising by including a woodcut that visually reiterated the copy that directed potential customers to “the Sign of the Brazen Lion.”

February 15

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

Feb 15 - 2:15:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 15, 1768).

“She continues to sell … the genuine flour of mustard.”

Mary Crathorne advertised the mustard and chocolate she “manufactured” at “the Globe mill on Germantown road” in more than one newspaper published in Philadelphia in February 1768. She inserted one notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette on February 11 and another in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 15. Although they featured (mostly) the same copy, the visual aspects of the tow advertisements distinguished one from the other.

A headline consisting of her name, “Mary Crathorne,” introduced the advertisement in the Chronicle. Such design was consistent with that in other advertisements placed by purveyors of goods and services, including Robert Bass and John Lownes. It added readers in identifying the advertisement, but did not call special attention to it. In contrast, her advertisement in the Gazette featured a woodcut depicting a seal for her company flanked by a bottle of mustard on one side and a pound of chocolate on the other. It was the only advertisement in that issue of the Gazette (including the two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising) that incorporated a visual image, distinguishing it from all others. On the other hand, Crathorne’s advertisement in the Chronicle ran on the same page as four advertisements that included woodcuts (a house, a ship, a male runaway servant, and a female runaway servant). In addition to those stock images that belonged to the printer, elsewhere in the issue Howard and Bartram’s advertisement featured a woodcut of dog with its head in an overturned bucket. The “Copper-Smiths from London” ran a shop at “the sign of the Dog and Golden Kettle, in Second-Street.” They effectively deployed the visual image in multiple media, the newspaper advertisement and the shop sign, to create a brand for their business.

Crathorne attempted something similar with her own woodcut in the Gazette, noting that “All the mustard put up in bottles, has the above stamp pasted on the bottles, and also the paper round each pound of chocolate has the said stamp thereon.” She had to revise the copy, however, for inclusion in the Chronicle without the woodcut. “All the mustard put up in bottle has a stamp” (rather than “the above stamp”) “pasted on the bottles, and also the paper round each pound of chocolate has the same stamp thereon.”

Apparently Mary Crathorne (or her late husband who previously ran the business) had commissioned only one woodcut of this trademark image. That made it impossible to publish advertisements featuring the same image in multiple newspapers simultaneously. The aspect that most distinguished her advertisement in the Gazette was completely missing in the Chronicle, where other advertisers treated readers to a series of woodcuts that dressed up their notices. Crathorne engaged in innovative marketing efforts by associating a specific image with her products to distinguish them from the competition, but she did not consistently advance that campaign by inserting the image in all of her advertisements that appeared in print. She recognized that branding could be useful in selling her wares, but she did not apply the strategy to full effect. That required further experimentation by other advertisers.

February 14

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

Feb 14 - 2:11:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (February 11, 1768).

“All the mustard put up in bottles, has the above stamp pasted on the bottles.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would have been familiar with the “genuine FLOUR of MUSTARD” and chocolate that Mary Crathorne advertised in February 1768. Her husband, the late Jonathan Crathorne, had previously produced and sold chocolate and mustard with Benjamin Jackson, but when that partnership dissolved the two men each continued in the business. Sometimes their advertisements appeared one after the other in the Pennsylvania Gazette, as was the case in the November 21, 1765, edition.

Jonathan Crathorne’s advertisement included the same woodcut that his wife later used to promote the business that she operated after his death. It featured a seal flanked by a bottle of mustard on the left and a brick of chocolate on the right. The seal incorporated William Penn’s insignia, a shield decorated with three silver balls, but it bore the words “J. CRATHORN’S PHILADA FLOUR OF MUSTARD.” Crathorne associated pride in the colony with his own products.

After they parted ways, Jonathan Crathorne and Benjamin Jackson engaged in a prolonged public dispute in their advertisements. Mary Crathorne was not as aggressive as her husband in that regard, but the widow did not that “her late husband went to a considerable expence in the erecting, and purchasing out Benjamin Jackson’s part” of “those incomparable mustard and chocolate works at the Globe mill, on Germantown road.”

Mary Crathorne did not want her product confused for any other. To that end, the woodcut in her newspaper advertisement had a purpose that went beyond drawing the attention of readers. “All the mustard put up in bottles,” she reported, “has the above stamp placed on the bottles.” Similarly, “the paper round each pound of chocolate has the same stamp thereon.” To avoid competitors’ products being mistaken for her mustard and chocolate, the widow Crathorne deployed the woodcut from her advertisements as a brand to mark her merchandise. Her husband may have followed the same practice, but his advertisements did not explicitly state that was the case. Perhaps as a woman running a business in a marketplace dominated by men Mary Crathorne found it necessary to devise additional means of promoting her products. She made it easy for consumers to recognize her mustard and chocolate by making sure they were labeled with some sort of trademark that identified the producer.

January 8

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

Jan 8 - 1:8:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 8, 1768).

“JONATHAN SARRAZIN, JEWELLER.”

Jonathan Sarrazin once again placed his advertisement for “a LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE” in the January 8, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, continuing a series that originated in that newspaper in early December 1767. The same advertisement, including a woodcut depicting a fashionable teapot, also appeared in another newspaper published in Charleston, the South Carolina Gazette.

Last week I examined some of the difficulties in tracing Sarrazin’s marketing efforts in the face of an incomplete archive. Missing or inaccessible issues make it impossible to definitively document when and how often advertisers placed newspaper notices. Today I offer some comments on another challenge inherent in working with surrogates, whether photographs, microfilm, or digital databases, rather than original sources.

A woodcut of a teapot did indeed accompany Sarrazin’s advertisement in both newspapers that carried his notice. Was it the same woodcut? Or was it two separate woodcuts that closely resembled each other? Seemingly trivial at first glance, the answer offers important insights into the effort and expense Sarrazin invested in advertising as well as the business practices of the printers of the newspapers.

Careful examination of the images in the South Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette suggests that Sarrazin did commission two separate woodcuts. However due to imperfect remediation, via photography and digitization, it is impossible to definitively state that Sarrazin had two nearly identical woodcuts of an ornate teapot, even thought the visual evidence indicates that was most likely the case.

Accepting that assumption leads to certain conclusions. Along with the copy for his advertisement, Sarrazin submitted a woodcut to the printing office for each newspaper. Acquiring two woodcuts meant that the jeweler incurred greater costs. It also eliminated any need for Sarrazin to shuttle a single woodcut back and forth between printing offices, carefully coordinating with the printers and their production schedules. It also eliminated the possible need for printers to engage in any sort of cooperation required for incorporating a single woodcut into multiple publications. Had Sarrazin commissioned only one woodcut, publishing it in two newspapers would have necessitated greater coordination between advertiser and printer and perhaps even cooperation between competing printers.

The available evidence suggests the most likely circumstances, but examination of the original sources would allow for a much more forceful assertion. Digitized sources tell much of the story, but they are not exhaustive in the clues about the past they reveal. Accurately telling the most complete story of the past requires using digitized and original sources in combination.

January 4

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

Jan 4 - 1:4:1767 South-Carolina Gazette
South Carolina Gazette (January 4, 1767).

“A Large assortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE.”

Jonathan Sarrazin, a jeweler in Charleston, used a woodcut of a teapot, one of the items he sold, to distinguish his newspaper advertisements from others that also appeared among the pages of dense type. Throughout 1767 and into 1768, his advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette regularly included this device. Sarrazin’s enthusiasm for associating an image of a fashionable teapot with his business, however, has been partially obscured by a gap in the archive.

Sarrazin could have advertised in any of the three newspapers published in Charleston. In addition to Robert Wells’ South-Carolina and American General Gazette, Peter Timothy printed the South Carolina Gazette and Charles Crouch printed the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Although all three newspapers had print runs that extended through 1767 and 1768, not all of the issues have been converted into digital surrogates that are digitally accessible to historians, other scholars, and the general public. Accessible Archives provides a complete digital archive for the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal for 1767 and 1768, but lacks images of the South-Carolina Gazette for several months of 1767. (The database does include transcripts of the text of issues published during the period.) As a result, consideration of Sarrazin’s advertising campaign in 1767 has been truncated. Working with the available issues reveals that the jeweler advertised regularly in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, but not in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Consulting the transcripts of the South Carolina Gazette could establish whether Sarrazin also advertised in that publication, but that process requires much more time and labor than examining photographs of the original issues. This method also eliminates the most striking feature of Sarrazin’s commercial notices, the woodcut that made it so easy for readers – then and now – to identify his advertisements. (Keyword searches are notoriously unreliable, rendering them inconclusive as well.) Furthermore, the transcripts do not include metadata that indicates when woodcuts accompanied advertisements and news items. In the absence of photographs of the original issues, Sarrazin’s advertising campaign cannot be reconstructed definitively.

Fortunately, Accessible Archives does make available photographs for extant issues of the South Carolina Gazette for all of 1768. Those issues reveal that not only did Sarrazin opt to advertise in a second publication but that he also included a woodcut depicting an ornate teapot in his notices. This demonstrates the jeweler’s commitment to establishing a trademark for his business. He wanted consumers in Charleston and its hinterland to readily identify his advertisements and associate his wares with the fashionable and genteel teapot that appeared in his notices and perhaps doubled as the sign that marked the location of his shop. This testifies to a thoughtful effort to achieve consistency in his advertising in multiple newspapers.

December 11

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

Dec 11 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 11, 1767).

“A LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE.”

Approximately two-thirds of the December 11, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette consisted of advertising. Among the dozens of advertisement in the issue, Jonathan Sarrazin’s notice had a feature that distinguished it from all others: an image of one of the products he sold at his shop on the corner of Broad Street and Church Street in Charleston.

Sarrazin’s advertisement was not the only one that included a woodcut, but it was the only one with an image, a teapot, created exclusively for the advertiser. Nine advertisements for freight and passage had images of ships. Despite some variation, several had woodcuts that replicated an image used elsewhere in the same issue, including three nearly identical ships on the same page as Sarrazin’s coffeepot. Three advertisements incorporated woodcuts of enslaved men, women, and children, while another three included images of houses and land for sale. One for a “FINE bay MARE” had an image of a horse that in another issue could have been used to advertise a steed “to cover.” For advertisements of the same genre – freight and passage, slaves, real estate, horses – these common images were inserted interchangeably in the eighteenth century. These woodcuts belonged to the printer, a necessary supplement to the type since they were used so often.

Some artisans and shopkeepers, however, commissioned their own woodcuts to accompany their advertisements exclusively. Sarrazin, a jeweler, did so, choosing an image that represented the “LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE” listed in his notice, an ornate teapot with a decorative bird’s-head spout. (For a similar teapot crafted in New York earlier in the century, see this example from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Unlike others who advertised consumer goods and services in the same issue, Sarrazin mobilized text and visual image simultaneously to market his wares to potential customers. On the pages of dense text in South-Carolina and American General Gazette, this set apart his advertisement from others. This strategy likely attracted increased attention from readers.