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.

December 6

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

dec-6-1261766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

“This Almanack is embellished with the above Cut of the Four Seasons of the Year.”

In colonial America, December was the time for marketing and selling almanacs. Yesterday the Adverts 250 Project featured an advertisement for the New-Hampshire Almanack from the New-Hampshire Gazette. Today’s advertisement for the “true and originalNew-England Almanack, printed by Mary Goddard and Company, appeared in the Providence Gazette.

To spruce up their advertisement, Goddard and Company included a “Cut of the Four Seasons of the Year.” As the only image that appeared in that issue of the Providence Gazette (except for the lion and union that always appeared in the masthead), the woodcut certainly distinguished this advertisement from the others. It did more, however, than entice potential customers by merely previewing the almanac’s contents. It also served as a means of distinguishing the almanac printed by Goddard and Company “from an Almanack under the same Title, published at Boston” that did not incorporate the woodcut.

The PRINTERS” devoted nearly half of their advertisement to a dispute with printers in Boston, claiming that a copy of Benjamin West’s calculations and other contents of the New-England Almanack had been “insidiously obtained, and unhappily sold, after the SOLE PROPERTY justly became ours, by a fair and honorable Purchase.” Goddard and Company stated that they possessed exclusive rights to print and distribute this particular almanac. When they read the newspapers from Boston they were dismayed to discover that competitors also printed it and distributed it to booksellers to sell. To their chagrin, they had supported West’s almanac “at our own Risque, ever since it had a Name, and ay a considerable Expence before it had Credit,” yet other printers now undermined their investment.

Potential customers might purchase the edition printed by Goddard and Company because the woodcut of the seasons was an attractive bonus or because the calculations were accurate and the contents “correctly printed.” If this was not enough to convince prospective readers to choose Goddard and Company’s edition over the other, then purchasers were encouraged to think of their choice in terms of justice. Unlike their competitors, Goddard and Company printed their edition “without the Prostitution of Virtue and Honor.” They encouraged potential customers to simultaneously reward them and deprive the Boston printers of their patronage.

December 4

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

dec-4-1241766-pennsylvania-gazette-supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (December 4, 1766).

“THOMAS HEWES, UPHOLSTERER … Easy Chairs.”

I first began studying advertising in eighteenth-century America shortly after I finished my comprehensive exams in graduate school. During the very early stages of the project I discussed my work with a senior colleague at a reception held during a conference. “Don’t get too enamored of the advertisements with the pictures,” this professor counseled. “Those are certainly quaint, but make sure that you look at other advertisements as well.” In hindsight, I recognize both good and poor advice bound together in that conversation. The professor was certainly correct that the world of eighteenth-century advertising was much more extensive than the relatively few newspaper advertisements that included woodcuts. However, he dismissed those woodcuts too quickly when he implied that they were only of antiquarian, rather than scholarly, interest. Because I wanted to be a serious scholar and I wanted others to take my work seriously, I did not give woodcuts in newspaper advertisements as much attention as they merit.

In recent years, however, my interest in the production of advertising in early America has shifted to encompass visual culture and innovative graphic design much more extensively, partly as a result of my exposure to the conferences and other programs sponsored by the Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society. I have come to realize that woodcuts, like the one depicting a wingback chair in upholsterer Thomas Hewes’s advertisement, have real significance beyond merely being “quaint.”

Hewes’ advertisement appeared in the two-page supplement that accompanied the December 4, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. The contents of the supplement consisted exclusively of advertising, without other sorts of content. This more than doubled the space devoted to advertising for the December 4 edition. Amid all those advertisements, only six included any sort of visual image. The other five all featured a ship, the image produced by a woodcut that would have belonged to the printer. Most printers had a few stock images – ships, houses, slaves – that could be inserted interchangeably into advertisements. Other sorts of images, like Hewes’ chair, were commissioned by particular advertisers and used only in their advertisements. Compared to most other advertisers, Hewes invested additional creativity and expense in creating his advertisement.

The five advertisements with woodcuts of ships all promoted ships departing for Europe and encouraged colonists to book passage. That made Hewes’ advertisement unique in that issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. It was the only advertisement for consumer goods that mobilized any sort of visual image to attract the attention of readers and make the advertisement more memorable. For anybody glancing through the six pages of the regular issue and its supplement, Hewes’ advertisement would have stood out. While the illustration may appear primitive to modern eyes (and perhaps even relatively crude to colonists familiar with engraved trade cards), that Hewes’ included an image at all amounted to an innovation intended to distinguish his business from others.

The Adverts 250 Project regularly documents the significance of the seemingly innumerable newspaper advertisements that lacked any sort of visual image. However, it’s also necessary to acknowledge the significance of those that di have some sort of “quaint” woodcut, an important aspect of the evolution of advertising in early America.

April 24

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

Apr 24 - 4:24:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 24, 1766).

“The Stage Wagon … intends to perform the Journey from Philadelphia to New-York in two Days.”

Today it takes only a couple of hours or less to travel between Philadelphia and New York by planes, trains, or automobiles, but in the eighteenth century going from one of these urban ports to the other required much more time. John Barnhill and John Masherew offered a service intended to transport colonists between the two cities as quickly and efficiently as possible (and as comfortably as well: note that “the Waggon-Seats [were] to be set on Springs”).

This journey could be completed in the impressively short span of two days between April and November, but required three days in the winter months. To make this possible, Barnhill and Masherew pooled their resources. Each offered a service that extended into the hinterland around their respective cities, but neither sent their “Stage Waggon” between the two destinations. Instead, Barnhill operated between Philadelphia and Prince Town (now Princeton, New Jersey) and Masherew offered service from New York to Prince Town. At Prince Town, passengers switched from one “Stage Waggon” to the other. Each leg of the journey took a day (or a day and a half in the winter).

The advertisement indicates Barnhill and Masherew began advertising this service before it appeared in the April 24, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette: “commencing the 14th Day of April next.” The notation on the final line – “* 6 W.” – was likely a reminder to the printer to insert the advertisement in six consecutive issues over the course of six weeks.