August 11

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 11, 1773).

“Weaver’s Reeds or Shuttles.”

Eighteenth-century readers would have recognized the image that adorned George Lechler’s advertisement in the August 11, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, even though it does not possess the same familiarity for modern readers.  Lechler described himself as a “WEAVER AND REED-MAKER.”  The image that ran across the top of the notice, a long narrow rectangle divided by vertical lines at close intervals, depicted a reed.  As described by the Oxford English Dictionary, a reed is “part of a loom consisting of a set of evenly spaced wires known as dents (originally slender pieces of reed or cane) fastened between two parallel horizontal bars used for separating, or determining the spacing between, the warp threads, and for besting the weft into place.”  A reed also aids in guiding a shuttle across the loom.  Though the woodcut likely looks like a geometric design to most readers today, colonizers easily recognized a piece of equipment used when weaving.

That image helped draw attention to the lively copy that constituted the remainder of the advertisement.  Lechler expressed some exasperation that he “F[OU]ND myself once more under the necessity to acquaint the Public where in Philadelphia I live, since there are persons who say that I am removed.”  Such stories, he asserted, were “entirely false, as I live in the same house where I have lived these 12 years past, and shall continue in it till I move into eternity.”  Lechler had no intention, now or ever, of moving to another location.  Furthermore, following his death, “there will be another Lechler, who will continue to live there, as the house is my own, and he will make work as good as his father.”  The weaver demonstrated pride in owning his house and workshop, as sign of success, as well as pride in his own abilities and pride in the skills of his son who would continue the family business.  Yet he did not consider it necessary to go into greater detail about the “Weaver’s Reeds or Shuttles” that he made, stating that “it is not necessary for me to praise my work, for the work itself will praise the master.”  Customers who needed reeds and shuttles, Lechler declared, “may depend on getting them as good of me, as in any part of the world,” whether imported or made in the colonies.

The weaver had “a parcel of good Reeds ready made …for sale” at his house on Market Street, “the third door above the sign of the Three Kings.”  He intended for the image of the reed and the slightly cantankerous advertisement to entice weavers to acquire equipment from him at the usual place rather than trust in idle gossip (or perhaps even deliberate attempts to undermine his share of the market) that he had moved to another location.  He also encouraged the public to think of his workshop as a family business that would continue after his death, promoting customer loyalty among those satisfied with the reeds they purchased from him.

August 1

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

Pennsylvania Packet (July 26, 1773).

“MAKES and sells soap and candles … for exportation.”

The front page of the July 26, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser featured two images.  As usual, a woodcut depicting a ship at sea appeared in the masthead.  The newspaper took its name from the packet ships that crisscrossed the Atlantic, transporting passengers and freight.  Significantly, packet ships also carried information, whether written in letters, printed in newspapers, or shared by captains, other officers, and crew.  The Pennsylvania Packet, like a packet ship, disseminated news to every destination it reached.  Whether accounts of current events, rosters of vessels arriving and departing from customs houses, prices current for commodities, or advertisements, the contents of the Pennsylvania Packet facilitated commerce in Philadelphia, its figurative home port, and readers wherever they happened to peruse the newspaper.

Andrew Kennedy certainly hoped that the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser would facilitate his own commercial interests.  The “soap-boiler and tallow-chandler” ran a shop in Philadelphia, though he aimed to serve consumers far beyond that bustling port.  Like packet ships and newspapers, he envisioned the soap and candles that he made and sold “at the lowest rates” reaching faraway places.  He offered them to “merchants, for exportation,” and to “storekeepers, to sell again,” presenting those options for buying by volume first before mentioning “families orders.”  Like many other artisans and shopkeepers who advertised in colonial newspapers, he promoted the “prices and quality of his goods” and concluded with overtures about customer satisfaction.  Kennedy commenced his advertisement with an image that readers immediately recognized, stacks of blocks on the right and left to support a string dangling six freshly-dipped candles.  Without even skimming the rest of the advertisement, readers knew that Kennedy sold candles.

Only two other images appeared in that issue of the Pennsylvania Packet, both of them woodcuts of indentured servants who ran away from their masters.  John Dunlap, the printer, provided those stock images to the advertisers, but Kennedy commissioned a woodcut for his own exclusive use.  That image likely helped attract attention to the appeals to price and quality that he intended to resonate with merchants, shopkeepers, and other prospective customers.

July 21

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 21, 1773).

“At the Hunting Side Saddle.”

Elias Botner, “Sadler and Harness-maker,” ran a workshop “at the Hunting Side Saddle, next door to the London Coffee-house” in Philadelphia in the early 1770s.  In an advertisement in the July 21, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he informed prospective customers that he made and sold various kinds of saddles for gentlemen and ladies as well as saddlebags, “jockey caps, of all sizes,” holsters, and fire buckets.  He declared that he made his saddles and “saddle-furniture” (or equipment) “in the newest and neatest fashion” to match the tastes of his discerning customers.  In addition, he marketed his fire buckets as the “strongest perhaps made in this city.”  He offered discounts to customers who purchased “a quantity” of fire buckets, while also promising “the lowest terms” for his other merchandise.

To draw attention to these various appeals, Botner adorned his advertisement with a woodcut that depicted a saddle.  That image distinguished his advertisement from the other paid notices in the same issue.  Four of them featured stock images of ships at sea, supplied by the printers, but all of the other advertisements relied solely on text without images.  Botner’s advertisement was the only one with an image commissioned for the exclusive use of that business.  It was not the first time, however, that the saddler deployed the image, though it had been a while since it appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  More than three years earlier, Botner ran an advertisement in the Postscript Extraordinary to the Pennsylvania Gazette on May 3, 1770, adorning his notice with the woodcut and invoking the sign that marked the location of his shop.  That sign remained a constantly visible marker for residents and visitors who traversed the streets of Philadelphia in the intervening years, even though the woodcut disappeared from the public prints during that time.  Like many other entrepreneurs, Botner utilized visual images to promote his business, but used some, like his shop sign, consistently and others, like his woodcut in his newspaper advertisements, sporadically.  Botner and others experimented with the power of images in their marketing efforts, sometimes assuming additional costs for the advertisements they placed in colonial newspapers.

July 14

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 14, 1773).

“He is determined to sell as low as any person can sell in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or elsewhere.”

At a glance, readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette may have thought that Frederick Hubley was a distiller.  After all, the woodcut that adorned his advertisement in the July 14, 1773, edition depicted a still.  On closer examination, however, they discovered that Hubley was a coppersmith who plied his trade in Lancaster.  He advised prospective customers in and near that town that he “MAKES all sorts of COPPER and BRASS WARE, in the neatest and best manner.”  In particular, he made “STILLS, brewers, hatters, wash, fish and tea kettles, bake-pans, [and] sauce-pans,” though repeating “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) indicated that he accepted orders for other items.

To entice prospective customers, Hubley advanced some of the appeals most commonly deployed by colonial artisans who placed newspaper advertisements.  He offered assurances about the quality of the items he produced in his shop, declaring that he made them “in the neatest and best manner.”  Such declarations simultaneously testified to his skill as a coppersmith.  Hubley also leveraged price as a means of attracting customers.  He did not merely mention low prices or reasonable prices.  Instead, he compared his prices to those charged by his competitors, both coppersmiths and shopkeepers, near and far, stating that he “is determined to sell as low as any person can sell in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or elsewhere.”  Prospective customers, Hubley asserted, would not find better deals, not even in Philadelphia, the largest city and busiest port in the colonies.

Hubley advertised in a newspaper published in that city because Lancaster did not yet have its own newspaper in 1773.  The Pennsylvania Gazette and several other newspapers published in Philadelphia, as well as Germantowner Zeitung, served the entire colony and portions of Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey.  Lancaster would not have its own newspaper until late November 1777 when John Dunlap temporarily moved the Pennsylvania Packet to town when the Continental Congress briefly relocated there during the British occupation of Philadelphia.  Although the Continental Congress quickly moved to York in hopes that even more distance meant more safety from the British, Dunlap and his press remained in Lancaster.  For six months, he printed the Pennsylvania Packet in Lancester, but ceased when he returned to Philadelphia to resume the newspaper there on July 4, 1778.  The war disrupted publication of several newspapers.  In addition, some folded completely, while printers established others.  In the summer of 1773, however, Hubley and others in Lancaster who wished to advertise did so within a fairly stable media environment, one with a center of gravity in Philadelphia.

July 8

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (July 8, 1773).

“He has obtained a certificate from the Queen’s Stay-Maker in London.”

Readers of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer likely noticed the image that adorned John Burchett’s advertisement in the July 8, 1773, edition.  After all, it was the only image featured throughout the issue, with the exception of a woodcut depicting a ship at sea that appeared in the masthead.  Burchett, a “STAY and RIDING HABIT-MAKER” who kept shop “at the Sign of the Crown and Stays,” led his advertisement with a woodcut that replicated that sign.

Yet Burchett did not rely on the image alone to market his goods and services.  Instead, he incorporated other appeals in his efforts to convince prospective customers to purchase stays from him.  For instance, he invoked his origins and previous experience, describing himself as “From LONDON and PARIS.”  Like others in the garment trades, Burchett suggested to consumers that they would derive additional cachet from hiring someone with connections to such cosmopolitan cities.  Most tailors, milliners, and staymakers who migrated across the Atlantic could claim roots in only one of those capitals of fashion and gentility, yet Burchett asserted ties to both.  He especially emphasized the recognition he gained in London, informing prospective customers that “he has obtained a certificate form the Queen’s Stay-Maker in London.”

That testified to the taste and quality associated with stays made by Burchett.  For those concerned about price, he declared that he “has also a good number of ready made stays of the best quality, cheaper than can be imported.”  He even gave prices so prospective customers could assess the bargains for themselves without having to visit his shop.  In addition, he proposed a payment plan meant to encourage consumers to select him over his competitors.  The staymaker pledged that “any lady who shall employ him” could pay “half cash … and the rest in dry goods.”  That put him in a position to barter with female shopkeepers and the wives and daughters of merchants and shopkeepers.

Burchett did not merely announce that he made and sold stays and then hope that customers would visit his shop at the Sign of the Crown and Stays.  Instead, he deployed an image that corresponded to the sign associated with his business as an invitation to peruse a lively narrative that included a variety of marketing strategies.  He commented on fashion and price while emphasizing his experience working in London and Paris and alternatives to paying with cash or credit.  As a result of such attention to so many aspects of his business, prospective customers could trust that the staymaker would indeed “use all possible endeavours to merit their interest.”

June 20

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (June 14, 1773).


Isaac Greenwood may not have believed that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery when John Cutler decided to run advertisements adorned with a woodcut that closely replicated the image of genteel woman shaded by an umbrella that he had included in many of his advertisements for the past couple of years.  Greenwood first used the image in May 1771 and continued incorporating it into his newspaper notices in 1772 and 1773.  In the summer of 1773, he launched a new advertising campaign that featured the woodcut and the headline “NOT IMPORTED” to underscore that he made the “UMBRILLOES” he sold while simultaneously encouraging consumers to support domestic manufactures by choosing them over imported alternatives.

Boston Evening-Post (June 14, 1773).

Cutler also made “Umbrilloes of all sorts for Ladies and Gentlemen … in the best Manner.”  In addition, he “mended and covered” old umbrellas.  As Greenwood’s latest advertisement with the image of the woman and umbrella appeared in supplement that accompanied the June 14 edition of the Boston-Gazette, Cutler debuted his strikingly similar woodcut in an advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post on the same day.  He then took the rather extraordinary step of having the woodcut transferred to the printing offices of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in time to run in the June 17 edition.  Such transfers continued for the next several weeks as Cutler increased the exposure for the image by inserting it in more than one newspaper.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 17, 1773).

Some prospective customers may have considered the woman depicted in Cutler’s advertisements more elegant than the one in Greenwood’s notices.  Both wore necklaces.  In the original image, the necklace hugged the woman’s chin, making it difficult to distinguish, while in the imitation the necklace hung lower on the woman’s neck and featured a pendant that enhanced it.  The original image offered a view of the woman’s decolletage, while the imitation placed greater emphasis on embroidery and other adornments.  The hairstyles differed as well.  The woman in the original image wore a high roll, but some viewers may have mistaken it for a turban.  In the imitation, the woman had her hair pile high upon her head, but the image suggested elaborate curls and even a tendril that hung below her right ear to frame her face.

In several ways, Cutler’s new image was superior to the familiar one that Greenwood had circulated for more than two years.  Cutler could have chosen another image to represent his business in the public prints.  After all, he advised prospective customers that he made umbrellas “at the Golden Cock, in Marlborough Street.”  Some advertisers experimented with branding and logos in the late eighteenth century, consistently associating an image with their shops and their goods.  Greenwood may not have been very happy that Cutler devised an image that so closely resembled the one that already represented his business.

May 23

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (May 20, 1773).

“The Sign of the Tea-Cannister and two Sugar Loaves.”

When James Rivington launched Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer in the spring of 1773, he had a significant number of advertisers lined up for the first several issues.  Those advertisers included entrepreneurs who previously invested in woodcuts that depicted some aspect of their business.  Such visual images distinguished their advertisements from others that consisted entirely of text.  Nesbitt Deane, a hatmaker, ran an advertisement featuring the familiar image of a tricorne hat with his name in a ribbon below it in the first issue.  Richard Sause, a cutler, included his woodcut depicting items made and sold at his shop in the second issue of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.

A couple of weeks later, Smith Richards, a “GROCER and CONFECTIONER, At the Sign of the Tea-Cannister and two Sugar Loaves,” ran an advertisement with an image that replicated his shop sign.  Within a thick border, sugar loaves flanked a tea canister embellished with the names of popular varieties of tea, “HYSON,” “SOUCHONG,” and “CONGO.”  Unlike the woodcuts that adorned advertisements placed by Deane and Sause, this one had not previously appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury or the New-York Journal.  (It may have run in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy.  Issues from January 1771 through the last known issue of July 12, 1773, have not yet been digitized for greater accessibility.)  The image of the “Sign of the Tea-Cannister and two Sugar Loaves” very well may have been the first woodcut commissioned for an advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.

Richards had not previously advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury or the New-York Journal, but he apparently believed that the new Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer offered a good opportunity and a sound investment when it came to advertising his wares.  Even though most advertisers did not commission woodcuts to accompany their notices, many other entrepreneurs, some who previously advertised in other newspapers and some who had not, shared Richards’s confidence in the effectiveness of disseminating their advertisements via New York’s newest newspaper. Rivington had successfully convinced prospective advertisers that his newspaper enjoyed a wide circulation for even its earliest issues.

May 12

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 12, 1773).


When an anonymous musician offered “to teach the art of playing on the Guittar, in the best and newest taste” and “likewise teaches the German flute,” he adorned his advertisement in the May 12, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette with an image of a guitar, a flute, and a sheet of music.  The woodcut accounted for half of the space occupied by the advertisement.  The combination of visual image and advertising copy likely drew the attention of readers, especially since most advertisements did not feature any sort of image.

Some did have a stock image in the upper left corner.  For instance, four advertisements that sought passengers and freight for ships preparing to depart for other ports incorporated woodcuts of vessels at sea, perhaps the most common image that appeared in a newspaper published in the bustling urban port of Philadelphia.  In contrast, images depicting enslaved people appeared about as often as images of ships in advertisements in newspapers published in Charleston.  The May 12 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette did not have any images of enslaved people, even though it included advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children for sale as well as notices describing enslaved people who liberated themselves and offering rewards for their capture and return.  That issue did feature one advertisement with a woodcut depicting an indentured servant who absconded.  Two advertisements for stallions “to cover” (or breed with) mares had woodcuts of horses.

Pennsylvania Gazette (May 12, 1773).

In addition to those stock images supplied by the printers, three images commissioned by advertisers to correspond to the goods and services they marketed adorned advertisements in that issue.  A woodcut depicting a stagecoach drawn by two horses enhanced the notice for the route that connected Philadelphia and New York, operated by Charles Bessonett and Company.  An image of a sickle accompanied the advertising copy in Jacob Eckfelt’s notice.  Finally, the woodcut depicting the guitar, flute, and sheet music distinguished the anonymous musician’s advertisement from others that consisted solely of text.

To varying degrees, eighteenth-century advertisers experimented with images in their newspaper notices, sometimes opting for stock images provided by the printers and other times commissioning woodcuts for their sole use.  Although the majority of advertisers did not incorporate images into their notices, enough did so to demonstrate both curiosity about the practice and a suspicion or even a belief that images were worth the additional investment.  While these images may seem quaint or rudimentary when viewed through modern eyes, they likely resonated with eighteenth-century readers who usually encountered images in advertisements and nowhere else in newspapers, with the exception of the image that appeared in the masthead on the first page of each issue.

May 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (May 5, 1773).

“Chymist and Druggist … at the Sign of the Unicorn’s Head.”

Isaac Bartram, “Chymist and Druggist,” offered a variety of goods and services at his “new Medicine Store” in Philadelphia in the spring of 1773.  According to his advertisement in the May 5 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he sold a “great variety of fresh Drugs and Patent Medicines, imported from the best houses in London.”  Prospective customers would have been familiar with the patent medicines that Bartram listed in his notice, just as modern consumers recognize various brands of over-the-counter medications.  Among other nostrums, the apothecary carried “Godfrey’s cordial, Bateman’s drops, … Walker’s Jesuits drops, Daffey’s elixir, [and] Anderson’s Lockyer’s and Hooper’s female pills.”  For those willing to try equivalent products, like modern consumers who purchase generics, Bartram marketed “Wine bitters, of a superior quality to what is commonly sold under the title of Stoughton’s elixir.”  He also stocked medical equipment, including syringes, vials, and surgical instruments, and prepared prescriptions “for physicians, or for family use.”

In addition to the copy, Bartram deployed an image to draw more attention to his advertisement.  He indicated that he kept shop “at the Sign of the Unicorn’s Head.”  Appropriately, a woodcut depicting a unicorn’s head enclosed within a border adorned the upper left corner of his notice, accounting for nearly one-quarter of the space occupied by his advertisement.  This certainly increased Bartram’s advertising costs since he had to commission the unique image associated with his business and then pay for the additional space.  Most advertisers did not invest in images for their notices, though a growing number adopted the practice in the early 1770s.  Elsewhere in the same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Stephen Paschall and son Stephen Paschall, as they styled themselves, included an image of a scythe, a sickle, and other sort of iron work available at their workshop “at the Sign of the Scythe and Sickle.”  The initials “SP” marked one of the items.  The Paschalls first published the image a year earlier.  These images may have replicated the signs displayed by Bartram and the Paschalls, the only surviving visual representations of signs that colonizers glimpsed as they traversed the streets of Philadelphia.

Most advertisers relied solely on the text of their notices to encourage readers to visit their shops.  Such was the case for Robert Bass, an apothecary whose advertisement for a “new and fresh Assortment of DRUGS and PATENT MEDICINES” appeared on the same page as Bartram’s advertisement.  The woodcut depicting the Sign of the Unicorn’s Head certainly made Bartram’s notice much more visible to readers, prompting them to read about his wares and, in the process, quite possibly justifying the investment.

March 31

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (March 31, 1773).

“A Quantity of well made RIFLES.”

Thomas Palmer, a gunsmith, made several appeals to prospective customers in Philadelphia in the advertisement he placed in the March 31, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He declared that his inventory included a wide selection, a “Quantity of well made RIFLES, of different Lengths and Sizes of Bores.”  Palmer was so confident of the quality of those guns that he proclaimed that he “will insure to the Purchasers” that they were “as good and as handsomely fitted up as any made in America.”  Consumers would not find better in Philadelphia or anywhere else in the colonies.  In addition, the gunsmith “makes Fowling Pieces, of different Sizes, such as have been approved of by Gentlemen of this City.”  Short of publishing testimonials from his clients, Palmer suggested that men with good reputations endorsed the guns produced in his workshop.  In addition to making rifles and fowling pieces, he also “repairs old Guns in the most careful Manner.”

Palmer did not rely on advertising copy alone to market his services.  Instead, he incorporated a visual image into his notice.  A woodcut that may have replicated a sign that marked the gunsmith’s location adorned the advertisement, though the copy did not make reference to any sign at Palmer’s shop on “the North Side of Market-street, between Fourth and Fifth-streets.”  On the other hand, Palmer may have considered it unnecessary to mention a sign in copy that appeared immediately below an image of a rifle and the words “THO: PALMER Gun Smith” enclosed within a double border.  Residents of Philadelphia may have already been familiar with the sign and readers from beyond the city would have easily recognized it if they decided to visit Palmer’s shop.  Whether or not Palmer displayed a sign at his shop on Market Street, the woodcut helped distinguish his advertisement from other content in the Pennsylvania Gazette, likely making it worth the investment.  With the exception of the seal in the masthead, only one other image appeared in that issue.  A stock image of a house ran with a real estate notice, but that lacked the same level of customization as the woodcut in Palmer’s advertisement.  The gunsmith deployed text and image simultaneously in his efforts to engage prospective customers.