October 1

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

Oct 1 - 9:28:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 28, 1769).

“A likely healthy Negroe … to dispose of.”

Shopkeeper Magdalen Devine occasionally advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the late 1760s. She usually promoted “A LARGE assortment of dry GOODS,” as she did in the September 28, 1769, edition. Her advertisements were notable because they sometimes included a woodcut that depicted some of her wares, two rolls of fabric and two swatches unfurled to display the patterns. Devine relied on images rather than an extensive list of merchandise to communicate the choices available at her shop. Woodcuts commissioned by merchants and shopkeepers were relatively rare in early American newspaper advertisements. Devine was one of an exceptionally small number of women who deployed visual images in her marketing.

Yet Devine sought to accomplish more than just selling dry goods in some of her advertisements. The notice she ran in late September 1769 included a nota bene seemingly unrelated to her merchandise: “She has a likely healthy Negroe wench, about 18 years old, to dispose of, having no cause to part with her but want of employment.” Although most eighteenth-century readers would have found nothing notable about attempting to sell both textiles and an enslaved woman in a single advertisement, modern readers might find this notice particularly striking for the casual manner in which Devine treated another woman as a commodity.

Furthermore, the advertisement testifies to the presence of enslaved men and women in urban ports like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston during the era of the American Revolution. Throughout the colonies and throughout the Atlantic world, consumer culture and enslavement were inextricably linked. Commerce depended on the transatlantic slave trade as well as the skills and involuntary labor of enslaved men, women, and children. The advertisements for consumer goods that filled eighteenth-century newspapers, many of them listing dozens of items offered for sale, usually did not make direct reference to slavery, but colonists had access to those wares, the “LARGE assortment of dry GOODS” advertised by merchants and shopkeepers like Devine,” thanks to networks of exchange that included the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved labor, and the profits from both as an integral component. It was practically impossible to be either a retailer or a consumer in the eighteenth century without perpetuating slavery, directly or indirectly. More readily than most others, Devine’s advertisement makes clear that was the case.

September 7

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

Sep 7 - 9:7:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 7, 1769).

At the Sign of the Boot and Shoe.”

In an advertisement that ran in the September 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, boot- and shoemaker James Kedmon reported that he had “lately arrived from Europe” and opened a shop on Water Street in Philadelphia. The newcomer certainly knew how to make his presence known in the public prints. His advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a boot flanked by two shoes. The woodcut occupied approximately the same amount of space as the copy for Kedmon’s advertisement, representing a significant expense. In addition, the shoemaker had to commission the woodcut in the first place, but he apparently anticipated a return on his investment.

After all, this visual image distinguished his advertisement from all of the others that ran on the same page. None of them included visual images. Only two other images appeared elsewhere in the same issue. An advertisement on another page included a smaller woodcut that depicted a ship at sea, a stock image that would have belonged to the printers rather than being created for the exclusive use of an advertiser. Eighteenth-century readers regularly encountered multiple variations of such images of ships in a single issue of a newspaper. The masthead also included a familiar image inspired by William Penn’s coat of arms; it appeared in every issue. The September 7 edition, like every other, consisted almost entirely of text. As a result, readers’ eyes would have been drawn to the woodcut of the boot and shoes, a unique feature, when perusing the Pennsylvania Gazette.

A border enclosed that boot and shoes, transforming the woodcut into a depiction of a shop sign rather than just the merchandise Kedmon offered for sale. The shoemaker informed prospective customers that they could find him “at the Sign of the Boot and Shoe.” The woodcut may have faithfully replicated the sign that marked Kedmon’s shop; even if it did not, it suggests the type of images colonists would have seen as they traversed the streets of Philadelphia and other cities and towns. The consistent use of text and images invoking “the Sign of the Boot and Shoe” represented an eighteenth-century attempt at branding. Kedmon sought to make his presence in a new location known not only through newspaper advertisements but also through careful coordination with the images he displayed at his ship on Water Street. His newspaper advertisement with a striking woodcut was part of a larger campaign to attract customers.

May 8

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

May 8 - 5:8:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 8, 1769).

“The Medley of Goods.”

Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury encountered a memorable image in the supplement that accompanied the May 8, 1769, edition. Gerardus Duyckinck ran a shop he named “The Medley of Goods” at a location marked by “the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.” The intricate woodcut in his advertisement depicted that sign, with a druggist’s pot perched atop an ornate cartouche and a looking glass suspended below it. The copy for the advertisement filled the remainder of the cartouche, with the entire woodcut extending more than half a column. It dominated any page on which it appeared.

Indeed, Duyckinck’s elaborate woodcut may have been the most memorable image printed in that newspaper in the 1760s. Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury included few visual images. Sometimes advertisements featured small icons of houses, horses, ship, or runaway servants or slaves. These crude woodcuts were small, belonged to the printer, and could be used interchangeably in advertisements with matching content. Elsewhere in the May 8 issue and its supplement, five advertisements included woodcuts of horses, three had ships, and one had a house. All of them were a fraction of the size of Duyckinck’s woodcut. A woodcut of a colonist and an Indian flanking a shield and crown was the only other image in that issue. Although it was considerably larger than the other woodcuts, it likely did not garner much additional notice since it was so familiar, appearing week after week. Duyckinck’s woodcut, on the other hand, ran often enough that readers would have recognized it, but not so often that they overlooked it because they expected to spot it among the many advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Even other advertisers who commissioned their own woodcuts to distinguish their notices from others did not invest in images that were as large or as lavish. Duyckinck’s woodcut stood alone among those in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Nothing in advertisements published in other newspapers in the 1760s compared to it either.

Woodcuts were prone to damage over time, coming under intense pressure with each impression made on hand-operated presses. That likely contributed to Duyckinck’s decision to deploy this expensive woodcut only occasionally, doing so frequently enough to make it familiar but not so often that it deteriorated an disappeared from the public prints too quickly. It first appeared in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal and continued for several weeks. In the spring of 1768 Duyckinck inserted it in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for a longer period before putting the image on hiatus again for many months. It did not disappear from view for so long, however, that it would have been unfamiliar when it returned in May 1769. Gerardus deployed a variety of marketing strategies in the copy of his advertisement, but the extraordinary visual element increased the likelihood that prospective customers would pay attention to the copy contained within the impressive cartouche.

March 2

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

New-York Journal (March 2, 1769).

“Windsor Chairs made in the best and neatest Manner.”

The most striking aspect of this advertisement is the use of an image to sell “A Large and neat Assortment of Windsor Chairs.” Often, illustrations were not included in eighteenth-century newspapers, neither with news nor with advertisements. It was most common to see small symbols for incoming ships or runaway slaves. Larger images for consumer goods were rare. The image of the chair in Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement catches viewers’ attention and makes them more susceptible to buying the piece of furniture.

In fact, there was a multi-step process for including an image in an advertisement. According to Colonial Williamsburg’s overview of the trade, being a printer was “among the most labor intensive” professions. In order to produce newspapers using the printing press, printers worked long days on hand-operated presses. Including an image tacked on more labor.  There were two important types of employees who worked for the printer, the compositor and the pressman, William Parks, a printer in Virginia in the eighteenth century, wrote, “The Compositor is he who arranges the Letters and makes up the Forms; the Pressman only works at the Press, takes off the Impression, and requires no other Qualification than Strength and a little Practice.” Publishing newspapers called for collaboration, cooperation, and time. It is quite impressive how printers, compositors, and pressmen repeated these processes each day, in order to publish newspapers and other printed materials.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Chloe is correct the woodcut depicting a Windsor chair distinguished Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement from others that appeared on the same page issue. Very few visual images appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers. Even fewer unique images directly correlated to the content of advertisements appeared, in part because of the time and, especially, expense required to incorporate them. Woodcuts were also fragile; they broke or wore down over time. The missing arm on Hampton’s Windsor chair was not a printing error. The arm was also missing when the same woodcut accompanied an advertisement placed four months earlier.

To demonstrate that images like Hampton’s Windsor chair were not a standard part of advertisements or other content in eighteenth-century newspapers, consider the newspapers published on March 2, 1769. The Boston Chronicle did not include any visual images, not even in the masthead.   The Boston Weekly New-Letter did not include any visual images, neither in the standard issue nor in the supplement that accompanied it. Richard Draper disseminated the Massachusetts Gazette with the Boston Weekly News-Letter, printing them on the same broadsheet. The Massachusetts Gazette did include a visual image in the masthead, the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, but no others elsewhere in the newspaper. The New-York Journal included six visual images spread over the six pages of the regular issue and the supplement. In addition to the royal arms in the masthead, five advertisements incorporated images: Hampston’s Windsor chair, two ships in advertisements for freight and passage, and two houses in advertisements for real estate. The Pennsylvania Gazette did not include any visual images among the news items and advertisements, but did feature the coat of arms of the Penn family in the masthead. The Pennsylvania Journal also had an image in its masthead, though it drew on different iconography than the other newspaper printers deployed. It showed a Native American and Britannia flanking a ship and the Journal itself. An advertisement for freight and passage also incorporated a woodcut of a ship.

South-Carolina Gazette (March 2, 1769).

The South-Carolina Gazette included by far the most visual images, fifteen in all. In addition to the royal arms in the masthead, an image of a ship and a man on horseback heading toward town, each representing the circulation of information, preceded the first news item. One advertisement passage and freight included an image of a ship. Three advertisements for real estate included images of houses. Three advertisements for stallions to “cover” mares included images of houses. Four advertisements describing escaped slaves included generic images of the runaways, woodcuts that could have been used interchangeably since they did not depict any particular person. In that issue of the South-Carolina Gazette, printer Peter Timothy displayed the four woodcuts that commonly supplemented type in colonial newspapers: horses, houses, ships, and runaways. The South-Carolina Gazette included one unique image that decorated an advertisement for consumer goods and services. Jonathan Sarrazin decorated his advertisement for “JEWELLERY & PLATE” with a woodcut of teapot. Sarrazin used that image so often that it became his brand. Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette likely recognized it on sight.

This census of visual images in newspapers published on March 2, 1769, further illustrates the argument that Chloe advanced in her analysis of Hampton’s advertisement. Woodcuts were indeed rare and usually limited to only a few standard symbols. Hampton’s image of a Windsor chair was certainly exceptional. He apparently considered it an important element of his marketing, continuing to use it even after it had been damaged.

November 10

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

Nov 10 - 11:10:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 10, 1768).

“A Large and neat Assortment of Windsor Chairs.”

A woodcut depicting a Windsor chair dominated Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement in the Supplement to the New-York Journal published on November 10, 1768. In that regard, his advertisement deviated significantly from the vast majority of paid notices placed in newspapers throughout the colonies. Most advertisements consisted entirely of text unaccompanied by images, in part because woodcuts required an additional investment. Printers did provide some woodcuts that advertisers could insert in their notices, but they were limited to a narrow selection. The selection was usually limited to depictions of ships, houses, horses, slaves, and runaways (servants and slaves). They were used interchangeably. For instance, a real estate advertisement could incorporate any woodcut depicting a house; the details of the woodcut did not necessarily correspond to the description of the house offered in the copy.

When advertisers desired to include images that represented their shop signs or, as was the case with Hampton, their merchandise, they could not draw from stock images provided by printers. Instead, they incurred the additional expense of commissioning woodcuts that then belonged exclusively to them. Not only did those images not accompany any other advertisements in a particular publication, advertisers could collect them and submit them from the printing office and submit them for inclusion in advertisements they placed in competing newspapers.

Even though it appears to have been damaged as the result of repeated impressions on a hand-operated press, the woodcut depicting a Windsor chair in Hampton’s advertisement would have drawn attention. Except for the masthead, no images appeared in the standard issue of the New-York Journal distributed on November 10, 1768. The supplement included only two images, Hampston’s Windsor chair and the elaborate frame that enclosed Gerardus Duyckinck’s list of goods he sold “At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.” That frame incorporated both a looking glass and a druggist pot.

Some advertisements deployed typography or ornamental printing to distinguish them from others, yet they still consisted entirely of text and type. Including a woodcut helped some advertisers to even further differentiate their notices as a means of drawing attention to the goods and services they offered to prospective customers.

October 6

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

Oct 6 - 10:6:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 6, 1768).

“Encouraging all our own Manufactures.”

Shopping became an increasingly political act during the years of the imperial crisis that culminated with the American Revolution. As a means of resisting Parliament’s attempts to overstep its authority, colonists joined nonimportation agreements in the 1760s, first in response to the Stamp Act and later in response to the Townshend Act. They hoped to apply economic pressure to achieve political goals, drafting English merchants harmed by the boycotts to advocate on their behalf. At the same time, colonists also envisioned that “domestic manufactures” would reduce their dependence on goods imported from Britain. In the late 1760s advertisers increasingly addressed this public discourse as they devised “Buy American” campaigns in their advertisements.

Much of Benjamin Jackson and John Gibbons’s advertisement for their “Mustard and Chocolate Store” in Philadelphia expressed such concerns. The partners acknowledged that “there now seems a noble and magnanimous Disposition diffused, and daily diffusing itself more and more, amongst the British Colonies in America, of encouraging all our own Manufactures.” Jackson and Gibbons joined in that call. Because they were “desirous to contribute thereto all in their Power as Individuals,” they proclaimed that they sold their “flour of Mustard … at very low Profits by Wholesale Quantities.” They considered it their civic obligation to make their product as affordable as possible, even if that meant less profit for their own business. In turn, they hoped that this would “induce the true patriotic Merchants, Masters of Vessels, &c. trading to and from New-York, Boston, West Indies, Halifax, &c. to favour them with their Orders.” Jackson and Gibbons did their part, but the scheme depended on others, especially those who supplied “Flour of Mustard” to other colonies, participating as well. If they did, Jackson and Gibbons imagined their plan “would be a Means of annually vending some, perhaps several Hundred, Bushels of Mustard-seed, that might be raised here with little Trouble, and be as a net Gain to the Province.” That would shift the balance of trade that previously favored England. Even a “trifling article” like mustard could have a significant impact on commerce and, in turn, politics if enough suppliers and consumers opted for a product produced in the colonies.

Furthermore, Jackson and Gibbons directly addressed the provisions of the Townshend Act later in the advertisement. “For the Sake of those that are not inclined to encourage the Duty on Glass,” the partners had acquired “a Quantity of neat Earthen Jars” to package their wares. This had the advantage of “helping out own Earthen Ware” industry while depriving Parliament of revenues from the taxes placed on imported glassware. This also yielded additional savings for consumers since the earthenware jars cost “One Shilling per Dozen cheaper than Glass.” The partners still offered “neat Glass Bottles, as usual,” as an option, but they encouraged consumers to make decisions that reduced the demand for those containers.

Jackson and Gibbons made many of their customary appeals to price and quality in their lengthy advertisement, but they also devoted significant space to convincing potential customers – consumers, wholesalers, and retailers – about the political ramifications of their commercial decisions. They offered a means for “true patriotic” colonists to follow through on the rhetoric so often expressed in conversation and in the news and editorial items that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.

August 22

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

Aug 22 - 8:22:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Green and Russell
Massachusetts Gazette [Green & Russell] (August 22, 1768).
Norwich Stage-Coach.”

As the summer of 1768 drew to a close, David Greenleaf established a new “Stage-Coach” line between Norwich, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island. The stagecoach made one trip each week, covering a distance of almost fifty miles in each direction. Passengers could depart “from the House of Mr. AZARIAH LOTHROP, in Norwich” on Wednesday mornings and arrive at “the House of Dr. SAMUEL CAREW, at the Sign of the Traveller, in Providence” later in the day. The stagecoach made the return trip on Thursdays. Greenleaf saw to the comfort of the travelers who availed themselves of this new service, providing an “elegant STAGE-COACH” drawn by “four good Horses.” To make the trip as speedy as possible, Greenleaf also arranged for “four spare ones … to exchange on the Road.” In addition, he carefully selected the terminals for this new stagecoach line. Lothrop and Carew both offered “the best Entertainment” for passengers while they waited to make the journey. Greenleaf made the entire journey an experience, promising that “Ladies and Gentlemen will be treated in the kindest Manner.”

Greenleaf made a significant investment in this venture. He implicitly said as much in his description of the new stagecoach and the many horses. He more explicitly made the point when he argued that since “this new and useful Undertaking has been attended with a great Expence” that he hoped “it will meet with proper Encouragement from the Publick.” Advertising in the Massachusetts Gazette added to his Greenleaf’s expenses, but he certainly expected a return on that investment. To increase the effectiveness of his advertisement, he needed to increase the likelihood that readers would notice it. To that end, he incurred the extra expense of commissioning a woodcut that depicted a stagecoach drawn by four horses. The image also included a driver with a whip guiding the horses and a passenger peering out from the stagecoach. Compared to other woodcuts that accompanied advertisements, Greenleaf’s image was detailed and well executed. The vignette would have been difficult for readers of the Massachusetts Gazette to overlook. The quality of his coach and service did not matter if prospective customers did not know that the “Norwich Stage-Coach” existed. Enhancing the advertisement with a notable woodcut helped to bring Greenleaf’s new venture to the attention of colonists who planned to travel between Norwich and Providence and beyond.

July 12

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

Jul 12 - 7:12:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 12, 1768).

“At WEYMAN’s Looking-Glass Shop.”

Edward Weyman’s advertisements for his “Looking-Glass Shop in Church-street” in Charleston were easily recognizable when they appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In addition to using to his surname as a headline, Weyman included an image of a looking glass mounted in an elaborately carved frame. While Weyman’s woodcut certainly was not a sophisticated engraving, the processes of remediating the image over the years – photography and digitization – likely make it appear more crude than it looked to colonists who read the newspaper when it was first published or even to modern researchers who consult original copies in libraries and archives rather than the digital surrogates more widely accessible in the twenty-first century. This process is compounded when printing images from the digital ones, a process that tends to create even darker and denser images. In other words, Weyman’s woodcut may look like a dark mass to modern eyes, but that is contingent in part on the format in which it is presented for our consumption. Eighteenth-century viewers would have seen a crisper image. They would have more easily noticed the lines and details that do not translate well via subsequent remediation. It remains important not to overstate the quality of this and other woodcuts, but at the same time we should avoid denigrating them as excessively crude unnecessarily.

Besides, Weyman’s woodcut served its purpose. Other than the masthead, only three images appeared in the July 12, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Two of them were stock images that belonged to the printer: a woodcut of a house that accompanied a real estate advertisement and a woodcut of a slave that accompanied a fugitive advertisement. Weyman’s woodcut of a looking glass was the only one commissioned by the advertiser, the only one used exclusively by a particular advertiser rather than interchangeably in advertisements of the corresponding genre. Weyman advertised frequently, making his woodcut a familiar image to regular readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In effect, it created a logo or a brand that readers could immediately identify. Its mere repetition over weeks and months, especially as an especially distinctive visual element, likely secured a place for Weyman in the minds of readers. Even if they did not need or want looking glasses when they glimpsed his advertisements, they were likely to remember his workshop when they were in the market to make such purchases.

June 26

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

Jun 26 - 6:23:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 23, 1768).

“The BUNCH of GRAPES.”

When Josiah F. Davenport opened the Bunch of Grapes inn and tavern in Philadelphia in the late spring of 1768 he placed advertisements in newspapers published in both New York and Philadelphia, alerting travelers and local residents alike to the many entertainments and amenities he provided. Davenport’s first advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle included a woodcut that presumably depicted the sign that marked the location of his establishment: a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. Such a specialized woodcut, specific to Davenport’s business, certainly enhanced the advertisement and increased the probability that it would attract the attention of potential patrons, but it was also an additional expense. Unlike the woodcuts of horses, houses, ships, and slaves that were part of any newspaper printer’s collection of type, other woodcuts that appeared in eighteenth-century advertisements belonged to the advertisers who had commissioned them.

Such was the case with Davenport’s woodcut that replicated his sign. He likely considered it an important investment when it came to building his brand, especially since the Bunch of Grapes occupied an inn “for some time known by the name of the BULL’s HEAD.” The success of his new enterprise depended in part on those previously familiar with the former tavern now associating the same location with the Bunch of Grapes. Both the sign and the woodcut aided in strengthening his brand recognition among residents of Philadelphia he hoped would visit his “genteel HOUSE of ENTERTAINEMNT … for the best fare and civilest treatment,” whether they gathered for “business or recreation.”

Yet there were limits to how much Davenport considered necessary to invest in visual representations of his brand. He did not commission separate woodcuts to accompany his advertisements that appeared in newspapers published in Philadelphia. Instead, he had one woodcut that first accompanied his advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle before reappearing in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette. A notch or indentation in the upright portion of the signpost confirms that Davenport shuttled a single woodcut between printing offices. He was not the only advertiser who made that choice. In New York, Gerardus Duyckninck inserted his elaborate woodcut in multiple newspapers, one after the other in succession. Although an effective means of making advertisements distinctive, woodcuts incurred additional expenses. Some advertisers who commissioned them attempted to maximize the returns on their investments by rotating them through several newspapers.