May 3

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

Providence Gazette (May 2, 1772).

“At the Sign of the GREYHOUND.”

In the spring of 1772, Nathaniel Wheaton advertised a “fine Assortment of Spring and Summer GOODS” that he recently imported to Providence “by the last Vessels from England.”  He pledged to sell these items “cheaper than he has yet done,” promising bargains for prospective customers.  To attract attention to his appeals to consumer choice, that “fine assortment,” and low prices, those low prices, he adorned his advertisement in the Providence Gazette with an image of a dog.  He gave his location as “the Sign of the GREYHOUND, between the Baptist Meeting-House and the Church,” suggesting that the woodcut was intended to depict a greyhound.  Readers may not have recognized the breed at a glance.

Despite the image’s shortcomings, it enhanced Wheaton’s marketing efforts.  It was the only woodcut incorporated into an advertisement in the May 2, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Elsewhere in the issue, only the masthead featured an image.  That almost certainly made readers take note of Wheaton’s advertisement, especially considering that most others consisted of dense paragraphs of text.  In addition, the image contributed to creating a brand for Wheaton, giving his business a visual identity that colonizers encountered in more than one place.  They saw his sign when they traversed the streets of Providence and they glimpsed his advertisements in the Providence Gazette.  Wheaton may have also distributed broadsides, handbills, trade cards, or billheads that also bore an image purported to be a greyhound.

Other advertisers mentioned their shop signs.  Thurber and Cahoon, for instance, announced that they did business at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES, in CONSTITUTION-STREET.”  Tillinghast and Holroyd ran a store “at the Sign of the ELEPHANT.”  Their advertisements hint at the rich visual culture associated with commerce in urban ports in eighteenth-century America.  For his part, Wheaton expanded that visual culture into the most common media of the era, newspapers, increasing the chances that prospective customers would peruse the copy of his advertisement.  Even if they did not, he gained greater visibility for his shop and name recognition than competitors who did not insert images with into their notices.

April 6

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 6, 1772).

“At the GOLDEN MORTAR … A compleat and fresh Assortment of Drugs & Medicines.”

Very few images appeared in the April 6, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  The masthead ran on the first page, as usual, featuring a cartouche with an ornate border enclosing an image of a crown suspended over a heart.  Immediately below, the colophon stated that the newspaper was “Printed by THOMAS and JOHN FLEET, at the HEART and CROWN in Cornhill.”  Readers encountered only two other images in that issue, both of them adorning advertisements on the second page.  A woodcut depicting a ship at sea embellished a notice that announced the London would soon sail for London.  It helped draw attention to instructions for anyone interested in “Freight or Passage [to] apply to the Captain on board, or to Nath. Wheatley’s Store in King-Street.”

That woodcut belonged to the printers, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet.  The woodcut that accompanied Oliver Smith’s advertisement, however, did not.  It depicted a mortar and pestle, replicating Smith’s shop sign, “the GOLDEN MORTAR,” in the same way the image in the masthead represented the sign that marked the Fleets’ printing office.  The Fleets and other printers supplied a small number of woodcuts – ships at sea, houses, horses, enslaved people – for eighteenth-century advertisers to include in their newspaper notices.  If advertisers wished for specialized images associated exclusively with their businesses, they commissioned the woodcuts and provided them to the printers.  That also meant they could retrieve their woodcuts from one printing office and submit them to another.

Smith did so in the early 1770s.  His woodcut depicting a mortar and pestle enhanced an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in the fall of 1771.  More than half a year later, the same woodcut appeared in an advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post.  Not only did Smith attempt to widen his share of the market for “Drugs & Medicines” in Boston by advertising in multiple newspapers, he also sought to increase the visibility of the device associated with his shop.  The “GOLDEN MORTAR” served as a rudimentary trademark or brand that made his advertisements and his shop easy for consumers to identify.

February 10

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 10, 1772).

“ENGINES of all sorts for extinguishing of fire.”

Richard Mason constructed and sold “ENGINES of all sorts for extinguishing of fire” at his workshop in Philadelphia in the early 1770s.  In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he advised the public that he designed and built his engines “to answer every purpose for which they are calculated superior to those that are imported from London.”  Yet he did not expect readers simply to take his word for it.  Instead, he confided that “a very recent instance of the truth of their superiority hath been shewn to several persons well skilled in the principles of mechanic powers, who have given their approbation of them.”

To that end, Mason declared, “It hath been his chief aim to reduce friction as much as possible in these useful machines, in order thereby to make them as beneficial as possible towards the preservation of the persons and their properties.”  Reducing friction mattered because colonizers pumped these engines by hand after rolling them to the location of a fire.  An image that accompanied Mason’s advertisement depicted an engine shooting a stream of water at an unseen fire, but did not fully capture the number of people and the amount of labor required to operate it.  The wooden engine consisted of a pump enclosed within a tower mounted on a chassis.  Handles on either side of the tower worked the pump.  A leather hose fed the pump with water via a connection on the chassis.  Pumping the engine forced a stream of water to spray from an inflexible metal tube attached to the top of the tower.  As others worked the pump, an operator standing atop the tower manipulated the position of that tube, pointing it in the right direction and adjusting its position, in an effort to douse the fire.

Fire constituted a significant hazard in cities like Philadelphia with so many buildings made of wood crowded closely together.  Just a few years after Mason published his advertisement, a fire destroyed a large portion of New York.  Municipal fire departments did not yet exist.  Instead, colonizers formed their own companies.  Mason sought customers for his “ENGINES of all sorts for extinguishing of fire” among his fellow residents of Philadelphia rather than the local government.

Watch a brigade operate a replica of an eighteenth-century fire engine at Colonial Williamsburg.

January 27

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

Pennsylvania Packet (January 27, 1772).

“GEORGE BARTRAM’s WOOLLEN DRAPERY AND HOSIERY WAREHOUSE, At the Sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’s HEAD.”

Much of the content of George Bartram’s advertisement in the January 27, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packetresembled what appeared in notices placed by other merchants and shopkeepers.  Bartram informed prospective customers that he “Just imported … A very large Assortment” of textiles “from BRITAIN and IRELAND.”  He then listed a variety of fabrics to demonstrate the choices available to consumers.

In addition to providing an overview of his merchandise, Bartram deployed other means of making his business memorable.  For instance, he marked it with a sign that featured a distinctive device, advising prospective customers to visit “the Sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD” on Second Street.  Some colonial entrepreneurs used similar signs, but many did not.  Among the other advertisers in the January 27 edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, John Carnan, a jeweler, ran a shop “AT THE GOLDEN LION,” but Joseph Carson, Francis Hopkinson, William Miller, Alexander Power, John Sparhawk, Mary Symonds, and James Wallace did not mention signs that marked their locations.  Bartram further enhanced his advertisement with an image of a golden fleece’s head that may have replicated his shop sign.  Most advertisers who called attention to their signs did not make the additional investment in woodcuts.  Bartram apparently made the investment only once.  He ran an advertisement with the same copy, but no image, in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on the same day.

Bartram also gave his business a name, another marketing strategy adopted by relatively few advertisers in the eighteenth century.  Some merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans used their shop signs as the names for their businesses, but most advertisers did not give their businesses any sort of name.  Printers and booksellers were the most likely to name their businesses.  Although he did not have a sign with a distinctive device, Sparhawk called his shop the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” in his advertisement.  John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, advertised books available at the “NEWEST PRINTING-OFFICE.”  Among advertisers from other occupations, Bartram distinguished his shop from others by calling it “GEORGE BARTRAM’s WOOLLEN DRAPERY AND HOSIERY WAREHOUSE, At the Sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’s HEAD.”  He incorporated his own name, a sign, an image depicting that sign, and a name for his business into his advertisement, distinguishing it from others and making his endeavor more memorable.

December 12

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 12, 1771).

“Newest fashionable muffs, tippets and ermine.”

In the fall of 1771, furrier Fromberger and Siemon placed newspaper advertisement in their efforts to entice customers to visit their new shop on Market Street in Philadelphia.  They adopted several strategies that may have served them well, though their effectiveness may have been mitigated by an uneven rollout of the furriers’ advertising campaign.

Fromberger and Siemon commenced advertising in the Pennsylvania Journal in late September.  They incorporated a variety of appeals into their notice.  They informed customers that they catered to the latest tastes, stating that they carried “the newest fashionable muffs, tippets, and ermine, now worn by the ladies at the courts of Great Britain and France.”  They also called on consumers “to encourage their American manufacture” rather than purchase imported items.  In addition, the furriers sought to establish ongoing relationships with their customers by providing ancillary services.  Their customers could send their furs to Fromberger and Siemon to have them “taken care of gratis for the summer season.”  To draw attention to these various marketing strategies, the furriers adorned their advertisements with a woodcut depicting a muff and tippet.

That advertisement did not last long in the Pennsylvania Journal before it appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Fromberger and Siemon commissioned only one woodcut, so they arranged to have it transferred from one printing office to another.  Once again, their advertisement quickly lapsed.  They revived it in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 5, though without the woodcut.  The following week, it ran once again, this time with the image of the muff and tippet.  The woodcut made its way back to William Bradford and Thomas Bradford’s printing office.  On December 19, however, Fromberger and Siemon’s advertisement appeared once more without the image that made it so distinctive.  Why, after investing in the woodcut, did the furriers deploy it so haphazardly?  Was it a tradeoff against the expense of purchasing the additional space?  Did the printers play any role in deciding that they needed the space for other content?  What other factors played a role in how Fromberger and Siemon executed their advertising campaign?

November 3

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (October 31, 1771).

“THOMAS SHIELDS … at the Golden Cup and Crown.”

When Thomas Shields, a goldsmith, advertised his services in the October 31, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he adorned his notice with a depiction of a crown suspended above a cup.  That image corresponded to the sign that marked his location on Front Street in Philadelphia.  It also helped to distinguish his advertisement from others in the same issue.  Ten other notices incorporated images, but all of them featured woodcuts of vessels at sea.  Each of those advertisements sought passengers and freight for ships preparing to leave the busy port.

The images of the ships belonged to David Hall and William Sellers, the printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Along with stock images of houses, horses, enslaved people, and indentured servants, colonial printers provided images of ships to advertisers.  Those who desired more specialized images, on the other hand, commissioned them and retained ownership.  That being the case, some advertisers used their woodcuts in one newspaper for a while before transferring them to another newspaper.  At about the same time that Shields ran his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, James Cunning, a shopkeeper “At the sign of the SPINNING WHEEL,” supplied his woodcut of a spinning wheel to two other newspapers, first the Pennsylvania Journal and then the Pennsylvania Packet.  The notation at the end of Shields’s advertisement, “5 W,” indicated that he arranged for it to run for five weeks.  After that, he could collect his woodcut from Hall and Sellers and transfer it to another printing office.

I regularly choose these unique images that adorned newspaper advertisements when I select notices to feature on the Adverts 250 Project.  Relative to their numbers and frequency in the early American press, such images are overrepresented on this project, meriting a disclaimer that Shields’s advertisement and others with such images were not typical.  They do, however, testify to what was possible in eighteenth-century advertising and the choices that advertisers made when it came to format, incurring additional expenses, and placing notices in multiple newspapers.  In addition, the Adverts 250 Project has compiled an informal census of woodcuts that advertisers commissioned in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  After nearly six years producing the Adverts 250 Project, I get the impression (though this needs to be tested against a more systematic accounting) that the frequency of such images accelerated in the early 1770s, a sign that greater numbers of advertisers embraced the additional expense if those woodcuts garnered greater attention for their newspaper notices.

October 30

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

Pennsylvania Packet (October 28, 1771).

“JAMES CUNNING, At the sign of the SPINNING-WHEEL.”

When John Dunlap launched the Pennsylvania Packet on October 28, 1771, the first edition featured an astounding number of advertisements, enough that he distributed a supplement containing some of the news and advertising that did not fit in the standard issue.  Still, he did not print all of the advertisements submitted to his printing office.  Dunlap included a note that “Some Advertisements … are deferred till next week, when they shall be carefully regarded.”  Most colonial newspapers did not benefit from such an abundance of advertising in their inaugural issues.  Advertisers tended to wait to assess the success and circulation of new newspapers before investing in advertising that might not be seen by many readers.  Dunlap may have attracted so many advertisers because he announced in the subscription proposals that “The first Number shall be given gratis.”  Many advertisers may have assumed that free newspapers would result in high demand, at least for that first issue, making their own advertisements sound investments.

James Cunning, a merchant who did business “At the sign of the SPINNING WHEEL, in Third-street,” was among the advertisers who placed notices in the first issue of the Pennsylvania Packet.  He adorned his advertisement with an image of a spinning wheel, replicating the sign that marked his location.  That image, however, was not unique to the Pennsylvania Packet.  It previously appeared in advertisements Cunning placed in the Pennsylvania Journal on October 10 and October 17.  Colonial printers tended to supply stock images of ships, houses, horses, enslaved people, and indentured servants to advertisers, but advertisers who wished to publish other kinds of images had to commission woodcuts that then belonged to them, not the printers.  Three advertisements in the inaugural issue of the Pennsylvania Packet included images of ships at sea, but Cunning’s was the only advertisement with a specialized image keyed to his particular business.  To make that happen, he had to retrieve his woodcut of the spinning wheel from the printing office operated by William Bradford and Thomas Bradford at the corner of Front and Market Streets and deliver it, along with copy for his advertisement, to Dunlap’s “NEWEST PRINTING-OFFICE” on Market Street.  Already in the first issue of the Pennsylvania Packet, Dunlap participated in a longstanding practice of providing stock images for advertisers while also incorporating more specialized woodcuts that advertisers submitted with their copy.

October 21

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 21, 1771).

“The newest fashionable muffs [and] tippets.”

A woodcut depicting a muff and tippet adorned the advertisements that the partnership of Fromberger and Siemon placed in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal in the fall of 1771.  The advertisers did not rely on the image alone to market their “large assortment of Russia and Siberia fur skins” and garments made from those furs, but it almost certainly helped draw attention to their advertisements.  That woodcut also represented an additional expense.  Unlike the type used to print the copy in their notices, the woodcut belonged to the advertisers rather than the printers.  That being the case, Fromberger and Siemon collected their woodcut from one printing office and delivered it to another when they expanded their advertising campaign.

The furriers first inserted an advertisement in the September 26 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  It ran again the following week.  Nearly three weeks elapsed before the same advertisement appeared in the October 21 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  It featured identical copy, though the compositor made different decisions about line breaks, as well as the familiar woodcut that occupied nearly half the space allotted to the advertisement.  Careful examination of the image reveals that it was indeed the same woodcut, not a similar image.  Fromberger and Siemon commissioned only one woodcut, but they aimed to garner a greater return on their investment by disseminating it in more than one newspaper. For many readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the image would have been new and novel when they encountered it.  Those who also happened to peruse the Pennsylvania Journal, however, would have recognized the woodcut.  The repetition of the image likely helped Fromberger and Siemon achieve greater visibility for their enterprise.  Had they published it more regularly, they might have encouraged readers to consider the image a trademark of sorts, but their notices appeared too sporadically.  Although Fromberger and Siemon did not seize the opportunity to further enhance their marketing efforts through consistent repetition of the image of the muff and tippet in the fall of 1771, they did devise advertisements that stood out from others because of the woodcut that accompanied them.

September 26

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 26, 1771).

“The newest fashionable muffs.”

In the fall of 1771, the partnership of Fromberger and Siemon took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Journal to promote a “Very large assortment of Russia and Siberia fur skins” which they intended to make into muffs, tippets, and linings for cloaks.  They deployed a variety of marketing strategies to capture the attention of consumers in Philadelphia and its environs.

For instance, the partners informed readers that they sold “the newest fashionable muffs, tippets, and ermine, now worn by the ladies at the courts of Great Britain and France.”  Fromeberger and Siemon attempted to incite demand by educating their prospective clients.  Ladies who feared they were unfamiliar with the latest trends on the other side of the Atlantic as well as those who merely wanted to confirm that they had indeed kept up with the latest styles could visit Fromberger and Siemon’s shop to outfit themselves.

Even as the partners emphasized European tastes, they also promoted “American manufacture.”  In the process, they suggested to “the ladies” that they could play an important role in supporting the commercial and politic interests of the colonies in the wake of recent meddling by Parliament that had resulted in nonimportation agreements in response to the Stamp Act and the duties imposed on certain goods in the Townshend Acts.  All but the duty on tea had been repealed and merchants returned to importing vast arrays of goods, but some American entrepreneurs continued to advocate for “American manufacture.”  Consumers did not have to sacrifice quality when supporting those entrepreneurs, at least according to advertisers like Fromberger and Siemon who promised they made muffs and tippets “superior to that which is manufactured in England.”

In addition to those appeals, the partners also offered a free ancillary service to their customers.  “Ladies who purchase any manufactured furs of great value” could wear them in the fall, winter, and spring and then “send them to our manufactory” where they would “be taken care of gratis for the summer season.”  Fromberger and Siemon cultivated relationships with customers that did not end when making a sale but could instead continue for years as they assisted in the care and maintenance of expensive garments.

A woodcut depicting a muff and tippet may have drawn the attention to Fromberger and Siemon’s advertisement, but they did not rely on the visual image alone to market their wares.  Instead, they incorporated several appeals to “the ladies” they hoped would visit their shop, order garments, and make purchases.  They invoked current fashions in England and France, the importance of supporting “American manufacture,” and free services to convince readers to become customers.

September 19

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (September 19, 1771).

“To be Sold by OLIVER SMITH, at the Golden Mortar.”

Oliver Smith, an apothecary, promoted a variety of remedies in an advertisement in the September 19, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The headline proclaimed “Best double-distilled Lavender Water,” introducing the merchandise before naming the seller.  Several other advertisements featured the same structure, including one for “Choice Cheshire CHEESE” placed by Ellis Gray and another for “THE very best of fresh Orange JUICE” from John Crosby.  Most purveyors of goods and services, on the other hand, used their names as headlines for their advertisements, including Caleb Blanchard, William Jackson, John Langdon, Henry Lloyd, and Jonathan Trott.  Thomas Walley adopted both methods.  “Teneriff Wine” appeared as the first headline and then his name as a second one.

Smith’s headline helped to distinguish his notice from others, but another element of the advertisement did so even more effectively.  A woodcut depicting a mortar and pestle appeared in the upper left corner, drawing the eye of readers.  Except for the lion and unicorn in the masthead at the top of the first page, Smith’s woodcut was the only image in that issue and the supplement that accompanied it.  Further enhancing the apothecary’s marketing efforts, the woodcut corresponded to the sign that marked the location of his shop.  He advised prospective customers that they could purchase a variety of nostrums “at the Golden Mortar” on Cornhill.  Other advertisers mentioned shop signs, but did not commission woodcuts to adorn their notices.  Crosby, for instance, regularly advertised citrus fruit “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons” in the South End, but he did not include an illustration.

Advertisers typically paid for the amount of space their notice occupied, not the number of words.  In that regard, Smith and Crosby made similar investments in marketing their wares in the September 19 edition.  Smith, however, incurred additional expense for the woodcut, an investment that he presumably believed would pay for itself by resulting in more attention and more customers.