April 3

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

“RD. SAUSE. CUTLER.”

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery … or a means of capitalizing on a competitor’s marketing efforts.  On March 4, 1771, Bailey and Youle, cutlers from Sheffield, ran a newspaper advertisement notable for a woodcut that included their names and depictions of more than a dozen items available at their shop.  Four weeks later, another cutler, Richard Sause, inserted a strikingly similar advertisement in the same newspaper, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Like Bailey and Youle, his notice began with a woodcut that included his name and images of various items in his inventory.  He also listed those items and more, including “oyster knives, razors, scissors; pocket, pruning and pen knives; …[and] corkscrews.”  In addition to the assortment of merchandise represented in both image and text, Sause also stocked “sundry other things too tedious to mention.”

Sause further enhanced his woodcut by incorporating his name into the depictions of a table knife and a sword, a modification not present in Bailey and Youle’s image of their wares.  The table knife appeared in the upper left and the sword in the lower right, making it likely that viewers would encounter items branded with Sause’s name first and last as they glanced at the depictions of many kinds of cutlery.  Sause’s woodcut also featured a greater number of items, testifying to the many choices he offered to consumers.  In the copy that accompanied the image, he twice invoked variations of the phrase “other articles too tedious to mention,” deploying language not present in Bailey and Youle’s advertisement.  Using his competitor’s notice as a model, Sause devised improvement for his own.

It seems unlikely that Sause produced this advertisement without having seen the notice that Bailey and Youle placed in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Furthermore, whoever carved the original woodcut probably carved the second, given the similarities between several pieces of cutlery depicted in each.  Bailey and Youle continued running their advertisement when Sause’s notice first appeared, the similarities between the two all the more apparent because they were the only images that appeared anywhere in the April 1, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and its supplement, with the exception of the masthead.  When Bailey and Youle published an advertisement that increased their visibility in the marketplace, Sause took notice and shamelessly replicated their efforts.

Detail from Bailey and Youle’s advertisement, Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

March 4

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 4, 1771).

“All sorts of knives, razors, shears, and scissars.”

When Bailey and Youle, “Cutlers from Sheffield,” advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in March 1771, a visual image distinguished their notice from others.  They devoted approximately one-third of the space in their advertisement to a woodcut that may have depicted the sign that marked the location of their shop.  A border contained their names and occupation as well as images of a razor, a knife, an awl, scissors, and a variety of other cutlery that they made and sold at their shop “NEAR THE Merchant’s COFFEE-HOUSE.”  That image represented an investment in their marketing efforts.  First, they had to commission a woodcut connected directly to their business.  Then, since newspaper printers charged by the amount of space advertisements filled rather than the number of words, they had to pay for the additional space required to include the woodcut.  That alone made their advertisement half again more expensive than if they had inserted only the copy with no image.

Was it worth the additional expense?  Bailey and Youle may have impressed prospective customers with their unique image.  The depictions of so many different kinds of cutlery underscored the range of choices in the list of merchandise that followed.  The woodcut almost certainly attracted notice and drew attention to their advertisement.  Consider its placement in the March 4, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the first issue that carried it.  Bailey and Youle’s advertisement ran on the third page in a standard issue created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  If readers perused the interior of the newspaper by holding the second and third pages open, Bailey and Youle’s woodcut would have been the only visual image they encountered among two pages of dense text in both news accounts and advertisements.  If they folded the pages over and viewed only one at a time, the woodcut in Bailey and Youle’s advertisement still would have been the only visual image visible.  Only three other images appeared elsewhere in that edition, one in the masthead as usual and two much smaller depictions of ships at sea that accompanied advertisements for passage and freight on the last page.

Bailey and Youle made appeals to consumer choice twice over in their advertisement.  Like many other purveyors of goods, they provided an extensive list of their merchandise.  In addition, however, their woodcut also cataloged the many cutlery items they offered for sale.  Text and image reinforced each other in making overtures to consumers.

February 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 14, 1771).

“HART and PATTERSON … opened a VENDUE-STORE.”

Unlike the vast majority of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements composed primarily of text, a visual image dominated the notice that Hart and Patterson placed in the February 14, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal to announce that they “opened a VENDUE-STORE, in Front-street, below the Draw-bridge.”  The partners pledged that “ALL those who please to favour them with their custom, may depend on their best endeavours to render satisfaction,” but a woodcut depicting a hand holding a bell enclosed in a frame occupied far more space than the copy of the advertisement.  With the exception of the masthead, Hart and Patterson’s notice featured the only visual image in that edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Both its size and its uniqueness surely demanded attention from readers.

When images did accompany newspaper advertisements, they were usually a fraction of the size of Hart and Patterson’s woodcut.  They tended to depict ships at sea, houses, horses, and enslaved people, a small number of standard images that could adorn any relevant advertisement.  Printers provided those woodcuts for advertisers interested in including them in their notices.  For other images, those associated with specific businesses, advertisers commissioned woodcuts that then belonged to them.  Such woodcuts often replicated shop signs or represented some aspect of the business featured in the advertisement.  For Hart and Patterson, the hand and bell suggested that they vigorously called attention to the items available for sale and auction after their “VENDUE-STORE.”

The previous publication history of that woodcut makes clear that it belonged to the advertisers rather than printers of the Pennsylvania Journal.  A year earlier, Hart included it in an advertisement he placed in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on January 8, 1770.  Irregularities in the border, perhaps due to damage sustained from making so many impressions on a hand-operated press, demonstrate that the same woodcut appeared in both newspapers.  Hart originally provided it to William Goddard and Benjamin Towne, the printers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but later reclaimed it.  After Hart formed a new partnership with Patterson, the auctioneers supplied William Bradford and Thomas Bradford with the woodcut when they submitted their advertising copy to the Pennsylvania Journal.

A year after first including the woodcut in an advertisement, Hart aimed to achieve a greater return on the investment he made in commissioning it.  He used the image of the hand and bell once again when he launched a new advertising campaign after embarking on a new enterprise with a new partner.  That the woodcut ran in a different newspaper than the one that first published it demonstrates that advertisers, not printers, usually owned any specialized images that appeared in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.

December 9

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

South-Carolina Gazette (December 6, 1770).

“Hopes he may meet with Encouragement from those who are Well-wishers to the MANUFACTURES of THIS Province.”

For several years in the 1760s and 1770s, silversmith Thomas You operated a workshop at the Sign of the Golden Cup in Charleston.  According to his newspaper advertisements, that does not seem to have been a fixed location.  Instead, the sign moved with You, serving as both marker and brand for his business.  For a time in the mid 1760s, the Sign of the Golden Cup had adorned his workshop on Meeting Street, but in 1770 it marked his location on Queen Street.  You also updated the iconography in his advertisements.  He was one of the few advertisers in Charleston who enhanced his notices with images related directly to his business.  He previously included a woodcut that depicted a smith at work at an anvil.  That image gave way to a cup that corresponded to the sign that identified his shop.  Consumers now saw similar images in the public prints and on the city streets when they encountered You’s business.  You’s advertisement on the front page of the December 6, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette was the only one in the entire issue that incorporated an image other than a house, a ship, or an enslaved person.  Those stock images belonged to the printer rather than the advertiser.

The silversmith deployed this unique image to attract attention to an important message.  He called on “those who are Well-wishers to the MANUFACTURES of THIS Province” to employ him and purchase his wares.  In so doing, he joined the chorus of advertisers and others throughout the colonies who advocated for the production and consumption of “domestic manufactures” as alternatives to goods imported from Britain.  Such measures boosted local economies and addressed a trade imbalance, but they also served a political purpose at a time when Parliament sought to regulate commerce and charge duties on imported goods.  Most of duties from the Townshend Acts had been repealed earlier in the year, but the one on tea still remained in place.  Even though most towns suspended their nonimportation agreements in the wake of that news, colonists continued to debate whether they should have done so since Parliament did not capitulate to all of their demands.  A notice at the top of the same page that carried You’s advertisement advised that “The GENERAL COMMITTEE desire a FULL MEETING of the SUBSCRIBERS to the RESOLUTIONS of this Province, at the LIBERTY-TREE” to discuss “IMPORTANT MATTERS.”   You did not need to go into greater detail when he expressed his “hopes he may meet with Encouragement from those who are Well-wishers to the MANUFACTURES of THIS Province.”  Such appeals were part of a discourse widely circulating and broadly understood among prospective customers.

October 21

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

New-York Journal (October 18, 1770).

“The Medley of Goods Sold by G DUYCKINCK.”

Few visual images adorned advertisements published in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Most of those that did appear depicted ships at sea (for freight and passage or imported goods), houses (for real estate), horses (for breeding), enslaved people (for sale or fleeing from bondage), or indentured servants (running away before their contracts expired).  These stock images, which belonged to the printers, were used interchangeably with any advertisement from the appropriate genre.  Far fewer advertisements featured unique images created expressly to represent a particular business, depicting particular merchandise or the shop sign that marked the location.  In those cases, advertisers commissioned the woodcuts and retained exclusive use of them.  Most were fairly modest, making Gerardus Duyckinck’s large and elaborate woodcut all the more notable and memorable.

Duyckinck operated a shop known as the “UNIVERSAL STORE” for its broad assortment of merchandise available to consumers.  He also referred to his inventory as “The Medley of Goods.”  Located at the “Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot” in New York, Duyckinck sold his wares “Wholesale and Retail.”  His woodcut featured an intricate rococo border that enclosed most of the copy for his advertisements, though he usually inserted a couple of lines of introductory material above it.  The copy within the border changed regularly.  A “Druggist Pot” sat at the top of the border and a “Looking Glass” with an ornate frame took up one-third of the space within the border, those two items replicating the shop sign that alerted prospective customers they had reached their destination.  The graphic design resembled the borders and other images that decorated trade cards distributed frequently by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans in London and less often by their counterparts in the American colonies.  The image testified to taste and gentility, suggesting that these qualities were transferable to consumers who purchased goods from Duyckinck.

This ornate border and the lists of goods it enclosed appeared in the New-York Journal regularly in the late 1760s and into the 1770s.  Duyckinck first published it on October 29, 1767.  Three years later, it became a familiar sight to subscribers and other readers of the New-York Journal.  Even as other advertisements cycled through that newspaper, many running for the standard four weeks specified in the colophon before being discontinued, Duyckinck’s rococo border was present for weeks and months, the copy updated but the visual image remaining the same.  Other advertisers, such as staymaker Richard Norris and shopkeeper John Keating, invested in advertising campaigns that extended over months rather than weeks.  Their notices often ran on the same page as Duyckinck’s advertisement, as was the case in the October 18, 1770, edition, but they did not have visual elements that made them instantly recognizable.  No matter which other advertisements appeared alongside Duyckinck’s notice, his attracted attention due its striking image.  Prospective customers did not have to read the advertisement to know that Duyckinck made an assortment of goods available for purchase.  The repetition of such a memorable woodcut over the course of several years was a marketing strategy in and of itself.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:7:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 7, 1770).

“SICKLES, ready prepared for the Harvest.”

As summer approached in 1770, James Hendricks announced to readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that he had “ONE HUNDRED and Twenty DOZEN of SICKLES, ready prepared for the Harvest.”  Hendricks volunteered his location, “the Sign of the Sickle, the 4th Door above the Prison, in Market-street,” and made some of the standard appeals that colonial artisans incorporated into their advertisements.  He emphasized the skill that went into producing his wares, asserting that “these Sickles are carefully made.”  He made an appeal to price, declaring that the sickles “will be sold at the lowest Rates.”  He also highlighted the quality of the sickles, proclaiming that they were “ensured to be good.”  While Hendricks might have considered that a guarantee, he did not explicitly state that he would repair or replace defective items, a strategy sometimes adopted by artisans as a means of testifying to quality.

The most significant attribute, certainly the most visible, of Hendrick’s advertisement, however, may very well have been the woodcut depicting a sickle.  It accounted for half of the space that the advertisement occupied on the page.  Given that advertisers paid by the amount space rather than the number of words, including this visual image doubled the cost of the advertisement.  In addition, Hendricks commissioned the woodcut.  That expense more than doubled the cost of running his notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Yet this distinguished his advertisement from others that appeared on the same page and throughout the rest of the issue.  In the June 7 edition, only one other advertisement featured a visual image.  A woodcut of a ship at sea adorned an advertisement for a vessel preparing to sail for London.  The other advertisements consisted entirely of text, most of them dense paragraphs that did not have anywhere near the amount of white space that made Hendrick’s sickle especially noticeable in contrast.  While this woodcut may not seem elaborate to modern eyes, eighteenth-century readers could not have overlooked it when perusing the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Hendricks used the visual image to draw attention to the copy of his advertisement, the brief description of his wares and recitation of some of the most common marketing appeals.

May 3

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

May 3 - 5:3:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Postscript Extraordinary to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 3, 1770).

“The Sign of the Hunting-Side-Saddle.”

A striking image of a saddle embellished Elias Botner’s advertisement in the Postscript Extraordinary to the Pennsylvania Gazette published on May 3, 1770.  The woodcut announced Botner’s occupation before readers had a chance to peruse the advertising copy that described “GENTLEMENS English, hunting, full welted and plain, Hogskin, Buckskin, and Neats Leather, seated SADDLES,” “Ladies hunting Side-Saddles,” and all kinds of accessories.  Inserting this image represented a significant investment for Botner.  He had to commission the woodcut that corresponded to his business and would not be used in any other advertisements, plus he had to pay for the space that it occupied on the printed page.  Eighteenth-century advertisers paid by the amount of space required for their notices, not the number of words.  The image of the saddle nearly doubled the amount of space for Botner’s advertisement.

The saddler quite likely considered it worth the investment.  His saddle was the only visual image on either page of the Postscript Extraordinary, drawing the eye away from the dense text that constituted both news and every other advertisement.  Including an image was itself extraordinary in the various parts of the May 3 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  The standard four-page issue featured only two images, the shield that adorned the masthead on the front page and a generic image of a ship that accompanied a notice about a ship preparing to depart for Bristol.  In the two-page Supplement, another woodcut of a ship appeared in another notice about a ship sailing for Bristol.  Both images of ships belonged to the printer and could be deployed interchangeably in advertisements concerning maritime trade.  Over the course of the eight pages that constituted the standard issue, the Supplement, and the Postscript Extraordinary, readers encountered only four images.  Botner’s saddle was the only one that would have been unique or unexpected.  As a result, it may have been just as effective as (or even more effective than) his description of hjs goods or his promises of customer service in attracting the attention of prospective customers.

January 8

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

Jan 8 1770 - 1:8:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 8, 1770).

“Hart’s Vendue Store.”

Relatively few eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements featured visual images. Most that did relied on woodcuts of ships, houses, horses, or people that belonged to the printer for repeated use in various advertisements, but some advertisers did commission woodcuts that appeared exclusively in their notices. Oftentimes such woodcuts depicted their shop signs, creating consistent marketing iconography, but that was not always the case. Whether or not tied to shop signs, unique woodcuts stood to attract more attention to advertisements than they would have garnered without visual images.

Readers of the January 8, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle could hardly have overlooked the advertisement for an auction house, Hart’s Vendue Store, with its exceptionally large woodcut depicting a hand ringing a bell enclosed in a frame. Even though it was not the only visual image, it dominated the page, in large part due to its size. The woodcut occupied more space than the copy for the advertisement! The frame formed a square with the length of each side the same as the width of the column in which the advertisement ran. Woodcuts that the printer supplied, including one of a ship in the advertisement immediately to the left of the one for Hart’s Vendue Store, were much smaller icons. They usually appeared in the upper left corner of advertisements, with copy to the right and continuing below. In featuring such a large visual image, Hart invested not only in commissioning the woodcut but also in the space required to publish it in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. It more than doubled the amount of space filled by the advertisement. Hart may have considered it very well worth the investment if the woodcut managed to distinguish his advertisement and attract bidders to his auction house. Footman and Jeyes placed an advertisement for their “New VENDUE-STORE” on the same page. It lacked visual images. Indeed, the entire advertisement filled the same amount of space as Hart’s woodcut alone.

In the process of mobilizing a visual image, Hart’s advertisement may have engaged readers in other ways as well. Did colonists hear the ringing of the bell when they saw the woodcut? Did they imagine someone walking through the streets of Philadelphia proclaiming that they should visit Hart’s Vendue Store and participate in “the Sales of a large and very neat ASSORTMENT of Merchandize” on Tuesday afternoon? Did the woodcut evoke some of the sounds of the colonial city, prompting readers to imagine that they were already part of the sales that would soon take place?

No other advertisement in that issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle compared to the notice for Hart’s Vendue Store. The image of the hand and bell may look crude by model standards, but the size of the woodcut and its inclusion in the advertisement at all would have been notable to colonial readers.

December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:4:1769 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (December 4, 1769).

“Stage-Waggons.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers featured few visual images. Many had some sort of device in the masthead, but usually delivered the news unadorned. Advertisements sometimes included images, but those were the exception rather than the rule. Those that did have woodcuts relied on stock images that belonged to the printer, primarily ships for notices about vessels preparing to depart, horses for advertisements about breeding, houses for real estate notices, and men or women fleeing for advertisements about apprentices and indentured servants who ran away or enslaved people who escaped. Such woodcuts were used interchangeably for advertisements from the appropriate genre. Other images that accompanied advertisements usually appeared because advertisers commissioned a woodcut specific to their business, either replicating their shop signs or depicting their most notable products.

When Joseph Crane and Josiah F. Davenport turned to the pages of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy to advertise the stagecoach service they operated between New York and Philadelphia, they included a woodcut depicting a team of horses pulling a covered wagon. This was not one of the standard stock images, suggesting that Crane and Davenport had commissioned it for exclusive use in their advertisements. However, in their advertisements for “Stage-Waggons” that ran between New York and Philadelphia, John Mercereau and John Barnhill published what appeared to be the same image. This was not merely a case of using the woodcut in an advertisement that appeared on one page and then using it again in another advertisement on a page printed on the other side of the sheet. In the December 4, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, Crane and Davenport’s advertisement featuring the woodcut ran on the same page as Mercereau and Barnhill’s advertisement featuring the woodcut. They had to have been printed simultaneously, indicating that James Parker, the printer, possessed more than one woodcut depicting horses pulling wagons, just as he had multiple woodcuts of ships and houses. It seems unlikely that Crane and Davenport or Mercereau and Barnhill would have commissioned a woodcut that looked so nearly identical to one used by a competitor as to be indistinguishable. Apparently Parker’s collection of stock images was at least a little bit larger than the frequent reiteration of the most common woodcuts suggested. That did not, however, significantly alter the frequency of visual images accompanying either news or advertising in his newspaper. His publication, like other colonial newspapers, consisted almost exclusively of text and a limited number of stock images. That made any visual image, but especially those seen infrequently, all the more notable.

Dec 4 - 12:4:1769 Woodcuts New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (December 4, 1769).

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.