July 22

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 22, 1771).

“DUTCH FANS, upon different constructions.”

Yesterday’s entry featured an advertisement for “ROLLING SCREENS for Cleaning Wheat or Flax-seed” placed in the July 18, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal by Christian Fiss.  That advertisement was notable for the image that accompanied it, a woodcut depicting a winnowing fan (better known as a “DUTCH FAN” in the eighteenth century) for separating the wheat from the chaff.  Printers provided several stock images of ships, horses, houses, indentured servants, and enslaved people for advertisers to incorporate into their notices, but not other images with more limited usage.  Instead, advertisers like Fiss commissioned woodcuts specific to their businesses when they wanted to draw greater attention to their newspaper notices.

At the same time that Fiss included an image of a winnowing fan in an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, one of his competitors, Robert Parrish, pursued the same strategy in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Fiss divided the space in his advertisement more or less evenly between image and text, but Parrish devoted more space to images than to his description of the “various kinds of wire work” he made.  In addition to a woodcut depicting a winnowing fan, he included a second woodcut of a rolling screen.  That represented even greater expense for his marketing efforts, but Parrish presumably believed that investing in such images would result in more sales and the woodcuts would pay for themselves in the end.

Parrish previously included his woodcut depicting a winnowing fan in an advertisement in the October 29, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  He may have chosen to resume running advertisements that included that image upon seeing Fiss publish advertisements with a similar image.  Having made the initial investment, he did not want to lose any advantage once a competitor commissioned a woodcut of his own.  Not long after that, he collected his woodcuts from the Pennsylvania Chronicle and delivered them to the Pennsylvania Gazette to include in an advertisement with identical copy on October 15.  Unlike the stock images that printers provided, such specialized images belonged to the advertisers, who could choose to insert them in more than one newspaper.  Parrish sought to increase the exposure, achieve a greater return on his investment, and ward off a rival by inserting the images in more than one newspaper.

July 21

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

Pennsylvania Journal (July 18, 1771).

“ROLLING SCREENS for Cleaning Wheat or Flax-seed.”

Christian Fiss devoted half of the space in his advertisement in the July 18, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal to a depiction of a rolling screen for cleaning wheat and flaxseed.  That woodcut almost certainly garnered attention from readers since it was one of the few images in that issue.  Woodcuts adorned only three other advertisements, each of them showing nearly identical vessels at sea.  The printers provided those stock images to advertisers seeking freight and passengers.  On the other hand, Fiss commissioned an image specific to the “ROLLING SCREENS,” “DUTCH FANS,” and “various kinds of WIRE-WORK” he made at his shop.  That woodcut appeared exclusively in his advertisements; other artisans who made similar items did not have access to it when they placed notices of their own.

Although the vast majority of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements did not feature any sort of image, woodcuts commissioned by individual entrepreneurs did appear with some regularity.  Did the frequency change over time?  Did advertisers become more likely to use combinations of words and unique images to promote their products?  Did they become more likely to use images as brands or logos to make their advertisements more distinctive and their businesses more memorable?  I believe that the answer to each of those questions is “yes,” but I also caution that this is merely an impression at this point rather than based on tabulating the number of specialized images incorporated into advertisements.  When I compiled an archive of American newspapers published in 1771 that have since been digitized, I noticed what seemed to be a greater frequency of images commissioned by advertisers compared to the late 1760s.  This merits further investigation to chart the evolution of graphic design in early American advertising.  Throughout the eighteenth century, advertisers resorted primarily to text to deliver messages to prospective customers, but it also appears that over time greater numbers of advertisers experimented with visual images and invested in iconography associated with their businesses.  As advertisers continued to encourage colonists to participate in a transatlantic consumer revolution, the early 1770s may have been a turning point in the development of advertisements that utilized unique images.

June 30

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 27, 1771).

“THE CARPENTERS ARMS.”

The woodcut that adorned the upper left corner of Samuel Caruthers’s advertisement demanded attention from readers, perhaps making it well worth the investment.  Three compasses appeared within an ornate cartouche, itself enclosed within a simple square border with “THE CARPENTERS ARMS” across the top.  In the advertising copy, Caruthers advised readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that he no longer operated a hardware shop but instead returned to making tools for carpenters.

The visual image made his advertisement unique among those in the June 27, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Only five advertisements included woodcuts of any kind; the other four all featured images of ships at sea, each announcing the upcoming departure of one vessel or another and seeking passengers and freight.  The printers, David Hall and William Sellers, supplied those woodcuts to the advertisers, drawing from stock images that most colonial printers kept on hand.  Those images could be used interchangeably.  It did not matter whether a ship set sail for Charleston, Dublin, or London.  Similarly, most printers also had woodcuts depicting houses (but not any particular house), horses, indentured servants running away (but not any particular indentured servant), enslaved people for sale (but not any particular enslaved person), and enslaved people liberating themselves (but not any particular fugitive from slavery). Each generic image corresponded to a common kind of advertisement that ran in colonial newspapers; the lack of specific details made these woodcuts appropriate to accompany any advertisement from the genre they represented.

On the other hand, Caruthers published an advertisement with an image specific to his business, making his notice both more visible on a page that consisted almost entirely of text and more memorable for the uniqueness of the image.  Caruthers incurred additional expense in commissioning a woodcut for “THE CARPENTERS ARMS,” but the image testified to his skill in creating all sorts of planes, saws, and other edged tools.  The rococo cartouche, reminiscent of those that appeared on trade cards that circulated in London and, to a lesser extent, Philadelphia and other major American port cities, enhanced his claims to “long experience” by presenting him as an accomplished craftsman rather than a mere mechanic.  Associating such a genteel image with tools suggested quality and a positive reputation, characteristics that Caruthers likely believed would resonate with fellow artisans.  Incorporating baroque images into advertisements was not a strategy reserved for merchants, shopkeepers, tailors, and milliners marketing their wares and services to the better sorts.  Instead, advertisers like Caruthers suspected that such images engaged customers from other backgrounds looking to purchase tools for earning a living.

May 20

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

Boston-Gazette (May 20, 1771).

UMBRILLOES.”

A brief advertisement in the May 20, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette informed readers of “ALL Sorts of UMBRILLOS, made in the neatest Manner, and very cheap, to be sold at the Golden Cock, Marlboro’ Street, Boston—Where Ladies may have their own Silk made into Umbrillos, or old Umbrillos mended.”  That advertisement likely garnered less attention than the one placed by competitor Isaac Greenwood in the same issue of the Boston-Gazette.  As part of his marketing campaign, Greenwood used graphic design to his advantage.

Like many other advertisers, Greenwood led with a headline, in this case “UMBRILLOES” in capitals, italics, and a slightly larger font.  He paired the headline with a visual image depicting a woman holding an umbrella.  A close view of the woman, it included only her head and shoulders, thus allowing readers to see that she wore a necklace and had an elaborate hairstyle.  The umbrella contributed to her aura of refinement.  The entire umbrella was not visible; instead, it extended beyond the frame of the image, suggesting that the amount of protection it provided from sun or rain could not be fully represented in the image.  More importantly, this also communicated that a woman who carried an umbrella would occupy a greater amount of both physical and visual space.  That, in turn, meant greater notice by observers.  As a fashionable accoutrement, an umbrella enhanced a genteel woman’s image or even a young girl’s image.  Greenwood proclaimed that “Ladies may be supplied with all Sizes, so small as to suit Misses of 6 or 7 Years of Age.”  As Kate Haulman explains, umbrellas appeared in England and its American colonies in the 1760s, “stylistic spoils of empire hailing from India,” but many critics considered umbrellas “effeminate, appropriate only for use by women.”[1]  Note that both advertisements positioned women and girls as the primary consumers of umbrellas or parasols, the decidedly feminine counterpart.

Carrying an umbrella, the entire concept an exotic import in the early 1770s, likely meant attracting attention.  Greenwood underscored that was the case with a visual image that undoubtedly drew notice, especially since so few newspaper advertisements featured visual images of any sort.  In depicting both an umbrella and the woman who carried it, Greenwood anticipated the fashion plate that became such an integral part of marketing in the nineteenth century.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 632.

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.