January 31

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

Jan 31 - 1:31:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 31, 1770).

“For SPAIN, PORTUGAL, LONDON … The SHIP MARY.”

Deciphering the copy in these advertisements may be difficult or even impossible, but the visual images remain as unmistakable in the twenty-first century as they would have been in the eighteenth century. A woodcut depicting a ship at sea adorned half a dozen advertisements, one following right after another, on the third page of the January 31, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. A similar but smaller fleet comprised of three vessels appeared on the first page of that issue. The pages of the newspaper replicated the scene that colonists glimpsed in Charleston’s busy harbor, vessels arriving from faraway ports and departing for new destinations throughout the Atlantic World. This visual imagery testified to the webs of exchange that crisscrossed the ocean and connected colonists in South Carolina to the rest of the continent, the Caribbean, England, mainland Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean, and beyond.

Both people and goods moved along those networks of exchange. Most of the notices featuring images of ships advertised “Freight or Passage.” Their captains stood ready to transport commodities cultivated in South America to markets on the other side of the Atlantic. Other advertisements listed vast assortments of consumer goods “imported in the last Vessels” from London, Bristol, and other English ports. Two advertisements on the same page as the larger flotilla featured images of enslaved men, women, and children, vivid reminders that not everyone who arrived in South Carolina migrated there voluntarily.

With their sails billowing and flags looking as if they were flapping in the wind, the woodcuts of the vessels at sea gave the appearance of motion. They testified to the bustling maritime traffic in one of the largest seaports in the colonies. They reminded readers of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that even as they went about their daily lives and worried about their deteriorating relationship with Parliament that their corner of the empire was part of vast networks of commercial and cultural exchange that extended throughout the Atlantic and far beyond. The shipping news from the customs house provided a list of ports for readers to peruse, but the visual images in the advertisements, all those ships at sea, conjured much more vivid images that connected colonists to faraway places around the Atlantic and even around the globe.

January 30

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

Jan 30 - 1:30:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 30, 1770).

“Valuable PLANTATION … THIRTY VALUABLE NEGROES.”

John Rose and Alexander Rose, administrators of the estate “of the deceased Dr. WILLIAM ROSE,” turned to the newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina, to announce the sale of the late doctor’s “valuable PLANTATION” as well as “About THIRTY VALUABLE NEGROES,” livestock, furniture, and tools. The Roses included visual images in their advertisements to help draw the attention of prospective buyers. Indeed, they included two woodcuts, one depicting a house and another an enslaved man, in their advertisement in the January 30, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. If they included a visual image at all, most advertisements featured only one, even in similar advertisements that offered both real estate and enslaved men, women, and children for sale.

The inclusion of two woodcuts seems not to have been a choice made by the compositor working independently at the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. The following day an advertisement with identical copy ran in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. It also included two woodcuts, one of a house and fields and another of several enslaved people. It was not a coincidence that the two advertisements each had more than one visual image. A notice with the same copy also ran in the February 1, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. It also had two woodcuts, one depicting a house and the other several enslaved people, both adults and children. The typography (fonts, fonts size, capitalization, italics) varied among the advertisements, but the copy was consistent, as was the inclusion of two visual images that set these advertisements apart from others. It seems clear that the Roses instructed each printing office that their notice must include both. Although the compositors made most of the decisions about the format of these advertisements, the Roses did exert some influence over the graphic design. They were certainly not the first or only advertisers to adopt this strategy for drawing attention to their notices, but they did experiment with an uncommon approach to visual images when they submitted the copy and specified that their advertisements must include two woodcuts rather than one or none.

January 19

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 19, 1769).

“For HOGS BRISTLES, Ready Money, and best Price, is given.”

Relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers featured visual images, making those that did particularly notable. Along with their type, many printers had a limited number of stock images to accompany certain kinds of advertisements, including houses for real estate notices, ships for notices about vessels seeking freight and passengers, and horses for notices offering stallions “to cover” mares. In addition, many printers also supplied nondescript depictions of people to accompany advertisements concerning runaway servants, runaway slaves, and enslaved men, women, and children for sale. Most of the time they matched the sex seen in the image with that of the subject of an advertisement, but not always. For each sort of image – houses, ships, horses, people – the woodcuts were used interchangeably in advertisements placed for the corresponding purpose. Any woodcut of a house could accompany a real estate notice. Any woodcut of an enslaved man could appear in a runaway advertisement.

Some shopkeepers and artisans, however, commissioned their own woodcuts to represent their businesses in the public prints. Those woodcuts belonged exclusively to the advertiser; they did not appear in any other notices. Sometimes they replicated a shop sign, as was the case with a woodcut of a mirror on a decorative stand and a bell enclosed in a frame in John Elliott’s advertisement that once again ran in the January 19, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Elliott directed prospective customers to “his Looking-glass store, the sign of the Bell and Looking-glass, in Walnut-street.” He also mentioned a second location “at the Three Brushes, in Second-Street,” but did not include an image of that shop sign. The “Bell and Looking-glass” had circulated so widely in Philadelphia’s newspapers that it served as Elliott’s iconic image.

In the same issue, John Wilkinson, a brushmaker, placed an advertisement dominated by a woodcut depicting a boar. The visual image occupied more than twice as much space as the copy of the advertisement, a stark contrast to the notices comprised solely of text, all of them densely formatted, on either side of Wilkinson’s advertisement. Wilkinson called on readers to provide him with “HOGS BRISTLES” that he could then use in making brushes of “all Sorts and Sizes.” His woodcut depicted the source of his materials rather than the final product. When it came to the copy of his advertisement, the brushmaker adopted a less-is-more approach, depending on the woodcut to attract attention and distinguish his advertisement from the dozens of others in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (May 16, 1768).

“BURROWS DOWDNEY … MAKES and repairs all Kinds od Clocks and Watches.”

 

When it came to advertising, watch- and clockmaker Burrows Dowdney was industrious, advertising in more than one newspaper published in Philadelphia in the late 1760s. Although he deployed fairly standard language to describe his services, pledging “the utmost care and dispatch” in doing his work “after the neatest and best manner,” he adopted other means of distinguishing his advertisements from those placed by other artisans. In particular, Dowdney embellished his notices with visual images related to his occupation and his wares.

Yesterday the Adverts 250 Project examined one of those advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette. It included a woodcut of an engraved clock dial with hours in Roman numerals and minutes in Arabic numerals as well as other decorative elements. Dowdney placed another advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle the same week that he advertised in the Gazette, repeating the copy almost exactly but with a different and even more impressive woodcut. It depicted an elegant dial with an arched top that denoted the phases of the moon. Readers could also view the day of the month on the dial. These additional elements further testified to the complexity of the clocks Dowdney constructed, proclaiming to prospective customers that they were not intended merely for keeping time. Instead, they were meant for display, to create genteel living spaces, to impress friends and visitors. Although not depicted in the woodcut, readers could expect the ornamentation of the cases to rival the engraved dials.

Commissioning not one but two woodcuts represented a significant investment for Dowdney, but he may have considered it a necessary expense as he commenced his own business “in the Shop lately occupied by Mr. Emanuel Rouse” on Front Street. As a newcomer, he needed to attract a clientele for his shop quickly to avoid failing before even having a chance to get started. Commissioning woodcuts that featured much more detail than most of the images that appeared in colonial newspapers demonstrated his commitment and attention to detail, reassuring prospective customers that he did not merely reiterate the usual marketing pitches but did indeed construct clocks “after the neatest and best manner.” The woodcuts certified the quality and elegance associated with clocks made by Burrows Dowdney.

December 20

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

Dec 20 - 12:17:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 17, 1767).

“At the Sign of.”

Magdalen Devine frequently placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette throughout 1767. Often a woodcut depicting some of her merchandise, two rolls of fabric and two swatches showcasing the patterns, accompanied her advertisements. This effectively created a logo for Devine, making her advertisements instantly recognizable without potential customers needing to even read a word.

For many eighteenth-century shopkeepers and artisans, the woodcuts that supplemented their advertisements illustrated the signs that marked the places where they conducted business. The devices in the woodcuts reflected the descriptions of shop signs in many advertisements, but that did not necessarily mean that those woodcuts exactly replicated the signs they represented. For instance, leather dressers James Haslett and Matthew Haslett included several visual variations on “the Sign of the Buck and Glove” in their advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette. One may have faithfully duplicated the actual sign; the others offered a similar likeness that distinguished their advertisements from others, attracted the attention of readers, and helped guide potential customers to their shop. Similarly, other woodcuts in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements likely provided representations but not exact replications of shop signs, hinting at what colonial consumers saw when they traversed the streets.

Devine, however, suggested that the woodcut in her advertisements did indeed accurately reproduce her shop sign. In the course of giving directions to her shop, she indicated that she had recently moved “to the House lately occupied by FRANCIS WADE, on the East Side of Second-Street, between Black-Horse Alley and Market-Street.” To further aid “her FRIENDS, and the PUBLIC” in finding her, she noted that her shop was “at the Sign of” but did not conclude the sentence with a description or name for the sign. Instead, she inserted the woodcut that by then served as her logo. While other advertisers implied that woodcuts in their advertisements depicted their signs without commenting on how well they did so, Magdalen Devine provided one of the most explicit indications that what readers saw in the newspaper replicated the actual sign that marked her shop.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 27, 1767).

“For sale at their Shop at the Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE.”

It would have been difficult not to notice the woodcut that accompanied James and Matthew Haslett’s advertisement in the July 17, 1767, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Except for the insignia of the lion and unicorn within the masthead at the top of the first page, it was the only visual image in the entire issue, immediately drawing the eye away from the text that surrounded it.

The Hasletts reminded potential customers that “they still carry on the Leather Dressing Business … at their Shop at the Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE in King Street” in Portsmouth. The woodcut indeed depicted a sign that featured a buck and glove, as well as a pair of breeches. The text of the advertisement also promoted “all sorts of Breeches ready made.”

This was not the first time that the leather dressers inserted a woodcut alongside their advertisement, but it had been ten months since they last did so. In the interim, their commercial notices had been unadorned, relying on the copy alone to convince potential customers to avail themselves of the Hasletts’ services.

When they decided to once again include a woodcut, they did not return to either of the two that previously appeared in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette. This woodcut was new, though it included the same elements incorporated into at least one of the previous iterations. All three depicted a signboard with a buck, a glove, and a pair of breeches hanging alongside a separate glove on the same pole. The first version included the date they founded their business and the Hasletts’ names in the same locations as the newest woodcut, but the second one eliminated their names and moved the date to the top of the sign. This version included decorative finials at the top and bottom of the sign that had not been present in either previous woodcut.

With this woodcut, the Hasletts further developed their brand. Their advertisement helps to create a better sense of the visual aspects of eighteenth-century signs that marked all kinds of businesses. However, the variations among the various woodcuts used by the Hasletts suggests that any woodcut should be considered a general or stylistic representation of how a sign might have looked rather than an attempt to closely or exactly replicate its appearance.

March 5

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

mar-5-35-1767-pennsylvania-gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 5, 1767).

“Quilted or plain Carrying Saddles.”

“JOHN YOUNG, senior, SADLER,” operated a workshop “In Second-street, opposite the Baptist Meeting, and next Door to Mr. Alexander Huston’s,” in Philadelphia. Elsewhere in the city “JOHN YOUNG, jun. Saddler,” ran his own shop “At the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE, at the corner of Market and Front-streets, and opposite the LONDON COFFEE-HOUSE.” The younger Young likely learned his trade from the elder Young. Which one taught the other about the power of advertising? Was that also passed down from one generation to the next? Or did the senior Young eventually adopt marketing strategies on the recommendation of his son (or perhaps even to compete with him)?

mar-5-491767-pennsylvania-chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (March 9, 1767).

Both Youngs advertised in newspapers printed in Philadelphia in early March 1767, the elder Young in the established Pennsylvania Gazette and the junior saddler in the new Pennsylvania Chronicle. Although both included woodcuts of saddles in their notices, the younger Young seems to have been the more sophisticated marketer when it came to mobilizing an image to identify his products. Note that Young Sr. merely listed directions to aid potential customers in finding his workshop, yet Young Jr. created a brand for his business that operated at “the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE.” Score one for the younger Young’s innovative marketing.

The saddlers offered almost identical appeals concerning quality, price, and fashion. Young Sr. stated that “he makes in the neatest and most Fashionable Manner, and sells at the most reasonable Rates” a variety of saddles and other riding equipment. In turn, Young Jr. announced that “he makes in the best and most fashionable manner, and sells at the most reasonable rates” a similar array of leather goods. Both indicated that they had sufficient inventory “ready made” that they could sell in quantity, though the elder saddler edged out his son by offering “proper Abatement to those who buy to sell again.” In other words, retailers received a bulk discount. Score one for the elder Young’s innovative pricing.

The two saddlers seemed to address slightly different clientele. Although both asserted they made saddles “in the most fashionable Manner,” Young Jr. placed more emphasis on serving elite customers. He listed “GENTLEMEN’S English hunting” saddles first among his wares (and the format of the advertisement directed readers’ eyes to the word “gentlemen”) and underscored that he did his work “in the genteelest manner.” On the other hand, Young Sr. thanked gentlemen and merchants for their previous patronage, but he included appreciation for “Shallopmen, and others” in the same sentence. One saddler traded on exclusivity for elite customers, while the other made his workshop more accessible to clients from all backgrounds. In the end, which marketing method yielded greater revenues by attracting more business? For now, that should be considered a draw.

Whether the Youngs competed or cooperated with each other, they devised advertisements that shared some of the most common appeals deployed in commercial notices printed in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century. Each other advanced unique and innovative marketing strategies, demonstrating that advertising in early America amounted to more than mere announcements that particular vendors sold certain goods.

February 15

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

feb-15-2131767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 13, 1767).

“Forty or fifty valuable SLAVES … Also, Sundry Plantations and Tracts of Land.”

The vast majority of colonial newspaper advertisements did not include visual images. When illustrations did appear with advertisements, they usually came from one of four categories. Images of ships at sea accompanied notices for vessels seeking passengers and freight, though they occasionally appeared in advertisements for imported goods. Depictions of horses ran alongside announcements by breeders offering stallions “to cover” mares. Images of slaves served two purposes: they were included with both advertisements seeking to sell slaves and notices that warned about runaways. (Curiously, similar advertisements for indentured servants were much less likely to include depictions of runaways making their escape.) Finally, real estate advertisements sometimes included images of houses or pastoral scenes. In each case, the woodcut belonged to the printer and could be used interchangeably with advertisements placed for similar purposes. On occasion, some advertisers commissioned their own woodcuts to attract attention to their advertisements, usually opting for an image that replicated their shop signs.

From the standard categories of woodcuts, all four appeared in the February 13, 1767, issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. No advertisers, however, spiced up their notices with original illustrations. That did not mean that the advertising in that issue lacked creativity when it came to the deployment of visual images. When advertisements included woodcuts they tended to have only one. Vendue master Robert Wells, however, oversaw the sale of both “forty or fifty valuable SLAVES” and “Sundry Plantations and Tracts of Land.” He opted to include both types of relevant woodcuts in his notice, a choice that likely resulted in readers noticing the rich visual texture of his advertisement. Given that Wells was charged with selling both slaves and real estate, he may have believed that if he was going to include any sort of woodcut at all then using both images was necessary. After all, readers might have passed over an advertisement showing just a slave or just a plantation, assuming that the woodcut summarized the contents of the entire notice. In a newspaper with few illustrations, Wells’ advertisement with two woodcuts stood out from the rest of the content.