Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Early American Advertising

I was evaluating the quality of some microfilm owned by the library where I work, to see whether it was necessary to keep the duplicate reels we'd just found. It turns out both copies are good enough that we can give the extra set to one of our sister libraries in the building, provided they're interested.

The title in question is Porcupine's Gazette, published in Philadelphia from 1797 to 1800. Amid all the news about the war in Europe, lists of ships arriving and departing, and public notices of various types, there are some very funny and creative advertisements. Here's a front-page ad that ran for most of March 1798:

Winter Morning's

"To shave? or not to shave? That is the question --
Whether 'tis better for a man to suffer
The grisly beard to grow upon his chin;
Or cut it off at once?
To shave with ease! to clear the stubbled face --
'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd.
To shave with ease? to shave! --
Perchance to tear! -- aye, there's the rub! --
For while we shave the thick rough hairs away,
The Razor's edge will pluck them by the roots;
Or check'd turn inward on the tender flesh :
Then trickles down the blood,
And the sharp pain smarting the face,
Makes cowards of us all! --
But who would bear those rubs and ghastly cuts,
When he himself, might his quietus make, with
Hail! Philadelphia! Hail South Third-St. No. 65, hail!
That makes my beautiful face, both clean and fair!
Hail those whose names are underwritten, --
Equally renowned for attention to customers--
HOPKINS's original Vendors

And then a list of business names and addresses.

There was no change of font between these ads and the regular news items. I stopped to read things here and there throughout the run of the paper, and sometimes I'd get almost halfway through an advertisment before I'd catch on. For example, one item read like a letter to the editor but turned out to be a testimonial for cough drops. Before trying these little wonders, the writer had been coughing, wheezing, and having pains in the chest (the word "martyred" was used at one point. The symptoms as they were described sounded a lot like pleurisy, or maybe asthmatic bronchitis), but now they were cured! Amazing!

And I thought modern advertisers were sneaky.

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