Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. II No. 2, November, 1937
by Lawrence B. Romaine
In glancing through Fortune Magazine the other day, I marvelled at the remarkable color work in the advertisements, the soft tones and the realistic effects. My eye wandered off the page and caught the Mail Stage and Steam-Boat broadside on the wall. What a change a hundred years can bring. I compared the old wood-cut to a full page advertisement in Fortune, showing a coach and four in color, advertising a well known whiskey. The subject seemed an interesting one to study.
In 1832, The Boston Type and Stereotype Foundry issued a “Specimen Book,” which we would now call a catalogue. This book, which I now have, contains every style of type then in use, every numeral, every border, every newspaper ornament (cut) and every figure, in every size conceivable. On its pages one may find the stage coach, the ship, the railroad, and every wood-cut one has ever found, which was printed in the period from 1800 to 1850. There was little change during this time, except that the railroad engine and other new inventions were reproduced as they appeared.
The auctioneer went to his printer and arranged for his bill, to be nailed on bulletin boards in the “general store” and the post office. He chose the cut of the farm, residence or warehouse to be sold from this book. If a newspaper planned its column of “For Sale and Rent.” it could select the pictures and order the cuts. The ship chandler took an anchor, a ship or a scene at the wharf for his bill head, newspaper advertisement or broadside. The merchant could find any article his heart desired, from a sunburst decanter to a highboy, for his stationery. The cuts for the New England Primers, sporting scenes, portraits, beavers and corsets, stud horses and lamps, in short, everything that was “fit to print” or needed for personal or commercial reasons, could be found in “Specimen.”
Of course, the same process exists today for letter heads, bill heads, odd catalogue jobs, newspaper advertising and similar work. The same foundry issues a catalogue and the newspapers and their clients pick and choose from the new and more modern selection. Even the auctioneer, if he wants job printing of bills, must go through the same thing. There is little change, except in the cuts and the modern machinery which executes the work.
The real transition is that broadsides are no longer used, except the huge bill boards that now blot the movies, plays, automobiles, apartment house rentals, foods and almost every thing in use in 1937. To me, they are not true broadsides. It may be narrowing the meaning of the word, but I think of them as “announcements,” a new process in modern business, based upon psychological theory, and intended to make people buy what they don’t need and really don’t want. I doubt if they thought of this in 1830.
Take the stage coach line, for example. There were few if any timetables and everyone did not take a newspaper. People then were not “news-conscious” as they are today, and the newspapers did not cover news in the 1937 sense. The stage coach or steam-boat line could select a cut of wood or metal, print a few thousand, place them in the general store and the post office, clown at the warehouse and in the taverns, and be pretty sure that possible travelers would find the rates and hours of departure and arrival. I do not think that they were necessarily “selling,” as we think of the term today, or that people went from Boston to New York just because the delightful picture of the coach and horses tempted them. As a matter of fact, the coaches were not comfortable at all. Such a broadside could not be compared with the latest bathing beauty on “the boards” for Lucky Strike.
When J. K. & T. Corbett, Merchant Tailors, posted a broadside of prices and a cut of two gentlemen in the latest suitings, of course they hoped to sell their clothes, but they were announcing something new and they felt that the broadside would reach more people in their native haunts than would a tiny cut and notice in the papers.
The itinerant blacksmith and tinsmith, who travelled from town to own, mending and tinkering, had a small broadside printed, using cuts of stoves from the “Specimen,” and a small picture of the “mighty arm of the smith” at the top. When he reached a likely village, he posted one in the tavern, the general store and the post office, if there was one. He might miss the newspaper, if staying a short time, and would fail to reach many people with it anyway. In many cases, I imagine the printer, knowing full well that the average smith would have no choice of embellishments, kept a supply on hand and simply added the name of the smith, when he ordered.
I suppose the case of the barber might be nearly modern. He announces the opening of a new shop and agrees to serve all customers well. People are not thinking of hair-cuts and shaves in the evening when reading the paper, and even if they noticed such an advertisement would forget by the next day anyway. Our barber buys his broadsides from the printer and posts them in the various public buildings. The merchant stops in for an errand or a glass of ale, and, seeing the announcement, feels his beard or looks in the mirror and has time to go at once to the new address.
I have several examples of broadsides offering for sale shares of stock in various bridge, roadway and building enterprises, belonging to estates. Whether there was a law then making the newspaper publication of such sales compulsory I do not know, but the fact remains that at least some lawyers chose the broadside for their clients. Other broadsides have cuts of large and handsome cows to be sold, but I doubt if the pictures would make anyone “cow-conscious.” Others announce that a man one hundred and sixty-one years old will appear at the town hall, that grass is for sale by Deacon “Scarlet” Hudson, or give the rules and regulations for guests at Cold Spring and other taverns.
Mr. Earle Goodnow’s collection, which is far more extensive than mine, contains hundreds of announcements of glass, pottery, lighting devices, farm machinery and many, many new inventions but I do not think that any of them were used with the idea of keeping the product in front of the public, morning, noon and night, until it was given a trial.
The artistic advertising of today, with its agencies, its artists, its salesmen (and I’ve been one) and its mediums are wonderful. They represent a brilliant epitome of what our ancestors started with the quaint, crude old broadside. They may “announce,” but they tend to “high-pressure selling.” If I should go into the advertisement business again, I wish I could try it out in 1832.