The New World

6-pennsylvaniapacket1771-the-voice1620: The Mayflower lands at Plymouth [in now Massachusetts] with 102 people. The brutal winter kills half within five months. “Wild beasts and willd [sic] men” are all around them.

1622 London leaflet listed the essentials for a family or man going to Jamestown, Virginia includes clothes, “Meale, pease [peas], aquavitae [French liqueur], Oyle [oil], and Vinegar”; armor, weapons, and powders; tools, household utensils.

1639: John Harvard bequeaths his 400-volume library and a substantial amount of money to the establishment of Harvard College. Immediately, authorities at the college sponsor the establishment of the first printing press in the Colonies. The first Colonial printing presses weren’t the roll type, but rather bar-and-pressure design. A sheet of paper was laid over inked type, and the press was lowered onto it to form an impression. First books:

  • The “Freeman’s Oath”
  • The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre
  • Bay Psalm Book

For the most part though, books were imported and passed around until they fell apart from use. There weren’t any supplies, presses, or artists. People were concerned with survival. Authorities discouraged reading as a distraction from the more serious issues at hand. The town crier was the main method of public communication.

1640: 30,000 settlers along the coast from Maine to Virginia. Half of them were in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Nearly another 9,000 were in Virginia.

1664: British took over from the first settlers, the Dutch. Proclamations were read aloud so everybody could understand the latest laws and decisions.

1682: 2nd Colonial printing press set up in Jamestown, Virginia, followed by others.

1690: First newspaper published, in Boston: Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestic. The newspapers were four-page bound leaflets. The fourth page was left blank to allow readers to write their own local news and gossip and pass the leaflet on to friends. This publication was quickly suppressed because it wasn’t officially sanctioned.

1704: The next newspaper didn’t come until 14 years later, again in Boston. This newspaper, which was “published by authority,” was called the Boston News-Letter and was a single leaf printed on both sides. This became the first [changed from 1st] ]regularly published American newspaper. It also had the distinction of carrying the first ad published in America: an offer of a reward for the return of two anvils “stolen from Mr. Shippen’s wharf.”

1734: The great English typefounder William Caslon designed the typeface that bears his name. This type quickly became the main face used by Colonial printers in America. Benjamin Franklin used it, and it was used for the first [changed from 1st] printed copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Other traits of Colonial graphic design:

  • Centered type, not flush left
  • Minimal use of white space, to conserve paper
  • Horizontal rules between sections

Benjamin Franklin, through brains and hard work, became a leading printer, publisher, and dealer of ink, paper, and books. His Poor Richard’s Almanack was hugely popular in the Colonies. Aside from the bible, a yearly almanac was a staple in nearly every home.

He began publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette in Philadelphia in 1729. He was the first to introduce illustrations to the paper. He first made small (1” or 1.5”) woodcuts of ships, then expanded glasses for an optical ad, a Sign of the Blue Hand for a glove maker.Later ones included small pictures of horses, hats, furniture, clocks that corresponded to the ad topic. He also printed the first political cartoon in America, in 1754. It showed a snake cut into eight parts with the caption, “Join, or Die.” This is a form of political advertising.

Early ads were on the front page, ahead of the news. The size of the thumbnail visuals that applied to the product category being advertised also grew, until they sometimes filled the whole column.Another Philadelphian, John Dunlap, began a newspaper in 1771, “The Pennsylvania Packet and the General Advertiser.” It promoted the medium by coining the phrase “It Pays To Advertise.” In fact, Dunlap’s newspaper gave more prominence to the advertising than to the news. He helped open people’s eyes to the positive results of advertising. He picked up on Franklin’s cues of using small illustrations in the advertising. The very first issue of the newspaper had an ad for the dry-goods merchant James Cummings, who could be found “At the Sign of the Spinning Wheel,” with a one-column woodcut of a spinning wheel dominating the ad (and the page). Dunlap soon had so many advertisers lined up that he couldn’t fit them all into one issue, so he started publishing his paper more than once a week, and eventually a daily. This became the first daily paper in America, largely thanks to advertising.

One of the seminal acts of the British Parliament that would help motivate people to support the American Revolution was related to advertising. The Stamp Act of 1765 required a tax on various documents, books and licenses, and required newspapers to use paper that had been stamped as having paid the tax. In addition, every newspaper ad would have a 2 schilling tax on it. This was very similar to the English tax on newspaper ads, which had so effectively limited advertising. Advertising was an important revenue stream for newspapers. (Subscription revenues were unreliable, and printers would accept food, firewood or virtually anything else of value as payment).

Copper Engraving was popular in advertising for trade cards. Paul Revere did engraving on the side to supplement his income as a silversmith. He did a famous engraving of the Boston Massacre. The first novel published in America, The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature by William Hill Brown, had a copper frontispiece. Boston, 1789.

This motivated the colonists to protest the taxation without representation. Stamps were taken off ships and destroyed; the houses of stamp distributors were set afire; candidates for the office were “warned” not to enforce the act; newspapers were printed with a Jolly Roger on the masthead and said they would stop printing until the act was repealed. Ben Franklin went to England to lobby for repealing the act, which happened the next year.

Ad by Paul Revere of Boston, Boston Gazette, September 5, 1768:

“Person so unfortunate as to lose their Fore-Teeth by Accident … may have them re-placed by false ones, that look as well as the Natural, and answers the End of Speaking.”

Ad by John David Hechstetter, Pennsylvania Gazette, June 8, 1796:

“engraver in wood, stone and ivory … makes instruments of wood for those who have the misfortune of losing an arm or leg.

Merchants often took out full page ads to list all their products for sale. However, paper was in short supply, so to conserve space ads were confined to small spaces. It was orderly, but packed. This is known as the legal notice period in display

Tavern owners displayed pictures of their pubs’ names: Crowing Cock, The Seven Stars, The Golden Hare, The Maypole.

Many well-known colonial portraitists got their start painting signboards: Benjamin West’s first commissioned painting was a hat for the Hat Tavern. Matthew Pratt, West’s student and eventually a famous painter in his own right, painted the first portrait of Benjamin Franklin. A Philadelphia pub also hired him to depict the Federal Convention in 1787. His painting of the 38 founding fathers drafting the Constitution drew huge crowds trying to identify the men.

Tobacco shops usually showed a running Negro boy (African Americans were identified with working on southern tobacco farms), an Indian with a hatchet or Sir Walter Raleigh.

Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1554-1618) was the English soldier, explorer, writer and habitue of Elizabeth I’s court. There is the famous story that may or may not be true of him laying his cloak down in the mud for her to walk over. He dreamed up and organized the ill-fated colonizing expeditions to America at Roanoke Island, North Carolina. This was the colony where all the settlers mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind only the cryptic inscription “Croatoan” carved on a tree. Anyway, Raleigh was in and out of favor and power (and the Tower of London) over the years. He led an expedition to South America to look for El Dorado, the fabled city of gold. After the ascension of James I in 1603, he was again in and out of the Tower, and made another gold-seeking trip. This time, he stepped on Spanish toes in South America. Spain demanded his execution, which they got. In addition to his other achievements, Raleigh is known for his poetry and many political essays.


There were also a lot of broadsides (a large, single sheet of paper) and handbills (literally, something designed to passed out by hand) printed. They usually advertised auctions, items for sale, entertainments and official public notices. They were often posted by a large nail in quantity at public places, like a tavern or even outside a coach. People would rip a copy off and read it.


1818: John Paxton publishes Paxton’s Philadelphia Annual Advertiser, with 67 full-page ads and tons of woodcuts. This directory lists the merchants by industry.


Alexander Anderson is considered the father of American wood engraving. He co-opted the Englishman Thomas Bewick’s practice of using the fine-grained, hard wood of the box tree, which when cut against the grain and polished provided an excellent working surface for the engraver and could withstand the pressure and repetition of the printing process. However, the small box tree only grew to a maximum trunk circumference of five inches, so multiple blocks had to be bolted together.


Anderson ruled the field for a long time. There are hundreds of publications with his work. He did trade cards, mastheads, trademarks … everything. In 1840, there were about 20 professional wood engravers; there were about 400 by the time he died in 1870. With practice over time, engravers became very proficient, even learning how to create textures and subtle gradation of tone.

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