Renaissance & Early Printing

Renaissance thinkers and Protestant revolutionaries saw themselves as beacons of light & freedom for the people as a whole.


Posters reappeared and spread with the invention of moveable type, by Johan Gutenberg, in 1450, often considered to be the last great medieval invention. The advent of printing encouraged literacy, the spread of knowledge, and the presentation of alternative points of view. It also propagated the spread of advertising.

The first posters were for political causes, for example, war-recruiting posters issued by the government. Circuses and other entertainment groups were among the first to use them extensively in the private sector. Woodcuts, also known as wood engravings, were used first and quite frequently. Images were carved into blocks of wood that were then, literally, bolted together, thus marking the beginnings of the rise of pictorial advertising. Woodcuts were crude in technique, but the level of artistry and craftsmanship could range from amateur to that of extremely skilled.

The great German Renaissance painter, Albrecht Durer, created a public service woodcutting, warning against the dangers of syphilis in 1496. Entitled,  “The Syphilitic,” this woodcut is an example of an early broadsheet, which is a single page of image and text, often with a topical and/or timely message. Here, the subject is the scourge of syphilis, having newly arrived in Europe, with a Latin poem underneath by a local doctor. One must note the weaknesses of cutting by its carver. Includes city arms of Nuremberg and zodiac with ominous conjunction of constellations.

The Lucas Cranach The Younger woodcut, “True vs. False Church,” erected in 1550, was made in Wittenberg, the heart of Protestant revolt. This is also the location in which Luther posted his protests on the door of the English church.

The Mouth of Hell is an image that corresponds more to the needs of visual propaganda than of theological teaching. The image contrasts the “proper” Lutheran celebration of mass, without ordained priests such as in the traditions of Catholic hierarchy. In this case, however, the judging figure is Luther himself, who stands in a central pulpit. Note the arms of Saxony in the decorations above.

In the fifteenth centure, posters were called siquis, which is Latin for, “if anybody.” They earned this name because most posters began with the lines “If anybody desires …” or “If anybody knows of …” Siquis were hand written by scribes and often single copy prints.

Siquis were later used by people looking for servants; as lost and found articles; and frequently as advertisements for tobacco, coffee and other goods. Largely, however, they were used for personal ads, as befits the Christianity-dominated Middle Ages, lawyers, teachers and even priest-hopefuls, would post their siquis on church doors.

After the establishment of The Church of England, the church became more of a commercial center. The middle aisle of St. Paul’s Cathedral was the main meeting place for all the denizens of London. Lawyers claimed pillars as their offices and trolled for clients there; laborers, such as seamstresses, found hire. People looking for employees and workers looking for employers alike met at this location.

However, less desirable citizens also frequented the grounds. Con men, gamblers and thieves hung around the church with hopes of swindling an innocent man/woman.

The church became a commercial center as well.  Tobacco, books, and other goods were often sold. One could even have a trunk assembled on the spot in St. Paul’s in the 1500s. Lumber, wine, glass and more were all stored within the church grounds; siquis were posted all over the place.

One holy man, John Ramsey, complained that the constant passage of “porters, butchers, waterbearers, and what not” disrupted worship. ß more?

In Ben Jonson’s play Every Man Out of His Humor, he portrays a man named, Shift, who is there, “for the advancement of a siquis or two, wherein he hath so varied himself, that if any of them take he may hull up and doune in the humorous world a little longer.”

The first printed ad in English was a siquis posted on a church door by artist, William Caxton’s, printed in Salisbury for books.

Most book printers didn’t print siquis like Caxton did, but bound an ad of books they had available with their prices inside their books. ß wouldn’t they have had to print them?

In 1518, a printer in Paris included in his books some testimonials as to the quality of his books. This method of advertising is still used in publishing and other fields. However, most advertisers still felt that repetition was enough to sell product.

English Tavern Signs

In the late Middle Ages, signboards outside inns and other stores started becoming more sophisticated. The number of shops in the larger cities was on the rise and many laws increasingly required signs to mark the business. Plus, by now, people had grown bored with the old signs and wanted new ones.

Many inn signs were actually the coat of arms for the owners. However, many may have been away for long periods of time, for example, on the Crusades. From this, names for the inns begin appearing like the “Golden Lion” which in reality is just describing the sign.

Another popular habit was to have signs with animals, like a bull or lion. As a result, someone would stop at “The Sign of the Lion.”

Sometimes a new tenant would move in but not want to sacrifice the equity from the old owner; a baker might move into an old cobbler’s store and the name would become “The shoe and bun.”

In 1625, a traveler in London counted the following tavern signs: five angels; four anchors; six bells; five bulls’ heads; four black bulls; four bears; five bears-and-dolphins; seven green dragons; five fountains; three fleeces; eight globes; five greyhounds; nine white harts; four white horses; five harrows; twenty king’s heads; seven king’s arms; one queen’s head; eight golden lions; six red lions; seven half moons; ten mitres; thirty-three maidenheads; ten mermaids; two open human mouths; eight nag’s heads; eight prince’s arms; four pope’s heads; thirteen suns, and eight stars. ß elaborate one how shops were then differentiated

Painters found the creation of tavern signs to be fairly lucrative. One painter named Clarkson reportedly earned £500 for a portrait of Shakespeare for one pub.

As time progressed, many signs started to add words due to the increased literacy. At the very least, the newly middle class felt is essential to be literate in order to conduct business.

By the 1700s, the trend in English tavern signs was to portray the painted comic. A sign created by Hogarth, in 1730, of a man holding a woman, a magpie and a monkey on his back is the most famous from this time period. As years went one, the signs became larger and more colorful until they exceeded logical proportions; they began falling down. Finally, in 1762, the government ordered all the signs to be taken down and replaced with street numbers. Today, we have a mix of numbers and signs.

Other Symbols

A sin with three balls was/is symbolic for pawnbrokers, believed to have been taken from the Medici coat of arms.

The Rothschilds took their name from a signboard. In 1743, a Frankfort moneylender named Meyer Bauer wanted a sophisticated name, so he took his name from his merchant father’s sign, which was a red shield; Rothschild is Red Shield.

The Bloodletters and amateur surgeons, created the original red-and-white barber’s pole by wrapping their bloody rags around the pole to dry.

The two styles that dominated at the same time for many centuries were to, one, use an icon that represented the trade, and two, use the coat of arms of the nobility under whose patronage the merchant operated.

Signs remained essential into the 18th century because street numbers were not yet in use. A store became known for being on a certain street, near another readily identifiable building; the storeowner hoped to become a landmark.

 English Trade Cards

In early 17th C. development, merchants would distribute illustrated shopbills, also called trade cards. Essentially, they were pieces of paper that were a cross between business cards and postcards and were used as receipts, invoices, note slips. Anything with the tradesperson’s name and address was referred to as a trade card. Eventually, trade cards were printed on all sorts of substances, including celluloid, cork, leather, silk, wood, foil and metal.

The artistry of the time period was often exquisite. After signboards were prohibited in the mid-1700s in England, the graphics were often transferred to handbills; famous artists like Paul Hogarth  even created trade cards.

The shopbills were usually engraved on copper, but sometimes wood. They varied in size from 2×3 to 10×16 inches; virtually all businesspeople used them, from the lowliest station to the highest. The British Museum has over 4,000 of trade cards in its collection showcasing various styles and types. Soon after Britain, America followed and adopted the trade card trend as well.


Thomas Heming Goldsmith & Jewelry is a typical example of name adoption. Hemin adopting his shop sign of the Hand and Hammer, thus giving the location distinction in the days before street numbering. The jewelry store was opposite the Black Bear Inn in Piccadilly.

The Periodical

1525 marked the first advertisement in a disseminated sheet. The ad  is for a patent for a medicine book whose closing line reads “Let whoever does not know the meaning of this buy the book at once and read it with all zeal.”

Other pieces were printed sporadically, but none on a regular schedule. The term “newsletter” was developed, originally a piece of writing that a professional writer composed onto a single sheet, then sold to nobility and other men of means who wanted to know the news of the court and other happenings. The development of a regularly printed newspaper came in the 1620s, with the addition of ads shortly following. The ads were usually stuffed into the editorial somewhere or in the back, where they could be easily mistaken for articles.

The earliest known newspaper ad is 1625 for a book; the second newspaper ad didn’t appear for over more 20 years, in 1647. The ad was again for a book but was barely noticeable having been set among the text. There also does not appear to have been a charge for its printing; the publisher ran the notice as a favor for a friend. However, the ad drew response, which in turn attracted the attention of other advertisers.

The publisher, Henry Walker, soon set up the registration of offers and wants to chronicle the “advices”. Other book publishers were drawn to advertising, soon followed by medicine sellers. Later ads for lost horses, runaway apprentices, etc. were printed and more, houses for rent, professional services and more overtook the new ad pages. Only hard-goods merchants were late to the party. The fee was nominal, at sixpence per item.

The amount  of advertisements grew so great that people were protesting the large quantity by 1652; these were all in news books.

In England, in the mid-1600s, as the country plunged into strife and eventually civil war, the various political parties discovered the value of news books to promote their views. The books were from 2-20 pages long, and often large at size 5×7. Newly published books were still the main item advertised in the papers.


Sir Walter Raleigh returned from the New World with a pipe, smoking a strange new plant: tobacco. The controversy was born instantly. King James I immediately tried to quell the rage for the product, but by Cromwell’s time, the pipe had become a staple in English society.

As a result of essays by the famous Frenchman Montaigne, the first periodical was published in 1612, entitled, the Journal Général d’Affiches, or Journal of Public Notices. Basically, the journal was a publication of want ads, still printed today, but now called Les Petites Affiches.

Over the years other publications of various qualities came and went in England and France. In 1657, Oliver Cromwell’s journalist, Marchmont Nedham, began publishing the Public Adviser in London. It contained only advertisements, for which, advertisers paid anywhere from 4 to 10 shillings. The space bought didn’t affect the charge, but the occupation of the advertiser did.

Workman:    4 shillings

Bookseller    5 shillings

Physician    10 shillings

Land    one penny per pound sterling of value.

These rates were considered high, and Nedham was often referred to as, “The Devil’s Half-Crown Newsmonger.”

The Advertisement

The word advertisement as we know it today first appeared in 1655 and was originally used primarily by book publishers. “Advertisement” soon became a generic heading for paid announcements and took the place of the word “advices,” which had supplanted the word siquis. At this time, advertising wasn’t a sophisticated art, but merely announcements of goods for sale.

Newspapers developed the practice of describing important news advices as “advertisements,” not unlike the modern practice of bold, tabloid-style headlines. Readers would scan the news book mainly to see if there was any news from their hometown.

The First Wave: Food Ads

The first advertisements for food appeared in May of 1657 in the Publick Adviser. The publication contained no news, but was solely published to give publicity to registrations of offers and wants such as at Henry Walker’s bureaus:

“In Bartholomew Lane, on the back side of the Old Exchange, the drink called coffee, which is a very wholesome and physical drink, have many excellent vertues, closes the orifice of the stomach, fortifies the heat within, helpeth digestion, quickeneth the spirits, maketh the heart lightsom, is good against eye-sores, coughs or colds, thumes, consumptions, head ache, dropsie, gout, scurvy, King’s evil, and many others; is to be sold both in the morning and at three of the clock in the afternoon.”

The newest rage in London, the coffee house, swept into the city in the 1650s.

A competitive ad appeared a month later:

An advertisement: “In Bishop’s Gate Street in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West India drink, called chocolate, to be sold, where you may have it ready made at any time and also unmade at reasonable rates.”

Another brew made its advertising debut a year later:

“That Excellent, and by all Physicians approved, China drink, called by the Chinese Tcha, by other nations Tay alias Tee, is sold at the Sultaness Head Cophee-House, in Sweeting’s Rents, by the Royal Exchange.”

From the tea, the first celebrity endorsement was born: “Physicians approved” Tea had been known in England for about 20 years before this ad, but was originally considered a medicine and not a pleasure drink.

King Charles II- The Copywriter

In 1660, an advertisement appeared for a few lost dogs and falcons, apparently belonging to King Charles II. A follow-up ad appeared a few weeks later, believed to have been written by the king himself:

‘’We must call on you again for a Black Dog between the greyhound and a spaniel, no white about him only a streak on his breast, and tayl a little bobbed. It is His Majesties own dog, and doubtless was stolen. Whoever finds him may acquaint any at Whitehall for the dog was better known at Court than those who stole him. Will they never leave robbing His Majesty? Must he not keep a dog?

England’s John Houghton: “The 1st Schoolmaster in the Art of Advertising”

In 1692, an apothecary named John Houghton, of England, saw the possibilities of advertising. He started a publication, Collection for Improvement of Husbandry and Trade and began soliciting for ads. These trade ads (a business person talking to another business person) began appearing in the public eye:

“Whether advertisements of schools or houses and lodgings about London may be useful, I submit to those concerned.

I believe some advertisements about bark and timber might be of use both to buyer and seller.”

This approach worked; landlords, merchants, domestics and others began registering advertisements in his publication. Usually, Houghton ‘s editor would write the ad himself, in first person. If a party was interested in a product or service listed, one would have to go to the paper and ask who the placed the ad.

“I know a peruke [wig] maker that pretends to make perukes extraordinary fashionable and will sell good pennyworths; I can direct to him.”

“If anyone wants a wet nurse, I can help them, as I am informed, to a very good one.”

“I know of several curious [efficient] women that would wait on ladies to be housekeepers.”

“I have been to Mr. Firmin’s work house in Little Britain, and seen a great many pieces of what seems to me excellent linen, made by the poor in and about London. He will sell it at reasonable rates, and I believe that whatever housekeepers go there to buy will not repent, and on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the forenoon he is always there himself.”

Mr. Houghton’s first person technique was an effective and early personal endorsement and proved to be very effective. Within a year he had dozens of advertisers, from all different categories, registered with his newspaper. Purveyors of food, apparel, luxury articles, dry goods and more all began running ads because of the innovation of his technique.

Houghton then began experimenting with the copy; finding ways to draw the greatest response. For instance, he began inserting the name of the advertiser within the ad, instead of just mentioning the product, shortly thereafter, he began listing the addresses of the advertiser. Houghton conducted a few experiments in which the two-line initial letters, all-caps first words and the pointing finger. Though previously in existence, Houghton was the first to use them extensively and to experiment with different styles to create the most effective ad: the first merger of advertising and art direction/graphic design.

As a public service, he then began listing directories of shops and professional services, listed by categorically. The lists contained things such as London attorneys, physicians, schools, coaches, etc., similar to the yellow pages of today.

The 1700s

English coffee houses began complaining that newspapers made money two ways: through advertising revenue, typically one shilling for an 8-10 line ad, and also from the coffee houses, who had to pay for the right to distribute the free papers. In addition, the coffee houses claimed that the papers were stuffed with ads and short on news. The transition from a flat line rate for ads to a per-line rate, thus making ads bigger, exacerbated their complaints.

At this time, ads were still for the most part the same type as the news, and they were placed at the bottom of the news columns, combining the story and the ad inappropriately. An issue of the paper might have 30-40 ads.

While the number of ads increased greatly in the century, the style itself experiences little progression. Display advertising wasn’t very popular, except for occasionally a small woodcut; though, the headline made its introduction. (insert Gloves for Ladies ad, which has all the elements)

The biggest newspapers were Steele and Addison’s Tatler and the Spectator. Daniel Defoe’s, Defoe’s Review, also appeared from 1706-12. Defoe is chiefly known today as the author of Robinson Crusoe, but in his day he was an active advertiser and pamphleteer. From 1685-1728 he was constantly looking for ways to promote his books and writing on the hot topics of the day. In his career,

During his career, Defoe made stockings, tiles and bricks while also a successful politician, editor and poet. He published an essay in 1702 that angered Queen Anne, for which he was sentenced to stand in the pillory for three days. During this time, he wrote A Hymn to the Pillory that he sold to onlookers as he stood there. Defoe adopted the habit of recognizing his failures in his sequential books.

In 1712, Queen Anne made the unwise decision to tax newspapers and their advertisements. This tax, which lasted 150 years, forced the immediate foreclosure of several publications, including Addison’s and Defoe’s, and severely hindered the growth of publishing. Ironically, advances in printing, travel, communications and literacy were at large at this time.

From this, the practice of sharing publications developed. A patron would read a paper in a pub and then leave the paper there for the next person to read.

A poster announcing the execution of Louis XVI appeared in the Place de la Révolution appeared on Monday, Januaray 21, 1793. At the same time, first notices were from the church granting indulgences and also from the government looking to recruit people. Poster wars developed during the French Revolution; this new mode of communication threatened the occupation of the town crier. However, the benefit from these wars is that talented artists, like Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec, were drawn to the forefront.

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