Early American advertising: Marketing and consumer culture in eighteenth-century Philadelphia
This dissertation is a systematic study of advertising in eighteenth-century Philadelphia. It argues that the self-conscious marketing of goods and services to consumers was a significant feature of economic culture and contributed to the development of consumer markets long before the industrial era or the advent of professional advertising in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Through the examination of hundreds of advertisements and more than a dozen advertising media ranging from newspapers and broadsides to magazine wrappers, trade cards, furniture labels, and book catalogues, this project develops three important themes. First, by arguing that suppliers of goods and services played a significant role in stimulating consumer demand, this study makes a significant intervention into debates about the relative importance of supply and demand in spurring economic growth and development during the early modern era. Second, advertising encouraged potential customers to think in new ways about commodities, especially their capacity to signal social standing and style of life and to confer personal worth. In this way, advertising contributed to the cultural dimensions of what some have called the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Finally, this dissertation singles out printers, booksellers, and publishers as an advertising vanguard: they took the lead in advertising innovation and its dissemination to a wide spectrum of other traders, artisans, and retailers.
This dissertation focuses on five aspects of eighteenth-century advertising: the proliferation and diversification of advertising media; the elaboration and growing sophistication of advertising design; the pivotal role played by members of the book trade in virtue of their dual position as sellers and producers of advertising; the substantive appeals used by advertisers attempting to convince potential customers to purchase their goods and services, including the special case of political appeals meant to persuade consumers that such purchases were a patriotic duty; and, finally, the gendering of sellers, commodities, and consumers in advertisements by men and women. Overall, this confirms the view that many features of commercial modernity originated in the eighteenth century.