Ads of the Early 1800s

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Text-based ads were common in the early 19th century.
Text-based ads were common in the early 19th century. (Image: Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Advertisements of the early 1800s were very different from advertisements today. As an advertiser, you could make virtually any claim for your product, and get it published. This led to a good deal of unscrupulous advertising. The power of advertising to impact the consumer and change buying habits was not fully realized at the beginning of the 19th century. Ads were often text-heavy and dull, by modern standards. However, they sowed the seeds of the contemporary advertising industry.

Handbills and Posters

Handbills and posters were popular means of advertising in the early 1800s. They would be handed out in the street or posted in town centers to catch the attention of passersby. One from 1803 by a Philadelphia hatmaker, then called a milliner, named Francis Pic, is typical of the period. It uses formal language like: "takes the liberty"; "Ladies and Gentlemen"; "elegant assortment" and "punctually attended to" to inform the reader of an imminent sale of wigs, jewelry, necklaces, earrings, silk shawls, gloves "and other articles too tedious to mention."

Anything Goes

Being dependent on advertising, newspapers in the 1800s accepted any ads, according to author and journalism professor Shirley Biagi. The Public Ledger's policy was to "...admit any advertisement of any thing...within the boundaries of decency and morals." Ads for patent medicines claiming to be cure-alls for health problems were common. Dr. T. Felix Couraud, a New York manufacturer of beauty products, took out an ad to claim that his Oriental Cream would remove tan, pimples, freckles and every other blemish to beauty.

Personal Hygiene

Companies that made hair tonics, brushes, combs and soaps advertised them with banners, billboards and business cards in the 1800s, according to cultural historian Victoria Sherrow. They also used display wagons, posters, signs, newspapers and other periodicals. At a time when the idea of bathing was seen as sinful in some circles, because it required nakedness, Andrew Pears, of Pears' Soap, produced a soap that was advertised as perfumed with "the flowers of an English garden".

Changing Times

"New York Herald" founder, editor and publisher from 1835 to 1867, James Gordon Bennett, Sr., decided that ads should change every day, just as the news did, according to economist Cynthia Clark Northrup. Before this, ads in newspapers had often been reprints of previous ads, as a result of persuasive discounts being offered to advertisers. The same ads, many of which consisted of information only with very little in way of persuasive copy, often ran for a year .

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