Verbose Advertisements of the 1800s—or, the Bane of my Existence

by Ann Neilson

Whilst doing my research, I frequently find myself immersed in the newspapers and magazines of the nineteenth-century. These contain an abundance of information, stories—of course, you know what newspapers and magazines are, so you can only imagine the treasures to be found in old periodicals of the day! However, just as our newspapers and magazines are stuffed to the brim with irrelevant advertisements that obnoxiously reprimand us until we buy their products—how do they manage to manipulate us, I cannot begin to say—so did newspapers and periodicals of the 1800s shove this same treatment into their readers’ faces. Although these advertisements did not have the creative “advantage” that ours do today, as colored ink was quite pricey during those days, they still maintain the classic technique of bolded titles and letters, big enough to give the reader a sore eye for weeks, abound with tildes and miniature hands pointing to the actually important information we are supposed to take away from their overtly verbal notice (and this is not an exaggeration).

I feel passionately about the inconvenience called “advertising” in these old newspapers, especially; however, here is a gem from a book I have been reading recently. I do want to note that I have condensed the ad, as it is too long, redundant, and frankly headache inducing for me to want to transcribe the entire thing. [Edit: here’s the entire ad.]

T. B. PETERSON’S
WHOLESALE AND RETAIL
Cheap Book, Magazine, Newspaper, Publishing
and Bookselling Establishment, is at
No. 102 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.

T. B. PETERSON will be most happy to supply all orders for any books at all, no matter by whom published, in advance of all others, and at publishers’ lowest cash prices. He respectfully invites Country Merchants, Booksellers, Pedlars, Canvassers, Agents, the Trade, Strangers in the city, and the public generally, to call and examine his extensive collection of cheap and standard publications of all kinds, comprising a most magnificent collection of CHEAP BOOKS, MAGAZINES, NOVELS, STANDARD and POPULAR WORKS of all kinds, BIBLES, PRAYER BOOKS, ANNUALS, GIFT BOOKS, ILLUSTRATED WORKS, ALBUMS and JUVENILE WORKS of all kinds, GAMES of all kinds, to suit all ages, tastes, etc. which he is selling to his customers and the public at much lower prices than they can be purchased elsewhere. Being located at No. 102 CHESTNUT Street, the great thoroughfare of the city, and BUYING his stock outright in large quantities, and not selling on commission, he can and will sell them on such terms as will defy all competition. Call and examine our stock, you will find it to be the best, largest and cheapest in the city; and you will also be sure to find all the best, latest, popular, and cheapest works published in this country or elsewhere, for sale at the lowest prices” (The Deer Stalkers, Frank Forester.) I want to note that the publisher of this book is the very same gentleman whose advertisement I just partially scribed. Disgusting.

This particular advertisement especially stuck out to me, only because it reeks of redundancy, clichés, and desperation. The more I repeatedly read the advertisement, the harder my teeth clench. I seethe as I write this. This advertisement, with its despicable over-selling technique and overly-emphasised words, only makes me want to rip the page out and burn it. What is it that makes me despise things such as this so greatly? It drips with the “door-to-door salesman” technique. To those door-to-door salesmen, I say, No, Sir—and close the door on them.

In my next “Ann Trashes Random Advertisements of the 19th Century” post, I will focus on the loathed newspaper ads mentioned earlier on in this post. Until then, feel free to take a look at the gawkish Peterson, Mr. Advertisement Scum himself:

Theophilus_B._Peterson_001