“Portrait of General Wayne. MESSRS. FREEMAN & Co. respectfully inform the public, that the above print is now ready for delivery, and which agreeably to the assurances in their former advertisements is the commencement of a series of interesting American characters. Those who are desirous of the best impressions of this worthy hero of his country, are desired to be early in their application, as the rapid call for the same will carry off all the best impressions.”1
This advertisement appeared in the Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser in June 1796, two decades after the American colonies declared independence from Britain. Later the same week, the advertisement was inserted in two other local newspapers, the Aurora and Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser.2 It also soon appeared in the Daily Advertiser in New York City as well as yet another newspaper in Philadelphia.3 Slight typographical differences distinguished the advertisements in Philadelphia’s newspapers from each other. For most readers, however, the most noticeable difference actually created an important similarity between the two. In one version, Wayne was described as a “worthy hero of his country” in italics, in the others as a “WORTHY HERO OF HIS COUNTRY,” all in capitals. (See Figures 1 and 2.) Both advertisements were designed to engage the reader (and potential consumer) in an act of reverence for one of the most prominent generals of the American Revolution. A nota bene placed Wayne in good company, advising that “the size” of the print was “the same as the large print of the President,” George Washington. Messrs. Freeman and Company apparently believed that the public was already so familiar with the print of Washington previously offered for sale by another advertiser that they did not need to elaborate on the particulars when marketing their own print of Anthony.4 Indeed, their concerns that a “rapid call” would “carry off all the best impressions” suggested that the consuming public was already eagerly snatching up images of American heroes—or, at the very least, the advertisers wanted readers to believe that was the case. [End Page 145]
[End Page 146]
Art historian Mark Thistlethwaite has demonstrated that nineteenth-century Americans displayed prints of historical scenes and people, especially George Washington, in their parlors and other private spaces.5 In the decades prior to the Civil War, he argues, “interest in George Washington, America’s supreme exemplum virtutis, ran extraordinarily high. . . . [T]he veneration of Washington helped link Americans and foster national identity.”6 His research highlights some of the important cultural work, including the creation of an “imagined community” that bridged geographic and sectional differences, and that was accomplished by the display and veneration of American heroes and scenes.7 This was not merely an organic process but instead depended, in part, on the industrious efforts of advertisers in the late eighteenth century. Those advertisers sought to convince potential customers throughout the young republic to engage in simultaneous acts of veneration of American heroes and historic events made possible by patriotic acts of consumption, especially purchasing prints, medals, books, pottery, and a variety of other commemorative items.8 This occurred even as American consumers retained a taste for goods imported from England and other foreign ports (and relied on the British to make those products available to them).9 Several scholars have analyzed the role of oratory, parades, and other public celebrations in constructing a shared identity among citizens of the Early Republic, but their examinations often overlook the marketing of memorabilia.10 When they do focus on early American periodicals—newspapers, magazines, and almanacs—they tend to neglect the advertisements that accompanied the news items and occasional images, even as they present convincing analysis of those latter items.11
Examining the commoditization of nationalism apparent in marketing...