Monday, January 15, 2024

Jennifer M. Black's "Branding Trust"

Jennifer Black is a historian of visual and material culture, with a particular focus on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States. She holds a PhD in American History and Visual Studies from the University of Southern California, as well as an MA in Public History and a BA in Art History from Western Michigan University. Her research examines ways in which people interact with images and objects, and the power of visual and material culture to influence trends in politics, the law, and society. In addition to teaching a variety of courses in American history, public history, and visual culture at Misericordia University, she also serves as Book Reviews Editor for H-Material Culture, and was recently elected to the Board of Editors for Enterprise & Society.

Black applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Branding Trust: Advertising and Trademarks in Nineteenth-Century America, and reported the following:
Branding Trust examines the uneven development of advertising practices, and in particular, branding strategies, over the course of the nineteenth century in the US. Beginning with the emergence of the first advertising agent in the 1840s, the book traces the ways in which middle-class ideas of character and honor permeated advertising practices, helping manufacturers cultivate rapport with the public. Turning to newspapers, patent-medicine almanacs, testimonials, advertising trade cards, posters, and store displays, the book shows how visual media helped to communicate messages of trustworthiness, by drawing upon potent cultural symbols and ideas. Rooting out fraudulent and counterfeit products went hand-in-hand with building consumers’ trust. Trademarks and their regulation helped to solve this problem; the book traces the evolution of trademark protections in the United States as well, pointing to the parallel influence of middle-class ideas on this important legal aspect of America’s modern consumer society.

Page 99 takes us to the middle of chapter three, “Visual Texts: Design and Novelty Across America’s Newspapers.” In this chapter, I trace the changing look of newspaper advertising from 1830-1900, comparing urban newspapers like the New York Tribune with smaller newspapers produced in rural areas. Perhaps surprisingly, printers in rural areas were a primary driving force in advancing graphic design innovations throughout the nineteenth century, as they were more flexible in allowing new and unusual fonts and designs on the newspaper page. In contrast, large urban newspapers conformed to particular trade conventions centered around orderly, rigid columns of small type, devoid of images.

On page 99, I discuss the introduction of large, building-sized billboards that papered American cities in the 1850s, and the synergy among printers of different media. As I point out,
These posters created a visual spectacle on the city streets, and they pushed newspaper printers to craft more attractive advertisements that would better compete for the public’s attention. By the 1850s, the printing industry had been primed for exponential growth. Transportation improvements and industrialization had ushered in the rapid flow of knowledge between the cities and growing rural communities, while the increasingly literate public craved information in larger quantities. Steam-powered printing presses and new papermaking techniques… economized the publishing industry and gave printers a ready supply of materials. …As the printing industry grew, publishers began offering new literary magazines, a greater variety of ephemera, expanded newspaper editions, and collectible chromolithograph prints. The established and aspiring middle classes devoured these printed materials. Chromolithograph firms supplied cheap, novelty images to a public yearning for colorful images, while newspaper publishers and job printers rapidly papered American cities and hamlets with black-and-white dailies, handbills, magazines, and other media. In light of these developments, advertising seemed poised to take off in the 1850s, but economic constraints and the Agate Rule continued to structure newspaper advertising, especially in major American cities.
This snippet is somewhat useful for understanding chapter three, summarizing some of the key developments and gesturing forward to the importance of chromolithographs and public tastes (the key topic of chapter four). Yet overall, the page does not adequately represent the complexity of the book. First, the reader would not get an adequate taste of the variety of visual strategies deployed by advertisers—though there are 75 images in the book, no images appear on page 99 (but there are useful examples for chapter three on pages 97, 98, and 102). Moreover, a reader turning only to this page might be misled to believe that the book focuses primarily on newspapers, and thus would miss out on the expanded discussion of other media, the underlying influence of middle-class ideals, and the evolution of trademark law.
Visit Jennifer M. Black's website.

--Marshal Zeringue