Friday, January 22, 2010

Burgess the Ad Man

Before he landed a more enduring job with Phelps Publishing in Springfield in 1895, Burgess worked in advertising, primarily as a copywriter. When he lost his Springfield job in 1911, he would return to advertising for a short while to make ends meet.

Burgess isn't completely forthcoming about his work in advertising in his autobiography but does provide enough information to get us started.

Sometime in the early 1890s, Burgess placed a job-wanted ad in an weekly advertising magazine titled, Brains:
Save Time, Labor, and Trouble
"Get a good man
That can wield a good pen;
Let him advertise for you,
Tho' it cost you a ten!"
And in that way you will save all three. Try my work, and if not satisfactory, just return it. Ads in rhyme a specialty.
Note: He includes his address in Somerville at the time, which is right here.

This is a early sign of Burgess's entrepreneurial spirit, motivated by a desire to make a living "with his pen" and not in book-keeping , which was his current soul-numbing job.

A little bit about Brains. During this era, Brains ran a regular ad in Printers' Ink. I've embedded an ad from 1896 below.

While I have not yet seen a copy, Brains appears to have been a magazine of advertising commentary--reproducing excerpts from retail advertising around the country with critical suggestions about copy and design and also ad media strategy. Later, Brains Publishing Co., based in Manhattan and later Bingingham, NY, would publish a series of books. Some of these are available online. Of particular interest, How to Advertise a Retail Store--4th edition from 1913 embedded below.


Advertising was a young industry at this time. Agencies were still primarily space brokers, armed with authoritative lists of local and national publications, but had by now begun to offer copy, layout, and business research help as well. For a taste of what the world of advertising looked like, I've embedded a volume of Printers' Ink from 1896 below. It is a remarkable read, a look at Advertising just starting to figure itself out.


Burgess immediately got work from an advertising agency in Boston. He doesn't name the agency. The agency business in Boston had entered its second generation; original founders were beginning to die, retire, or move to greener pastures. Some prominent agencies in Boston at that time included: Pettingill & Co.,the "oldest Newspaper advertising agency in the United States"; Horace Dodd, the old partner of George P. Rowell; S.R. Niles, successor to Volney Palmer (the Boston advertising pioneer), and T.C. Evans. It isn't clear who Burgess wrote for.

Tomorrow: Burgess the copywriter

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