Seventeenth-century Mad Men

The 400-year history of newspaper advertisements is the subject of two new books by researchers from the University of St Andrews, giving a rare insight into 17th-century life and the birth of modern advertising.

Published to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the first newspaper advert in 1620, the books, written by researchers from the School of History, explore the birth of newspaper advertising in Holland in the 17th century.

Focusing on the first 6,000 advertisements to be placed in Dutch newspapers between 1620 and 1675, the books were launched as part of an international event in Amsterdam to celebrate the early history of newspaper advertising.

Copies of old newspaper advertisements
A placard advertising the services of a Dutch doctor around 1700, including a lavish visual depiction and (right) a 17th-century placard announcing a wondrous self-driving wagon (the first driverless car)

The Dutch Republic and the Birth of Modern Advertising details the history of advertising from its beginnings in 17th-century Holland. The authors recount the story of Abraham Verhoeven, a prolific writer and publisher in Antwerp, and the first man to publish newspaper advertisements. Verhoeven, who ran a flourishing early newspaper, was a true pioneer, and he was also the first to publish an illustrated newspaper. One of his unique marketing ploys was to insert notices at the end of his newspaper issues that he would soon be publishing other items of interest to his subscribers, such as maps or pamphlets.

Copy of a 17th-century newspaper advertisement
The first book ever to be advertised in a newspaper, in January 1620, one of eight copies known to have survived today

Soon after Verhoeven began to use newspaper advertisements his rivals in the Dutch Republic, the modern Netherlands, began to embrace commercial advertisements with great enthusiasm.

Professor Andrew Pettegree, one of the authors from the School of History at the University, said: “The Dutch Republic was the birthplace of a competitive news market and it is here that we see the true origins of modern newspaper advertising, decades before publishers in other countries such as England, France and Germany began to use advertisements.”

The second book, News, Business and Public Information: Advertisements and Announcements in Dutch and Flemish Newspapers, includes full translations of all 6,000 advertisements from Dutch to English.

Professor Pettegree added: “Dr Arthur der Weduwen and I have been engaged in this research for the past six years, gaining a unique insight into the development of newspaper advertising. This year marks a milestone in the history of advertising with the 400th anniversary of the first newspaper advert being published. Some of the concepts developed in newspaper advertising we found during our research are still very much in use today.”

Dr Arthur der Weduwen, also from the School of History, said: “We have charted the growth of advertising from its early beginnings to its flourishing towards the end of the seventeenth century. Thanks to these advertisements, we gain unrivalled insights into the burgeoning consumer society of seventeenth-century Europe. Businesses and private citizens used the newspapers to offer a wide range of goods and services, publicise new inventions, or appeal for help in recovering lost and stolen goods, pets or children.

The authors, at work in the University Library of Leiden, Dr Arthur der Weduwen (left) with Professor Andrew Pettegree holding the first book ever to be advertised in a newspaper
The authors, at work in the University Library of Leiden, Dr Arthur der Weduwen (left) with Professor Andrew Pettegree holding the first book ever to be advertised in a newspaper

“We have offered both a unique window into past lives and societies, and the beginnings of marketing strategies that would characterise the advertising world over the following centuries, and into the modern era.”


The Dutch Republic and the Birth of Modern Advertising is published by Brill and available to order online.

News, Business and Public Information: Advertisements and Announcements in Dutch and Flemish Newspapers, 1620-1675, also published by Brill, is available to order online.

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