The Bill Poster’s Dream, 1877


This cartoon satirized the growing legions of bill posters who dreamed of papering every public fence, wall or lamp post with notices and broadsides. Before outdoor space became real estate that had to be rented or purchased, almost any surface was fair game. Bill posters often worked at night, fought for space, and papered over each others’ work in a highly competitive trade. They also transformed the landscape of cities and towns into commercial spectacles.  For some observers outdoor advertising begged for regulation and for others it spelled opportunity, since the spaces could be leased advertisers.

The Bill Poster’s Dream is part of the Harry T. Peters “America on Stone” lithograph collection at the National Museum of American History. The ads here make humorous statements if read from top to bottom.


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