What is a Broadside?

A broadside, also known as a broadsheet, is a type of written communication intended to be displayed in public. A broadside traditionally contains a mix of text and images, with a large line of primary text to draw the viewer’s attention. The broadside was used to convey information, issue proclamations, make revolutionary statements, and publish the lyrics to poetry and songs during its heyday, which lasted from the 1600s to the early twentieth century. Although glossy posters have largely replaced broadsides in the world of advertising, some artists continue to create them.

A broadside is typically printed on over-sized paper with movable type on a letterpress. The broadside is designed to have a strong visual impact, usually with several lines of large text such as “Attention Workingmen!” to draw attention. Smaller fonts convey information or lay out a manifesto as the reader approaches the broadside. Small, simple engravings were also used to illustrate some traditional broadsides. While the broadside may be highly artistic, it is also intended to be readable, and broadsides were typically written in simple, clear language so that people of all educational and social backgrounds could read them.

Informational sheets about people wanted the authorities, official government proclamations, special editions of newspapers, revolutionary propaganda, parodies, poetry, and songs are all common uses for broadsides. The first widely distributed version of the Declaration of Independence, which was printed on a single over-sized sheet of paper and posted in public for all to see, is the most famous broadside in history in the United States. A large public space was set aside in many cities and towns for the display of broadsides so that citizens could gather information and read about issues of interest in one central location.

A broadside differs from a poster in that it is usually densely packed with information. A poster advertising a strike or protest, for example, in the late twentieth century, when posters largely replaced broadsides, would contain images and a small section of text outlining who is protesting and when. The majority of the space on a broadside would be filled with text, explaining the marchers’ grievances and the history of the movement, as well as the protest date and time. A broadside is like a miniature version of an issue, whereas a poster assumes at least a basic understanding of the subject.

The broadside is sometimes used as an artistic medium in modern art. Some poets use broadsides to publish their work, while others use them to issue manifestos and show off their typography skills. In the case of modern art, the broadside may be minimalist, with only a few lines of text, often in a variety of colors. The purpose of a modern art broadside is to create a visual impact and make an artistic statement rather than to convey information.