September 22

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

sep-22-9221766-new-york-mercury
New-York Mercury (September 22, 1766).

“Mr. KNAPP, with strict Candour, agreeable to the Constitution, and Fundamentals of Law and Equity, will give his Opinion and Advice on any Case.”

Lengthy expositions and sensational narratives by John Coghill Knapp were a fixture among the advertisements that appeared in the New-York Mercury in 1766, giving the impression that the “Attorney at Law” loved to talk in real life and would spare no effort in pursuing the interests of his clients. The preponderance of prose in his advertisements may have been a selling point, demonstrating to potential clients that he left no stone unturned and no contingency unanticipated.

While it may not be completely fair to compare Knapp’s legal philosophy to modern ambulance chasers known for their obnoxiously loud television commercials and flashy billboards, the two both adopted modes of advertising intended to attract as much attention as possible. Force of personality played a part in Knapp’s advertising, but he also resorted to gimmicks to tempt potential customers to avail themselves of his services. He promised to “give his Opinion and Advice on any Case, verbally stated, for One Dollar.” This one-price-fits-all fee structure seemed designed to get as many clients as possible into his office on Rotten Row, especially those nervous about the costs of consulting other attorneys.

Knapp’s fee structure also suggested that he sought to work with common men and women, not just the elite and affluent. In addition to charging one dollar for cases “verbally stated,” he charged “similar easy Terms” for cases in writing, depending on “the Length of papers to peruse, and Number of Questions to solve.” Knapp recognized that many of his potential clients might not have extensive documents (or any at all) related to their legal concerns. He also implicitly acknowledged that some potential clients might be able to read his advertisements but not write much (or anything) about the various situations he described in his advertisement.

Knapp developed an over-the-top persona in his advertisements as he positioned himself as a lawyer who served everyday people.

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