What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A Variety of other Articles suitable for this Market, and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.”
As spring turned to fall and colonists anticipated the arrival of winter in 1767, Philip Livingston inserted an advertisement for “A Very neat Assortment of Woollens, suitable for the Season” in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. In placing this notice, Livingston did not seek the patronage of end-use consumers; instead, he acted as a wholesaler in distributing imported textiles to retailers to sell to customers in their own shops throughout the colony. After listing a variety of fabrics (most of them in an array of colors), he described them as “suitable for this Market and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.” The merchant wanted potential customers to know that if they acquired his woolens and “other Articles” that the merchandise would not just sit on the shelves.
Livingston’s advertisement also demonstrates the wide distribution of newspapers in the late colonial period. He inserted his notice in a newspaper printed in New York City, confident that “Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony” would see it. At the time, printers in the busy port published four newspapers: the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on Mondays and the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the New-York Journal on Thursdays. Livingston placed the same advertisement in all four publications, realizing that was the most efficient way to communicate with shopkeepers in towns beyond the city. After all, the four newspapers printed in New York City were the only newspapers published in the colony in 1767. Livingston did not have the option of buying advertising space in hometown publications because the four newspapers emanating from New York City were the local newspapers for residents throughout the entire colony! Subscribers beyond the city received copies delivered by post riders. After delivery, issues passed from hand to hand. Individual retailers “in the Northern Parts of the Colony” might not have access to each of New York’s newspapers during any given week, but Livingston knew that they likely would see at least one.
In distinguishing among the various components of colonial newspapers it might be tempting to view the news items as general interest for any reader but advertisements as limited to local markets. That, however, would not be an accurate assessment of many of the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. Many advertisers – both wholesalers and retailers – sought to cultivate customers in towns beyond the cities where newspaper were published. The extensive distribution networks for colonial networks made that possible.