What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“One of the most beautiful Animals, call’d, The LEOPARD.”
In addition to an array of consumer goods and services, newspaper advertisements also promoted a variety of entertainments and leisure activities, from concerts and plays to fireworks and exotic animals. Readers of the August 1, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury could not have missed Abraham Van Dyck’s advertisement that invited them to view a leopard that had just arrived in the city. The relatively large woodcut that accompanied the advertisement crudely depicted the large cat, inciting even greater interest than Van Dyck’s description of the animal.
Van Dyck introduced New Yorkers to a spectacle previously unknown to them, “one of the most beautiful Animals.” He could not assume that prospective viewers were already familiar with leopards, prompting him to publish a short description to supplement the woodcut. Van Dyck explained that the leopard was “adorned all over with very neat and different spots, black and white.” It had “large sparkling Eyes, and long Whiskers on both Sides of his Jaws.” In comparison to an animal that may have been more familiar to many colonists, “This Leopard is much in Shape, Nature, and Colour, like unto a Panther.” To augment the excitement of viewing this exotic beast, Van Dyck noted that the leopard was “greedy in catching his Prey by leaping at it,” but those tantalized by this description did not need to worry about their safety when they went to see this exotic creature. “Gentlemen and Ladies may have a full View of the Leopard,” Van Dyck promised, as he is well secured with a Chain.”
The leopard was not Van Dyck’s only attraction. He informed readers that he had “several other Animals, which will be seen at the same Time,” though he did not indicate which other animals comprised the rest of the show. The leopard was the star, the exotic beast that Van Dyck expected would draw viewers willing to pay a shilling to glimpse a creature so out of the ordinary compared to the sights they encountered on most days. The woodcut underscored that the leopard was a true curiosity that readers did not want to miss.