What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Medley of Goods.”
Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury encountered a memorable image in the supplement that accompanied the May 8, 1769, edition. Gerardus Duyckinck ran a shop he named “The Medley of Goods” at a location marked by “the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.” The intricate woodcut in his advertisement depicted that sign, with a druggist’s pot perched atop an ornate cartouche and a looking glass suspended below it. The copy for the advertisement filled the remainder of the cartouche, with the entire woodcut extending more than half a column. It dominated any page on which it appeared.
Indeed, Duyckinck’s elaborate woodcut may have been the most memorable image printed in that newspaper in the 1760s. Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury included few visual images. Sometimes advertisements featured small icons of houses, horses, ship, or runaway servants or slaves. These crude woodcuts were small, belonged to the printer, and could be used interchangeably in advertisements with matching content. Elsewhere in the May 8 issue and its supplement, five advertisements included woodcuts of horses, three had ships, and one had a house. All of them were a fraction of the size of Duyckinck’s woodcut. A woodcut of a colonist and an Indian flanking a shield and crown was the only other image in that issue. Although it was considerably larger than the other woodcuts, it likely did not garner much additional notice since it was so familiar, appearing week after week. Duyckinck’s woodcut, on the other hand, ran often enough that readers would have recognized it, but not so often that they overlooked it because they expected to spot it among the many advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Even other advertisers who commissioned their own woodcuts to distinguish their notices from others did not invest in images that were as large or as lavish. Duyckinck’s woodcut stood alone among those in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Nothing in advertisements published in other newspapers in the 1760s compared to it either.
Woodcuts were prone to damage over time, coming under intense pressure with each impression made on hand-operated presses. That likely contributed to Duyckinck’s decision to deploy this expensive woodcut only occasionally, doing so frequently enough to make it familiar but not so often that it deteriorated an disappeared from the public prints too quickly. It first appeared in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal and continued for several weeks. In the spring of 1768 Duyckinck inserted it in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for a longer period before putting the image on hiatus again for many months. It did not disappear from view for so long, however, that it would have been unfamiliar when it returned in May 1769. Gerardus deployed a variety of marketing strategies in the copy of his advertisement, but the extraordinary visual element increased the likelihood that prospective customers would pay attention to the copy contained within the impressive cartouche.