What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“May be had … till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails.”
The colophon for the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated that it was published by Robert Wells “at the Old Printing-House, Great Stationary and Book Shop.” Like many other eighteenth-century printers, Wells simultaneously operated several affiliated enterprises from his printing office. An advertisement in the May 11, 1770, edition of his newspaper alerted prospective customers to an item for sale among the books and stationery at his shop, “A PLAN of the CITY of NEW-YORK by Capt. Ratzer, Engineer.”
The advertisement declared that this map was “most elegantly engraved,” but that was not the only marketing strategy deployed to incite demand among consumers. The advertisement also proclaimed that the map was available for a limited time only. Customers could acquire their own copies for one dollar each “till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails, in which will be returned all the Copies then unsold.” None would be held in reserve at the printing office to sell in the future. Anyone potentially interested in this map, the advertisement warned, needed to visit Wells’s shop to examine the map and make a decision about purchasing it as soon as possible or else they would miss the opportunity to obtain it easily from a local bookseller.
In its notes on Plan of the City of New York, in North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library cites two states of the map, the first “undated but about 1770” and the second from 1776. Furthermore, the “attribution of 1770 for the first state of the map is based on a ‘New-York Gazette’ advertisement for the map in October 1770,” according to Margaret Beck Pritchard and Henry G. Taliaferro. Although available for purchase in two of the largest urban ports in the colonies in 1770, there are “only two known examples of the map in the first state” today. The advertisements aid historians in telling a more complete story of the production and distribution of the Plan of the City of New York in the late colonial era.