What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Catalogues may be had the day of viewing at the place of sale.”
On Monday, July 2, 1770, John Taylor ran an advertisement that announced an auction scheduled for the following Thursday. He advised readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that the items up for bid included “houshold furniture, china, glass, and jewellery ware, silver watches, some copper, tea, and kitchen furniture.” He concluded the list with “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera), an indication of even more items than the newspaper advertisement could contain.
Prospective bidders did not, however, need to consult the newspaper advertisement for a complete listing of the items offered for sale. Taylor announced that “Catalogues may be had the day of viewing at the place of sale.” Auctioneers and booksellers both made frequent reference to catalogs in their advertisements, though relatively few of those eighteenth-century auction catalogs or book catalogs survive. Some historians suspect that many of those catalogs never existed; it is impossible to know for certain. The mere promise of a catalog may have helped to convince some readers to visit Taylor’s auction house. Taylor scheduled an advance viewing of the goods as a means of priming interest, but handing out catalogs encouraged viewers to continue engaging with items of potential interest after departing the auction house. Upon examining the items for sale, prospective bidders did not have to rely on memory alone as they contemplated which actions they would take. A catalog also provided additional details that prospective bidders could further enhance with their own notes.
Like other auctioneers, Taylor almost certainly realized that anticipation was an integral component of a successful auction. Prospective bidders envisioned acquiring goods before they had an opportunity to purchase them. They could imagine bargains if others did not bid on the items they wanted, but they could also imagine steadily increasing their bids if they encountered competition. Either way, prospective bidders made some sort of commitment before the auction began. By providing catalogs, Taylor facilitated these acts of imagination, increasing the likelihood that prospective bidders put them into action at the auction.