What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The Medley of Goods Sold by G DUYCKINCK.”
Few visual images adorned advertisements published in eighteenth-century newspapers. Most of those that did appear depicted ships at sea (for freight and passage or imported goods), houses (for real estate), horses (for breeding), enslaved people (for sale or fleeing from bondage), or indentured servants (running away before their contracts expired). These stock images, which belonged to the printers, were used interchangeably with any advertisement from the appropriate genre. Far fewer advertisements featured unique images created expressly to represent a particular business, depicting particular merchandise or the shop sign that marked the location. In those cases, advertisers commissioned the woodcuts and retained exclusive use of them. Most were fairly modest, making Gerardus Duyckinck’s large and elaborate woodcut all the more notable and memorable.
Duyckinck operated a shop known as the “UNIVERSAL STORE” for its broad assortment of merchandise available to consumers. He also referred to his inventory as “The Medley of Goods.” Located at the “Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot” in New York, Duyckinck sold his wares “Wholesale and Retail.” His woodcut featured an intricate rococo border that enclosed most of the copy for his advertisements, though he usually inserted a couple of lines of introductory material above it. The copy within the border changed regularly. A “Druggist Pot” sat at the top of the border and a “Looking Glass” with an ornate frame took up one-third of the space within the border, those two items replicating the shop sign that alerted prospective customers they had reached their destination. The graphic design resembled the borders and other images that decorated trade cards distributed frequently by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans in London and less often by their counterparts in the American colonies. The image testified to taste and gentility, suggesting that these qualities were transferable to consumers who purchased goods from Duyckinck.
This ornate border and the lists of goods it enclosed appeared in the New-York Journal regularly in the late 1760s and into the 1770s. Duyckinck first published it on October 29, 1767. Three years later, it became a familiar sight to subscribers and other readers of the New-York Journal. Even as other advertisements cycled through that newspaper, many running for the standard four weeks specified in the colophon before being discontinued, Duyckinck’s rococo border was present for weeks and months, the copy updated but the visual image remaining the same. Other advertisers, such as staymaker Richard Norris and shopkeeper John Keating, invested in advertising campaigns that extended over months rather than weeks. Their notices often ran on the same page as Duyckinck’s advertisement, as was the case in the October 18, 1770, edition, but they did not have visual elements that made them instantly recognizable. No matter which other advertisements appeared alongside Duyckinck’s notice, his attracted attention due its striking image. Prospective customers did not have to read the advertisement to know that Duyckinck made an assortment of goods available for purchase. The repetition of such a memorable woodcut over the course of several years was a marketing strategy in and of itself.