What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Just received per the Hopewell … 53 56.”
John Morton’s advertisement for a “Neat and general Assortment of Good suitable for the Season” appeared on the front page of the November 8, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. Morton indicated that he had just received a shipment via “the Hopewell, Capt. SMITH, from LONDON.” The two numbers at the end of the advertisement, “53 56,” confirmed that it was the first time his notice ran in the newspaper. The compositor included those numbers as a shorthand to indicate the first and last issues to insert the advertisement. They corresponded to issue numbers in the masthead. The November 8 edition was “NUMB. 1453.” Morton’s advertisement was scheduled to run in issue 1454 on November 15, issue 1455 on November 22, and issue 1456 on November 29.
Morton’s advertisement was not the only one that included a combination of issue numbers and reference to Captain Smith and the Hopewell. Hallett and Hazard proclaimed that they had “just imported an assortment of goods “in the Hopewell, Capt. Smith.” Their advertisement ended with “53 6,” issue numbers intended for the compositor rather than readers. Similarly, William Neilson promoted “a large Assortment of Goods suitable for the Season, imported in the Hopewell, Capt Smith, from London.” His advertisement also ended with “53 6,” numbers not related to his merchandise but to bookkeeping in the printing office.
Morton, Neilson, and Hallett and Hazard all apparently placed advertisements as quickly as they could after acquiring new inventory transported across the Atlantic on the Hopewell. The shipping news, labelled “CUSTOM HOUSE NEW-YORK, INWARD ENTRIES,” included the “Snow Hopewell, Smith, London” among the several ships that arrived in the busy port since the previous issue of the New-York Journal. Readers may not have paid much attention to the correlation between the issue number and the notations at the end of advertisements, but they were more likely to have noticed the roster of vessels that had just arrived in New York. That would have helped them to calibrate how recently advertisers acquired the goods they hawked to consumers. That Morton received his wares via the Hopewell was not a quaint detail. It was not any more insignificant than the numbers at the end of his advertisement. Both delivered important information to eighteenth-century readers who understood the context.