What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
The partnership of Abeel and Byvanck regularly advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in 1770. While it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, the fact that they repeatedly placed new advertisements advising consumers about the merchandise they offered for sale suggests that they considered advertising a good investment. Like other merchants and shopkeepers, they often listed items currently in stock, though sometimes they instead merely emphasized that shoppers had many choices among a “general Assortment” or “very large ASSORTMENT.”
Most purveyors of consumer goods tended to place a single advertisement to promote all of them. Such advertisements often attracted attention due to the amount of space they occupied on the page. Abeel and Byvanck, on the other hand, experimented with placing multiple advertisements in a single issue. Rather than the length of their notices drawing the eye, instead it was the repetition intended to attract attention. Abeel and Byvank’s enterprise became more memorable as a result of repeatedly encountering their advertisements.
Readers of the November 19, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury spotted advertisements placed by Abeel and Byvank on the first and last pages. An advertisement for ironmongery ran on the first page followed by another for looking glasses on the final page. In addition to placing multiple advertisements, the partners also relied on headlines in oversized fonts drawing the eyes of prospective customers. The word “SCONCES” in the notice about looking glasses appeared in a font larger than any other on the page. Similarly, the word “NAILS” used a font that dwarfed any other on the first page except for the title of the newspaper in the masthead. In each instance, the large font helped to create white space that further distinguished Abeel and Byvanck’s advertisements from news items and other advertisements on pages that consisted of dense paragraphs of text.
Viewed through twenty-first-century eyes, Abeel and Byvanck’s advertisements do not appear particularly sophisticated. Considered in the context of eighteenth-century advertising practices, however, their notices possessed elements that made them notable. Placing multiple advertisements in a single issue helped to establish name recognition, enhancing their reputation as purveyors of goods through repetition. Savvy choices about font size increased the likelihood that readers would spot their advertisements and take note that Abeel and Byvanck actively participated in the marketplace, especially as it was represented on the printed page.