What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“All sorts of knives, razors, shears, and scissars.”
When Bailey and Youle, “Cutlers from Sheffield,” advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in March 1771, a visual image distinguished their notice from others. They devoted approximately one-third of the space in their advertisement to a woodcut that may have depicted the sign that marked the location of their shop. A border contained their names and occupation as well as images of a razor, a knife, an awl, scissors, and a variety of other cutlery that they made and sold at their shop “NEAR THE Merchant’s COFFEE-HOUSE.” That image represented an investment in their marketing efforts. First, they had to commission a woodcut connected directly to their business. Then, since newspaper printers charged by the amount of space advertisements filled rather than the number of words, they had to pay for the additional space required to include the woodcut. That alone made their advertisement half again more expensive than if they had inserted only the copy with no image.
Was it worth the additional expense? Bailey and Youle may have impressed prospective customers with their unique image. The depictions of so many different kinds of cutlery underscored the range of choices in the list of merchandise that followed. The woodcut almost certainly attracted notice and drew attention to their advertisement. Consider its placement in the March 4, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the first issue that carried it. Bailey and Youle’s advertisement ran on the third page in a standard issue created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. If readers perused the interior of the newspaper by holding the second and third pages open, Bailey and Youle’s woodcut would have been the only visual image they encountered among two pages of dense text in both news accounts and advertisements. If they folded the pages over and viewed only one at a time, the woodcut in Bailey and Youle’s advertisement still would have been the only visual image visible. Only three other images appeared elsewhere in that edition, one in the masthead as usual and two much smaller depictions of ships at sea that accompanied advertisements for passage and freight on the last page.
Bailey and Youle made appeals to consumer choice twice over in their advertisement. Like many other purveyors of goods, they provided an extensive list of their merchandise. In addition, however, their woodcut also cataloged the many cutlery items they offered for sale. Text and image reinforced each other in making overtures to consumers.