What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“RD. SAUSE. CUTLER.”
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery … or a means of capitalizing on a competitor’s marketing efforts. On March 4, 1771, Bailey and Youle, cutlers from Sheffield, ran a newspaper advertisement notable for a woodcut that included their names and depictions of more than a dozen items available at their shop. Four weeks later, another cutler, Richard Sause, inserted a strikingly similar advertisement in the same newspaper, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Like Bailey and Youle, his notice began with a woodcut that included his name and images of various items in his inventory. He also listed those items and more, including “oyster knives, razors, scissors; pocket, pruning and pen knives; …[and] corkscrews.” In addition to the assortment of merchandise represented in both image and text, Sause also stocked “sundry other things too tedious to mention.”
Sause further enhanced his woodcut by incorporating his name into the depictions of a table knife and a sword, a modification not present in Bailey and Youle’s image of their wares. The table knife appeared in the upper left and the sword in the lower right, making it likely that viewers would encounter items branded with Sause’s name first and last as they glanced at the depictions of many kinds of cutlery. Sause’s woodcut also featured a greater number of items, testifying to the many choices he offered to consumers. In the copy that accompanied the image, he twice invoked variations of the phrase “other articles too tedious to mention,” deploying language not present in Bailey and Youle’s advertisement. Using his competitor’s notice as a model, Sause devised improvement for his own.
It seems unlikely that Sause produced this advertisement without having seen the notice that Bailey and Youle placed in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Furthermore, whoever carved the original woodcut probably carved the second, given the similarities between several pieces of cutlery depicted in each. Bailey and Youle continued running their advertisement when Sause’s notice first appeared, the similarities between the two all the more apparent because they were the only images that appeared anywhere in the April 1, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and its supplement, with the exception of the masthead. When Bailey and Youle published an advertisement that increased their visibility in the marketplace, Sause took notice and shamelessly replicated their efforts.