What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
For several weeks in 1771, Nesbitt Deane promoted “HATS, MANUFACTURED by the Advertiser” in the New-York Journal. His advertisements concluded with “86—,” a notation intended for the compositor rather than readers. Most advertisements in the New-York Journal included two numbers, the first corresponding to the issue in which the advertisement first appeared and the other indicating the final issue for the advertisement. That allowed the compositor to quickly determine whether an advertisement belonged in the next issue when arranging notices and other content on the page in advance of going to press.
George Ball’s advertisement for “A Neat Assortment of CHINA, GLASS, STONE and DELPH WARES” in the same column as Nesbitt’s advertisement for hats in the July 18 edition, for instance, concluded with “88 91.” That signaled to the compositor that Ball’s advertisement first appeared in “NUMB. 1488” on July 11 and would continue through “NUMB. 1491” on August 1. That was the standard run, four issues, for many advertisements. According to the colophon, John Holt, the printer, charged “Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.” Many advertisers tended to pay for the minimum number of issues and then discontinued their notices. Others, like Jacobus Vanzandt and Son, arranged for their advertisements to appear for longer durations. Their notice for imported textiles, garments, and housewares in the column next to Nesbitt’s notice concluded with “79 87,” indicating that they specified that it should run for nine weeks.
Deane apparently did not select an end date when he initially placed his advertisement in “NUMB. 1486” on June 27. Instead, he opted to let it run indefinitely until he decided to remove it. The dash instead of a second number communicated to the compositor to continue inserting the advertisement until instructed otherwise, while the “86” aided in keeping the books. The printer did not need to consult previous editions when calculating how much Deane owed when he eventually stopped running his advertisement. Many, but not all, printers included similar notations in advertisements that appeared in American newspapers in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.