What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“SABLE MUFFS and TIPPETS.”
When furrier John Siemon returned to New York in the fall of 1772 after having spent several months in Philadelphia, he announced his intention to remain in the busy port with advertisements in at least two of the newspapers published in the city, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal. (Unfortunately, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy has not been digitized, making it more difficult to consult.) Siemon inserted identical copy in the two newspapers, first in the New-York Journal on November 12 and then in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on November 16, though the compositors in the printing offices made different decisions about the format of the advertisements.
Despite differences in typography, an image of a muff remained consistent between the notices in the two newspapers. Upon examining digitized editions, it appears that the printing offices used the same woodcut, which suggests that Siemon invested some effort in having that woodcut transferred from one printing office to another. He may have retrieved it himself or he may have made arrangements with the printers to exchange the woodcut. Either way, that resulted in some inconvenience in the printing offices, especially since Siemon’s advertisement did not run just once. A notation at the end of his advertisement in the New-York Journal, “58 61,” indicated that he initially intended for the notice to run for four issues from “NUMB. 1558” to “NUMB. 1561.” According to the colophon, that was a standard run: “Five Shillings, four Weeks.” The advertisement actually ended up running through “NUMB. 1566” on January 7, 1773, for a total of nine consecutive weeks.
In contrast, Siemon’s advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for only four weeks. After the first insertion, the image no longer adorned the notice, further evidence that the furrier commissioned only one woodcut rather than one for each printing office. After moving the woodcut from one printing office to another and back again when he first began advertising in the middle of November, Siemon may have decided that he did not have the time to oversee its transfer between the two printing offices twice a week. Alternately, the printers may have made the decision for the furrier, determining that adding and removing the woodcut from type already set each time they took an issue to press was too disruptive. Either way, Siemon likely had to settle for the image appearing in his advertisements the first time they ran in each newspaper, drawing attention to his return to New York, and then continuing in only one of those publications.