What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He will endeavour, to discharge himself in his Function, with Faithfulness to all Mankind.”
After several months of promoting the endeavor, including placing subscription proposals in newspapers in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, James Rivington published the first issue of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser on April 22, 1773. In addition to subscribers, the printer sought advertisers for his newspaper … and promised “Gentlemen in Business” in neighboring Connecticut that they would have access to advertisements placed by the “Merchants and Traders of New-York” if they subscribed.
Rivington delivered on that promise, filling five of the twelve columns in the first issue with advertisements. The revenue from those notices complemented what subscribers paid for their newspapers, an important alternate stream of revenue for the printer. In the colophon at the bottom of the final page, he solicited more advertisements as well as job printing of blanks, broadsides, handbills, and other items. Rivington’s roster of advertisers included many entrepreneurs who already placed notices in other newspapers. They hoped to maintain or increase their share of the market by disseminating advertisements via New York’s newest newspaper. Among those advertisers who supplemented their marketing efforts in other newspapers, Maxwell and Williams, tobacconists from Bristol, advertised a variety of snuff, John Simnet (in an uncharacteristically subdued notice) informed readers that he repaired watches “VERY cheap and VERY well,” John C. Knapp offered his services as an attorney, broker, and conveyancer at his “Scrivener’s Office,” and William Bayley hawked a “neat and general assortment” of merchandise he recently imported. Bayley even pledged to insert a more extensive advertisement, encouraging prospective customers to look for it. He planned to catalog his inventory of hardware, “a full Advertisement of which will be published in a future Paper.” Nesbitt Deane, the hatmaker, retrieved the woodcut that depicted a tricorne hat with his name in a banner beneath it, from another printing office in order to include it in his advertisement in the first issue of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.
Rivington also published notices from advertisers in other towns. Rensselaer Williams inserted an advertisement for the Royal Oak Inn adjacent to the Trenton Ferry similar to the one he previously published in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Given the anticipated circulation of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, that certainly made sense, a savvy investment by an innkeeper hoping to serve travelers from many colonies as they passed through New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Edward Pole, who frequently advertised in newspapers printed in Philadelphia, placed a lengthy notice that listed “Fishing Tackle of all sorts.” In a note at the end, he declared that “All Orders from Town and Country will be thankfully received, duly attended to, and carefully executed as though the Persons were themselves personally present.” That signaled his eagerness to serve prospective customers in New York who wished to send orders, yet Pole likely believed that prospective customers in Philadelphia and nearby towns would encounter his advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer. After all, the printer ran subscription notices in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, and the Pennsylvania Packet. Pole apparently believed that the newspaper achieved sufficient circulation in his area to make it worth placing an advertisement to supplement those that ran in newspapers printed in his own city.
Advertising accounted for a significant portion of the content of the first issue of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer … and likely accounted for a significant amount of revenue that helped to defray the costs of printing the newspaper. Although Rivington had presented the presence of advertisements as beneficial to some prospective subscribers, especially merchants in Connecticut, his marketing campaign much more extensively highlighted the news, essays, and speeches that he intended to print. Still, when he published the first issue, advertising comprised nearly half of the content that subscribers received in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer … and Weekly Advertiser.