May 23

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (May 20, 1773).

“The Sign of the Tea-Cannister and two Sugar Loaves.”

When James Rivington launched Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer in the spring of 1773, he had a significant number of advertisers lined up for the first several issues.  Those advertisers included entrepreneurs who previously invested in woodcuts that depicted some aspect of their business.  Such visual images distinguished their advertisements from others that consisted entirely of text.  Nesbitt Deane, a hatmaker, ran an advertisement featuring the familiar image of a tricorne hat with his name in a ribbon below it in the first issue.  Richard Sause, a cutler, included his woodcut depicting items made and sold at his shop in the second issue of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.

A couple of weeks later, Smith Richards, a “GROCER and CONFECTIONER, At the Sign of the Tea-Cannister and two Sugar Loaves,” ran an advertisement with an image that replicated his shop sign.  Within a thick border, sugar loaves flanked a tea canister embellished with the names of popular varieties of tea, “HYSON,” “SOUCHONG,” and “CONGO.”  Unlike the woodcuts that adorned advertisements placed by Deane and Sause, this one had not previously appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury or the New-York Journal.  (It may have run in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy.  Issues from January 1771 through the last known issue of July 12, 1773, have not yet been digitized for greater accessibility.)  The image of the “Sign of the Tea-Cannister and two Sugar Loaves” very well may have been the first woodcut commissioned for an advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.

Richards had not previously advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury or the New-York Journal, but he apparently believed that the new Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer offered a good opportunity and a sound investment when it came to advertising his wares.  Even though most advertisers did not commission woodcuts to accompany their notices, many other entrepreneurs, some who previously advertised in other newspapers and some who had not, shared Richards’s confidence in the effectiveness of disseminating their advertisements via New York’s newest newspaper. Rivington had successfully convinced prospective advertisers that his newspaper enjoyed a wide circulation for even its earliest issues.

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