October 3

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (September 30, 1773).


Richard Sause joined other entrepreneurs who experimented with decorative borders enclosing their advertisements when he promoted a “GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF CUTLERY” in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  The cutler had previous experience incorporating visual images into his advertisements in both the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  By the fall of 1773, many advertisements in New York’s newest newspaper featured borders, a popular means of enhancing notices.  Similar borders sometimes adorned advertisements in other newspapers, but not in the numbers and frequency that they appeared in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.

The September 30, 1773, edition of that newspaper, for instance, included eight advertisements with ornate borders.  Most of those notices were relatively short, a single square of text.  Among them, Dennis McReady, a tobacconist, hawked his wares and Aspinwall and Smith announced that they sold “CHOICE OLD JAMAICA SPIRIT.”  Another of these shorter announcements advised that “the Delaware Lottery for the Sale of Lands, belonging to the Earl of Stirling, will commence on Monday the first Day of November next.”  James Rivington, the printer, also enclosed his advertisement for Keyser’s Pills within a decorative border.  George Webster, “At the THREE SUGAR LOAVES,” listed a couple of items “just received from LONDON” and promised “many other Articles which will be inserted next week.”  That advertisement, however, never materialized.  Given that advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied rather than the number of words, borders made advertisements more expensive.  Rivington may have also charged additional fees for the borders, making them especially attractive to entrepreneurs running shorter advertisements.

Still, some advertisers enclosed longer notices within borders.  Thomas Hazard, one of Sause’s competitors, did so with an advertisement for “Ironmongery and Cutlery,” as did Francis Lewis and Sons in their advertisement that listed dozens of items for sale at their store on Queen Street.  Among these three longer advertisements, Sause’s notice was the shortest.  He apparently appreciated the visual appeal of the border and considered it worth the investment.  Four weeks later he placed a much more extensive advertisement that extended approximately three-quarters of a column.  A decorative border enclosed the lengthy list of merchandise that Sause “JUST IMPORTED.”  Along with several other advertisers, the cutler sought to generate interest in his newspaper notices by making them more visually appealing than text alone.  The printing office seems to have encouraged this innovation.

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