What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Gentlemen’s caps, and gloves, lined with fur, very useful for travelling, and sleighing.”
During the final week of October 1773, John Siemon, a furrier, inserted advertisements in three newspapers published in New York, placing his notices before the eyes of as many readers in and near the city as possible. He hawked a “General and complete assortment, of new fashion’d muffs & tippets, ermine, cloak linings, … gentlemen’s caps, and gloves, lined with fur,” and other items. In addition, he “trims Ladies robes and riding dresses” and “faces and lapels Gentlemen’s waistcoats.” As an ancillary service, Siemon provided directions “to rub the furs in summer” to keep them in good condition when not being worn.
Although Siemon submitted nearly identical copy to the three printing offices, his advertisements had very different formats when they appeared in the newspapers. Arguably the one that best represented Siemon’s brand, the notice in the New-York Journal featured a woodcut depicting a muff, an image that regularly accompanied the furrier’s advertisements. Siemon apparently considered it worth the investment to commission a single woodcut for the exclusive use of his business, but did not realize the potential of purchasing multiple woodcuts with the same image in order to achieve visual consistency and product recognition across several publications.
Siemon’s advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer had a different kind of visual appeal. The furrier joined the ranks of advertisers who enclosed their notices within borders comprised of decorative type, including Crommelin and Horsfield, bakers, John J. Roosevelt, a merchant, Richard Sause, a cutler. James Rivington and the compositors in his printing office made such borders a regular part of advertisements for consumer goods and services. Those borders helped to draw attention to certain advertisements while also giving the pages of Rivington’s newspaper a distinctive look. In contrast, no images or decorative type adorned Siemon’s advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. It consisted solely of text with the typography determined by the compositor to match other advertisements in that publication.
In most instances, advertisers submitted copy to printing offices and then compositors determined the format of the advertisements. Siemon’s advertisements suggest that was indeed the case when advertising in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, yet he offered specific directions, in the form of the familiar woodcut, for his advertisement in the New-York Journal. His advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer demonstrates the greatest level of collaboration between advertiser and compositor. Siemon either requested or agreed to include a distinctive visual element associated with notices in that newspaper. The furrier took graphic design into account to varying degrees in his efforts to disseminate his advertisements in multiple newspapers.