What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“[The particulars are ommitted this week for want of room.]”
When the ship America arrived in New York as summer turned to fall in 1771, merchants and shopkeepers received new merchandise from their associates in England. Many of them placed newspaper advertisements to alert prospective customers that they had new inventory. Purveyors of goods were not alone, however, in welcoming new opportunities to do business. For Hugh Gaine, the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the America delivered more than just news for him to publish but also opportunities to generate advertising revenue.
Henry Remsen and Company placed an advertisement announcing that they “Have imported in the America, Capt. Hervey, from Hull … a general assortment of seasonable goods.” Similarly, Daniel Phoenix noted that he “Has just imported in the America, Capt. Hervey, from Hull … the following goods” and then, like Remsen and Company listed dozens of items. Henry Williams ran a shorter advertisement, but he also declared that he “HATH imported by theAmerica, Captain Hervey,” a variety of textiles that he would sell for low prices.
Gerret Keteltas and Wynandt Keteltas also published a short advertisement in the September 23 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, after receiving “a neat and general assortment of European and India goods” via “the America, Capt. Hervey.” Unlike the others, their advertisement did not appear in its entirety. Instead, Gaine truncated their notice and included an explanation that “The particulars are ommitted this week for want of room.” The printer could have made room for the advertisement, but at the expense of publishing news from London received by ships that recently arrived in New York. Instead, he gave the Keteltases’ advertisement a privileged spot in the next edition placing it at the top of one of the columns on the third page. It appeared immediately below the chart of high tides and prices current that Gaine regularly incorporated into the masthead, making it even more likely that readers would take note of the advertisement.
Like other printers, Gaine faced editorial decisions about the balance of news and advertising. Paid notices accounted for significant revenue for many printers, especially for Gaine since he regularly issued a two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising. Yet subscribers who wanted to read the news were also an important part of the equation. If they discontinued their subscriptions because they did not receive as much news content as they wished, then newspapers became less attractive to advertisers who wished to reach as many prospective customers as possible. In this instance, Gaine attempted to chart a course to satisfy both readers and advertisers when both news and imported good arrived on the America.