What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.”
To adorn many of the advertisements for his “UNIVERSAL STORE,” Gerardus Duyckinck commissioned perhaps the most impressive woodcut that accompanied any advertisements in newspapers published throughout the American colonies in the 1760s. In an advertisement that extended approximately two-thirds of a column, Duyckink promoted the “Medley of Goods” he sold “At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot” in New York, yet it was not the amount of space the notice occupied on the page that distinguished it from others. The intricately carved woodcut likely replicated his shop sign, depicting a looking glass in an ornate frame suspended below an urn. A larger rococo frame, equally ornate, enclosed most of the copy, including a nota bene that instructed potential customers how to read the list of merchandise contained in the notice: “The above advertisement, being only the Heads, which consists of a Variety of Articles, almost every particular in each Branch can be commanded at the above Store.” In other words, Duyckinck did not publish an exhaustive list of his wares. Instead, he used a series of headers to categorize the items among his inventory, truly a “Medley of Goods.”
Prospective customers first encountered Duyckinck’s elaborate woodcut in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal. It ran for several weeks before Duyckinck discontinued it. In the spring of 1768 it reappeared, with evidence of wear and significantly revised copy in the cartouche, but this time in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Mercury. While the printers of both newspapers had some standard woodcuts – images of horses, houses, ships, and slaves – among their type, specialized images belonged to the advertisers. Some advertisers, like clockmaker Burrows Dowdney, invested in multiple woodcuts in order to insert them in more than one newspaper simultaneously. Duyckinck may not have considered this an option; given the amount of detail evident in his woodcut, the cost for commissioning others may have been prohibitive. Instead, he rotated the image from newspaper to newspaper, placing it before the eyes of as many readers and prospective customers as possible. Doing so likely yielded the best possible return on his investment in an innovative means of making his newspaper advertisements distinctive from anything else that appeared in the public prints.