May 8

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

May 8 - 5:8:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 8, 1769).

“The Medley of Goods.”

Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury encountered a memorable image in the supplement that accompanied the May 8, 1769, edition. Gerardus Duyckinck ran a shop he named “The Medley of Goods” at a location marked by “the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.” The intricate woodcut in his advertisement depicted that sign, with a druggist’s pot perched atop an ornate cartouche and a looking glass suspended below it. The copy for the advertisement filled the remainder of the cartouche, with the entire woodcut extending more than half a column. It dominated any page on which it appeared.

Indeed, Duyckinck’s elaborate woodcut may have been the most memorable image printed in that newspaper in the 1760s. Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury included few visual images. Sometimes advertisements featured small icons of houses, horses, ship, or runaway servants or slaves. These crude woodcuts were small, belonged to the printer, and could be used interchangeably in advertisements with matching content. Elsewhere in the May 8 issue and its supplement, five advertisements included woodcuts of horses, three had ships, and one had a house. All of them were a fraction of the size of Duyckinck’s woodcut. A woodcut of a colonist and an Indian flanking a shield and crown was the only other image in that issue. Although it was considerably larger than the other woodcuts, it likely did not garner much additional notice since it was so familiar, appearing week after week. Duyckinck’s woodcut, on the other hand, ran often enough that readers would have recognized it, but not so often that they overlooked it because they expected to spot it among the many advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Even other advertisers who commissioned their own woodcuts to distinguish their notices from others did not invest in images that were as large or as lavish. Duyckinck’s woodcut stood alone among those in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Nothing in advertisements published in other newspapers in the 1760s compared to it either.

Woodcuts were prone to damage over time, coming under intense pressure with each impression made on hand-operated presses. That likely contributed to Duyckinck’s decision to deploy this expensive woodcut only occasionally, doing so frequently enough to make it familiar but not so often that it deteriorated an disappeared from the public prints too quickly. It first appeared in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal and continued for several weeks. In the spring of 1768 Duyckinck inserted it in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for a longer period before putting the image on hiatus again for many months. It did not disappear from view for so long, however, that it would have been unfamiliar when it returned in May 1769. Gerardus deployed a variety of marketing strategies in the copy of his advertisement, but the extraordinary visual element increased the likelihood that prospective customers would pay attention to the copy contained within the impressive cartouche.

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Mercury (May 30, 1768).

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.

October 29

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

Oct 29 - 10:29:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 29, 1767).

“The Medley of Goods.”

Gerardus Duyckinck, a prolific advertiser in New York’s newspapers in the 1760s, introduced consumers to an innovative advertisement for his “UNIVERSAL STORE” in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal. His new advertisement enclosed most of the copy within an ornate rococo cartouche, a design suggestive of the frames for the “Pictures [and] Looking-Glasses” he sold. Visually, his advertisement was unique. Nothing else of the sort appeared in that issue of the New-York Journal, nor in any newspaper published in the colonies.

Several other advertisements included images, but all of them were comparatively crude woodcuts of ships, houses, slaves, and horses. These widely used yet generic images belonged to the printer, a standard part of the type acquired by anyone who printed a newspaper. They could be used to spruce up any relevant advertisement. Occasionally some merchants and shopkeepers commissioned woodcuts for their exclusive use, images often tied to the shop sign that marked their location. In such instances, the image appeared at the top of the advertisement before any copy, not enclosing the text, as was the case for Duyckinck’s notice.

That visual element also distinguished this advertisement from others. In general, eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements did not have borders that set them apart from other items on the same page. Printers usually inserted a line between advertisements to help readers identify where one ended and another began. Sometimes they used decorative ornaments to add some visual appeal, but borders surrounding entire advertisements were exceptionally rare. Jolley Allen experimented with rudimentary borders for his advertisements in Boston’s newspapers the previous year, but they looked primitive compared to the genteel frame that enclosed Duyckinck’s advertisement.

It would have been impossible for readers not to notice Duyckinck’s advertisement. Noticing likely led to reading and examining the advertisement in greater detail, taking in the novelty of a form both new and sophisticated. In addition, the use of an elaborate cartouche introduced a common feature of eighteenth-century trade cards, each printed on its own sheet, into colonial newspapers. The form of one influenced the other, perhaps to the delight of readers. Such an extraordinary advertisement might have also enflamed potential customers’ curiosity about the “Medley of Goods” that Duyckinck sold at his “UNIVERSAL STORE.”

August 16

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

Aug 16 - 8:13:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 13, 1767).

“At the corner store, opposite Mr. Duyckinck’s Universal Store, near the Old-slip.”

Note the final lines of this advertisement, marked by a manicule. To direct potential customers to his own workshop, the advertiser noted that it was located “opposite Mr. Duyckinck’s Universal Store.”

Gerardus Duyckinck’s “UNIVERSAL STORE; Or the MEDLEY of GOODS” was a landmark in New York in the late 1760s. Duyckinck worked carefully to brand his store with that name, frequently placing newspaper advertisements that ennumerated the “Variety of Assortments” of imported goods that he stocked and sold to consumers. His advertisement in the supplement to the August 13, 1767, issue of the New-York Journal proclaimed the name of his shop and listed everything from “Hatters Trimmings” to “Carpetting” to “Writing Paper.” Several times he invoked consumer choice and challenged potential customers to imagine the array of merchandise he carried: “a beautiful and fashionable Assortment” of some items, “Almost every Article in these Branches, too tedious to mention” for certain supplies used by artisans, and “a general Assortment” of patent medicines “as extensive” as local physicians and families needed. Some merchants and shopkeepers specialized in certain types of wares, but Duyckinck’s advertising suggested that he truly provided a “MEDLEY of GOODS” at his “UNIVERSAL STORE.”

With the exception of taverns, most eighteenth-century businesses did not have names. They were identified simply by the name of the proprietor or the device on the shop sign that marked their location. That Duyckinck’s shop had a name made it fairly unique. This name operated in addition to “the Sign of the Looking-Glass, and Druggist Pot” that decorated the exterior; text on the sign may have further identified the location as Duyckinck’s “UNIVERSAL STORE” or promoted the MEDLEY of GOODS” available inside.

This marketing strategy enjoyed some success. The “IVORY and HARD WOOD TURNER” across the street did not give directions relative to Duyckinck’s shop or the “Sign of the Looking-Galss, and Druggist Pot.” Instead, he used the name bestowed on the store by the proprietor and widely advertised in local newspapers: “Mr. Duyckinck’s Universal Store.” This name was not merely an affectation but instead a common way of identifying the business. In convincing other colonists, including potential customers, to refer to his shop as the “Universal Store,” Duyckinck successfully encouraged them to associate certain qualities with the imported goods he sold.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (June 4, 1767).

“Genuine Medicines to be sold in New-York, by GERARDUS DUYCKINCK Merchant, only.”

Several apothecaries operated shops in New York and advertised in the local newspapers in the spring of 1767, but they were not the only residents who sold medicines in the city. Gerardus Duyckinck, a merchant who ran the “UNIVERSAL STORE, Or the MEDLEY of GOODS … At the Sign of the Looking-Glass, and Druggist Pot,” also peddled remedies.[1] As he was not an apothecary himself, he dressed up his advertisements with several sorts of puffery in order to compete with others who specialized in compounding drugs and selling patent medicines.

For instance, Duyckinck opened his advertisement with what appeared to be some sort of official proclamation that bestowed some degree of exclusivity on the merchant: “To the PUBLICK. By Virtue of the King’s Royal Patent for Great-Britain, Ireland, and the Plantations, for many Patent Medicines, to the Proprietors of each, to enjoy the full Benefit, are now sold under the Royal Sanction, by Messieurs William and Cluer Dicey, and Comp. of London, who now appoint their genuine Medicines to be sold in New-York, By GERARDUS DUYCKINCK Merchant, only.” Although the advertisement listed many tinctures and nostrums advertised and sold by several druggists and apothecaries in New York, the grandiloquent language implied that Duyckinck alone possessed the right to peddle those cures. Anyone else did so without official sanction.

This also allowed Duyckinck to warn readers against counterfeits and assure potential customers that he sold only authentic medicines. He did so in two ways. In a nota bene, he announced that all the drugs on his list had been “bought by William and Cluer Dicey, and Comp. from the original Ware-Houses, and warranted genuine.” In addition, he provided “Proper Directions to each … to avoid the Consequence of Counterfeits.” Duyckinck did not outright accuse his competitors of selling counterfeits, but the several aspects of his advertisement worked together to create doubts about the efficacy and authenticity of any medicines purchased from other vendors. Patent medicines were advertised far and wide in colonial newspapers. By inserting these enhancements to what otherwise would have been a standard list-style advertisement, Duyckinck devised a marketing strategy that distinguished him from his competitors.

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[1] For this description of his store, see the other advertisement Duyckinck placed on June 4, 1767, a list-style notice of an assortment of imported goods in the New-York Journal. It briefly mentioned “Drugs and Medicines” near the end.

October 13

GUEST CURATOR: Jordan Russo

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

oct-13-10131766-new-york-mercury
New-York Mercury (October 13, 1766).

“BEING the largest and most curious collection …”

In this advertisement Gerardus Duyckinck described the merchandise in his “Universal STORE” as a “Medley of GOODS for the CURIOUS.” Duyckinck sold “plain and ornamented looking-glasses” and “maps, charts and prints of various sorts.” I imagine the items in Duyckinck’s store were not sold everywhere else or else it would not have made sense to call them “GOODS for the CURIOUS.”

Duyckinck sold items for a variety of customers. Some of merchandise was high end while others was not. For example, his glassware was “plain” or “ornamented.” The differences in merchandise meant that the prices varied between items. Duynkinck said that he had “high and low-priced paper hangings.” Duycknick was not attempting to sell his items to one type of customer; he had items and prices welcoming to all.

T.H. Breen notes that “British imports initially flowed into the households of the well-to-do. These are the goods that catch our eyes in modern museums and restored colonial homes.”[1] When we visit museums today, we are most likely to see the sort of chic merchandise that Duynkinck sold to elite customers.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Historians of eighteenth-century consumer culture and material culture frequently discuss the sense of wonder that colonists experienced as they encountered an expanding array of goods that they purchased and put to use for a variety of purposes. Some goods were completely utilitarian; others were luxury items. Some denoted conspicuous consumption; most testified to the identity of the consumer in one fashion or another.

In some instances historians have carefully excavated the sense of excitement that colonists felt when confronted with new consumer choices. For instance, the standard list advertisement (with its heavy and dense format) may not seem especially exciting when viewed through modern eyes, but thick descriptions of how such lists presented a new world of imagination, sensation, and possession to eighteenth-century consumers uncover raucous enthusiasm.

Jordan has chosen an advertisement that does not require quite as much excavation. Gerardus Duyckinck verbalized the sense of wonder and excitement that he knew consumers felt, mobilizing it to bring customers into his “Universal STORE.” He offered a variety of specialty goods among his “Medley of GOODS for the CURIOUS.” He deployed hyperbole to describe his wares, which included “the largest and most curious collection” of looking glasses “ever imported in America, consisting of the greatest variety.” He stocked paper hangings (wallpaper today): “an extraordinary assortment … as has yet been imported at one time into New-York.” His general merchandise included “the greatest variety of goods in the several branches, suitable for country and city tradesmen, mechanicks, and private families.”

What would it have been like to visit Duyckinck’s shop? Was he as much of an entrepreneur, an early modern carnival barker, in person as he sounded in his advertisement? Interacting with the shopkeeper may have been an important part of the entertainment involved in shopping at his establishment, just as significant as the pleasures of inspecting his merchandise and exercising choice in selecting among his wares.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 487.