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