What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“NEW ADVERTISEMENTS … 91 93.”
The list-style advertisement placed by Henry Remsen, Jr., and Company in the October 1, 1767, issue of the New-York Journal concluded with two numbers that seemed to have no connection to the content of the notice: “91 93.” Of the seventeen other advertisements printed on the third page, fourteen included similar numbers. Why?
These numbers were not intended for readers. Instead, they were aids for the compositor to determine whether to continue inserting each advertisement in subsequent issues. According to the masthead, the October 1, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal was also issue “NUMB. 1291.” In the case of Remsen and Company’s advertisement, “91 93” indicated that it originated in issue 1291, continued for a total of three issues, and concluded with issue 1293. From consumer goods to real estate to runaway slaves, most of the other advertisements on the same page concluded with “91 94,” suggesting that John Holt, the printer, often sold advertising space for four consecutive issues.
Remsen and Company’s notice appeared under the heading “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.” That seems to have been an accurate representation of the advertisements on that page. Each that included numbers to guide the compositor started with 91. On the following page, the advertisements included lower numbers, indicating that they had been published in earlier issues. For instance, a notice calling on “ALL Persons that have any Demands against the Estate of John Leversage” to settle accounts with the executor first appeared in 1289 and was slated to continue through issue 1292, according to the “89 92” printed on the final line. In the two-page supplement that accompanied the October 1 issue, some of the advertisements featured numbers whose range deviated significantly from the current issue. Gerardus Duyckinck’s familiar advertisement for his “UNIVERSAL STORE,” for example, concluded with “67 70.” These numbers provided a guide for the minimal number of insertions paid for by the advertiser, but also suggest that printers and compositors sometimes published older advertisements, perhaps free of charge, in order to fill space.
Bookkeeping and keeping track of which advertisements must appear in any given issue could be difficult tasks for colonial printers and compositors. John Holt relied on a system that inserted some of that information directly into the advertisements in order to streamline the process.