October 3

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

Oct 3 - 10:3:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 3, 1768).

“JUST imported by ADAM GILCHRIST.”

Hugh Gaine, the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, took in so many advertisements that he could not fit all of them in the standard four-page issue for October 3, 1768. In addition to two pages of advertising in the regular issue, Gaine distributed a two-page supplement comprised solely of advertisements. That still did not provide sufficient space for all of the paid notices submitted to the printing shop at the Sign of the Bible and Crown in Hanover Square. Either Gaine or the compositor who set the type for the October 3 edition made space for inserting four additional advertisements on the second and third pages by printing them in the margins.

The first and fourth pages appeared as usual: three columns on each page as well as the masthead and prices current running across the top of the first page. The second and third pages, however, each had a slender fourth column created by rotating the text of short advertisements and setting them perpendicular to the rest of the content. These advertisements appeared in the left margin of the second page and the right margin of the third page, positioned away from the fold that separated the two pages.

This strategy required selecting short advertisements to divide into columns. For instance, the second page featured two short advertisements: nine lines from Adam Gilchrist promoting textiles he had recently imported and five lines announcing an employment opportunity for “A Person qualified to teach three or four Children, in a Gentleman’s Family.” These notices had the same width as other advertisements and news content throughout the rest of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury yet they were broken into several columns to fit them in the margins. If necessary, the several columns of each could be combined into one and printed elsewhere in subsequent issues without having to set the type from scratch.

The unconventional placement of these advertisements may have given them more visibility than if they had appeared in the long columns amidst other paid notices. Their position on the page may have incited curiosity among readers, yielding a benefit for the advertisers even as Gaine and the compositor sought to solve the problem of having too much content for the current issue of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Many printers throughout the colonies resorted to this trick on occasion, yet not so frequently that the unusual placement of these advertisements would have passed without notice.

December 8

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

dec-8-1281766-new-york-mercury
New-York Mercury (December 8, 1766).

“BOOKS and STATIONARY … to be sold by Hugh Gaine.”

Hugh Gaine’s advertisement for “BOOKS and STATIONARY, Just imported in the last Ships from London” occupied a place of privilege in the December 8, 1766, issue of the New-York Mercury. It appeared in the first column (and extended into the second) on the first page, the first item below the masthead and charts for high tides and prices current. Just to make sure that readers noticed this advertisement, several words were printed in the largest fonts that appeared anywhere in that issue: “Hugh Gaine” in a size that rivaled the title of newspaper in the masthead and “BOOKS and STATIONARY” (at the top of the first column) and “STATIONARY, &c.” (at the top of the second column) in sizes nearly as large.

Gaine did not have to pay extra or engage in any sort of negotiations with the printer of the New-York Mercury in order for his advertisement to receive such extraordinary treatment. As the masthead announced, he printed the newspaper! That certainly gave him the authority and ability to design his own advertisement and lay out the issue in ways that best served his own interests. He used one of his products, his newspaper, to promote the assortment of books, stationery, and other goods he sold “at the Bible and Crown, in Hanover-Square.” Sometimes the layout of advertising in colonial newspapers was haphazard. Printers often moved type already set from previous issues into other columns in subsequent issues or changed the order of advertisements in order to insert other items. In this case, however, the placement of Gaine’s advertisement was not merely fortuitous; it was intentional.

dec-8-1281766-first-page-new-york-mercury
First Page of New-York Mercury (December 8, 1766).

On the third page, an advertisement for “HUTCHINS’s Improved: BEING AN ALMANACK AND EPHEMERIS Of the Motions of the SUN & MOON” had similarly large font for some of the key words, distinguishing it from the other advertisements and news items on the same and facing pages. Not surprisingly, the almanac was sol “at HUGH GAINE’s Book-Store and Printing-Office, in Hanover-Square.”

In contrast, a relatively short advertisement announcing that James Rivington had just imported “sundry new Books” appeared on the fourth page. Rivington’s name appeared in all capital letters in a font the same size as the names of other advertisers. Gaine published advertisements from his competitors, but he made sure that his own marketing notices overshadowed them in significant ways. Such was the power of the printer!

June 30

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

Jun 30 - 6:30:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (June 30, 1766).

“BOOKS & STATIONARY, Just imported, and to be sold by HUGH GAINE.”

Hugh Gaine printed the New-York Mercury, though it is clear from the masthead that he considered himself more than just a printer. He listed his occupations as “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer.” In that regard, Gaine was not much different from other printers who published newspapers in colonial America. They often supplemented the income from operating the newspaper by selling a variety of other products and services associated broadly with the book trades.

Jun 30 - 6:30:1766 Masthead New-York Mercury
Masthead for the New-York Mercury (June 30, 1766).

Gaine devised a headline for his advertisement, which was not a standard practice but also not unknown. He announced that he sold “BOOKS & STATIONARY,” merchandise associated with the book trades. Upon closer examination of his advertisement, however, potential customers would have discovered that in addition to books, stationery, and writing supplies (including “Leather Ink-pots,” “most excellent Sealing-Wax,” and “Office Quils and Pens”), he also sold “a great Variety of other Articles,” including musical instruments, telescopes, and paper hangings (what we would today call wallpaper). Gaine stocked a good deal of merchandise beyond the newspaper he printed.

Setting aside those items, half of his lengthy advertisement promoted a patent medicine, the pectoral balsam of honey, and concluded with a “BEAUTIFYING LOTION.” (One of the benefits of printing the newspaper must have been inserting his own advertisements of whatever length he wished.) Gaine may or may not have written the copy for this portion of the advertisement; he may have copied it directly from other promotional materials sent to him by the suppliers of this remedy. It may seem strange today that a “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer” peddled patent medicines in the eighteenth century, but Gaine was certainly not the only one who did so. A variety of printers and booksellers included a few lines devoted to patent medicines in their book catalogues, demonstrating that they really diversified the merchandise they offered to customers.