May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

“THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”

At first glance the advertisement did not look much different than others that offered books and pamphlets for sale: “Very lately published in the City of Philadelphia, and to be sold by the Printer hereof, two Discourses by a Layman of the Church of England.”  Hugh Gaine inserted that notice in the May 28, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He offered further description of the “Discourses,” stating that they contemplated “the two following Texts; Matt. xv. 15. 25, Then came she and worshipped him saying, Lord help me; Isaiah xlv. 15. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel the Saviour.”  Gaine likely drew directly from the title page in composing that portion of the advertisement.

That part of the advertisement could have stood alone.  It provided the same amount of information as others placed by printers and booksellers in colonial American newspapers.  It was in the second portion that the printer made a sales pitch that distinguished this particular advertisement from others for books and pamphlets that ran in the same issue and in other newspapers.  Gaine informed prospective readers that “THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”  Purchasing it, he suggested, was an act of charity and an expression of concern for the public good.  If that was not enough to influence readers to buy the pamphlet, then they could consider it an opportunity to practice philanthropy at a bargain.  Gaine asserted that even though the pamphlet sold for eight pence in Philadelphia, he charged only “the small Sum” of four pence for each copy.  He ran a half-price sale.

Though brief, Gaine’s advertisement contained two marketing strategies that the printer expected would resonate with prospective customers: a bargain price and an opportunity to aid the less fortunate.  That he sold the pamphlet also enhanced Gaine’s own reputation, demonstrating that he supported efforts to benefit the prisoners in Philadelphia. Eighteenth-century advertisements should not be dismissed as simple because they were short or lacked striking visual elements.  In a few short sentences, Gaine made a powerful case for purchasing the pamphlet.

March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 19, 1770).

“Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine.”

It was a familiar appeal, one that became even more urgent when colonists boycotted imported paper in response to duties imposed on it (along with glass, lead, paint, and tea) in the Townshend Acts.  Newspaper printers throughout the colonies regularly issued calls for readers to collect and contribute “old Rags” that could be transformed into paper, offering “Ready Money” in exchange.  Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury encountered it not once, not twice, but three times in the March 19, 1770, edition.

Either Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown,” or a compositor who worked in his printing office inserted similar notices on both the third page and the fourth page.  One stated, “Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine,” and the other “Ready Money for Linnen Rags.”  In both instances, these brief notices appeared at the bottom of the final column, completing the page and producing columns of equal length.  Yet they were more than convenient filler.  After all, Gaine or the compositor could have inserted other sorts of notices.  Eighteenth-century printers often hawked printed blanks in any leftover space.  Another one-line advertisement did run at the bottom of the second column on the third page, advising readers of “The Ten Pound Act, sold by H. Gaine.”  The notice about linen rags likely appeared more than once out of a sense of pressing need that outweighed promoting pamphlets and printed blanks for sale at the printing office.

John Keating’s lengthy appeal on behalf of “the Paper Makers” once again ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, calling on “Friends to their Country” to save “clean RAGS” as a means of “preserv[ing] the Rights and Liberties” of the colonists.  Keating framed collecting rags to manufacture into paper as a patriotic duty.  His petition ran week after week in Gaine’s newspaper, inflecting the printer’s much more humble calls for rags with additional meaning because, as Keating explained, none of the items taxed by the Townshend Acts were “more necessary and considerable than Paper.”  A single line that lends the impression of filler at first glance – “Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine” – overflowed with political meaning when considered in the context of current events.

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.