What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Mr. SAUNDERS … is lately returned to this town.”
Hyman Saunders needed no introduction … or, more appropriately, when the illusionist returned to New York after an absence of a couple of months in 1771 he needed very little introduction. In a brief advertisement in the November 11 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Saunders “acquaint[ed] the nobility and gentry, that he is lately returned to this town, and intends to perform in private, (only) his dexterity and grand deception, to any select company.” He advised those who wished to hire him to perform to send a note via the printer a day in advance.
Saunders needed little introduction in part because he had advertised in the public prints upon first arriving in New York a year earlier. In the fall of 1770, he placed advertisements in the New-York Journal to announce that he had “Just arrived from EUROPE” and intended to stage “several new and astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand, different from what has been hitherto attempted, and such as was never seen in this province.” Saunders offered a spectacle to entertain audiences, both those who attended his public performances and those who hired him for private shows. To incite demand, he proclaimed that he would stay in the city “but a few weeks,” a common strategy among itinerant performers, but he extended his stay into February 1771. At that time, he informed prospective audiences that he “intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights.” He did indeed move on to Philadelphia eventually, advertising in the May 6, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle that he had “Just arrived from EUROPE” but had also performed “before his Excellency the Earl of DUNMORE, governor of New-York” upon arriving in the colonies. In introducing himself to audiences in Philadelphia, Saunders distributed an advertisement that closely paralleled his initial notice in the New-York Journal.
He did not need to be so verbose when he returned to New York six months later. His earlier advertisements introduced him to the public and his performances established his reputation in the city. Those who saw performances of his “dexterity and grand deception” likely bolstered his publicity in the press via conversations with family, friends, and acquaintances. In the fall of 1771, the itinerant performer no longer required the same sort of elaborate advertisements that he customarily inserted in local newspapers upon arriving in a new town. Familiar to New Yorkers, Saunders determined that a brief notice would suffice.