July 13

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 13, 1772).

“All sorts of knives and forks, pocket and penknives.”

Lucas and Shephard, “WHITESMITHS and CUTLERS, From BIRMINGHAM and SHEFFIELD,” enhanced their advertisement in the July 13, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury with a woodcut that depicted many of the items they made and sold at their new location in “the shop lately occupied by Messrs. Bailey and Youle.” Lucas and Shephard provided an extensive list of their wares, making the combination of words and image an eighteenth-century precursor to the illustrated catalogs that so significantly shaped consumer culture in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Lucas and Shephard followed the lead of other cutlers in New York.  Previously, Bailey and Youle adorned their own advertisements with a woodcut that depicted more than a dozen items they produced in the shop.  When the partnership dissolved, James Youle retained the woodcut, modified it to remove his former partner’s name, and inserted it in advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in June and July 1772.  Lucas and Shepard began running their advertisement two weeks after Youle’s notice ran on June 29.  It was not the first time that the woodcut that accompanied one of Youle’s advertisements may have inspired imitation.  In April 1771, Richard Sause ran advertisements with a woodcut that showed all sorts of cutlery items that he made at his shop just a few weeks after Bailey and Youle’s notice appeared in the public prints.  A sword and a table knife even bore his name, suggesting that he marked his work in some manner.

Like those cutlers who placed advertisements before them, Lucas and Shephard deployed a variety of appeals to entice prospective customers.  They emphasized their skill, promising “great accuracy” in their work, and a “reasonable price.”  They also made a nod to customer services, pledging to “carry on their business with dispatch” in order “to give satisfaction to all who may please to employ them.  The image increased the likelihood that readers would take note of their advertisement, especially considering Youle continued running his own advertisements with depictions of his cutlery ware.  Lucas and Shephard may have considered their own woodcut imperative for competing with Youle, a necessary investment when they chose to advertise in a newspaper in which he already established visibility for his shop.