What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JAMES RIVINGTON Takes Leave to exhibit a second Advertisement of Articles just imported in the Rose.”
Bookseller and shopkeeper James Rivington placed two advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercuryafter receiving new inventory via the Rose in the fall of 1772. In the first, he listed dozens of titles, including “Grotius on War and Peace,” “a new Edition of Salmon’s Geographical Grammar,” and “the whole Works of the inimitable Painter Hogarth, in one Volume, with all the Plates he published.” In addition, he stocked “a fine Assortment of venerable Law Books,” “a fine Assortment of Classicks,” and magazines published in London. Like so many other newspaper notices placed by booksellers, Rivington’s advertisement served as a book catalog adapted to a different format.
Rivington devoted his second advertisement to other merchandise, stating that he “Takes Leave to exhibit” an additional entry in the public prints to advise prospective customers about “Articles just imported in the Rose, Capt. Miller, different from his literary Exhibition of this Day.” That advertisement featured a variety of items and marketing strategies. In a single paragraph, it had sections for musical instruments, patent medicines, clothing, and swords for “Those Gentlemen who propose to take the Field.”
Rather than merely list the patent medicines, Rivington inserted testimonials to assure consumers they were authentic: “Turlington’s Balsam: We certify that the Balsam advertised and sold by Mr. James Rivington, is the genuine sort purchased from us, made from the Receipt left by Mr. Turlington, to us, MARY WRAY, MARY TAPP.” Similarly, prospective customers interested in “Anderson’s Scots Pills” did not need to worry about counterfeits. Another testimonial stated, “I do certify that the Scot’s Pills sold by Mr. Rivington of New-York, are genuine, INGLIS.” The layout of the advertisement did not call particular attention to these testimonials, but readers expecting a list of merchandise likely noted that Rivington departed from the usual format.
Rivington also devised a section about “elegant small Swords of all kinds.” He listed several varieties, including “Cutteaus De Chase, Seymaters, Light Infantry, Cut and Thrust, &c.” He concluded with the common abbreviation for et cetera to suggest that he carried even more swords. To entice customers to examine the swords, he proclaimed that they were “the most beautiful … that ever were offered to Sale in this City.” Rivington anticipated that customers interested in “superfine ribb’d Worsted Stockings for the wear of Gentlemen, of the best and newest Fashions” in another section of the advertisement would desire attractive swords that enhanced their attire.
A newspaper advertisement did not provide sufficient space for Rivington to tout all of his wares. He concluded with a note that he “has many more Articles, of which a Catalogue is printing.” Did that catalog provide commentary about any of those goods, whether blurbs about the clothing, swords, and musical instruments or additional testimonials about the patent medicines? In a third advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the October 26, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Rivington included a testimonial about the “PATENT SHOT” he sold. With more space available in a catalog, he may have elaborated on some of his merchandise in greater detail.