October 26

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 26, 1772).

“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.

August 16

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

South-Carolina Gazette Extraordinary (August 10, 1772).

“The Public may be assured that THEIRS are the GENUINE.”

When Thomas Powell and Company published a midweek supplement, the South-Carolina Gazette Extraordinary on August 10, 1772, they proclaimed their intention to print both news and advertising as quickly as possible for the “ENTERTAINMENT” and “EMOLUMENT” of the public.  Headers identifying “New Advertisements” appeared on three of the four pages of the supplement.  Powell and Company placed one of their own advertisements immediately below one of those headers.

That advertisement continued a feud with Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, that the rivals pursued in advertisements in their newspapers throughout July.  Powell and Company temporarily ceased participating at the time that Edward Hughes, one of the partners, died on July 30, but launched a new volley a short time later.  Their desire to engage Crouch once again may have played a part in their decision to print a midweek supplement in early August.

The feud did not concern the printing trade or editorial policy.  Instead, Crouch and Powell and Company squabbled over how best to market a patent medicine for venereal disease and which of them carried an authentic remedy.  In a new advertisement in the midweek supplement, Powell and Company declared that they “lately received a Quantity of Dr. KEYSER’S GENUINE PILLS,” echoing the description most recently used by Crouch, “from Mr. James Rivington, Bookseller, in New-York, who is the ONLY Person that is appointed (by the Proprietor) for vending them in America.”  That being the case, Powell and Company implied that Crouch sold counterfeit pills.  “Therefore,” they proclaimed, “as the above T. POWELL, & Co. have always received the Pills sold by them from Mr. Rivington, the Public may be assured that THEIRS are the GENUINE.”

In a nota bene, Powell and Company referred readers to the third newspaper published in Charleston at the time, the South-Carolina and American General Gazette printed by Robert Wells.  “For a surprising Cure performed by the Pills sold by Mr. Rivington,” Powell and Company instructed, “see Mr. WELLS’s Gazette, of August 3, 1772.”  In what capacity did such an account appear in that newspaper?  Was it part of an advertisement?  If so, who placed it?  Was it a puff piece that masqueraded as a news item?  Did it direct readers to purchase the pills from a particular vender?  Did Wells also sell the pills while managing to avoid a confrontation with Powell and Company?  Or did Powell and Company intend for this advertisement to undermine both Crouch and Wells?  Unfortunately, only scattered issues of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette from 1772 survive.  Those issues have not been digitized for greater access.  The combination of those factors prevent exploring what role Wells and his newspaper played in this controversy over marketing and selling patent medicines in Charleston in the summer of 1772.

January 29

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 27, 1772).

“The Magazines from January, 1771, to October, inclusive,” Rivington stated, “are likewise come to Hand.”

James Rivington and other American booksellers sold some books printed in the colonies, but imported most of their inventory.  In January 1772, Rivington ran an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to advise prospective that he had recently imported “Lilly’s Modern Entries, a new and correct Edition; Hawkins’s Pleas of the Crown, a new and improved Edition; Wood’s Conveyancer, a new Edition; … [and] a great Variety of other Books in Law, Physick, Divinity, Mathematicks.”  Rivington noted that “the Particulars will be given in a few Days,” signaling to readers that he intended to insert a lengthier advertisement that listed even more titles or perhaps even distribute a book catalog printed separately.

A manicule drew attention to a final note.  “The Magazines from January, 1771, to October, inclusive,” Rivington stated, “are likewise come to Hand.”  American printers published even fewer magazines than books prior to the American Revolution.  They attempted less than fifteen titles before 1775.  Most of those magazines folded in a year or less, though a couple did run for two or three years.  Some printers distributed subscription notices to incite interest, but ultimately had difficulty attracting sufficient subscribers (or advertisers) to make publishing their magazines viable ventures.

When American readers perused magazines prior to declaring independence, they read imported publications printed in London.  Given the time necessary to transport those magazines across the Atlantic, that meant that colonizers read magazines several months after they were published.  That being the case, Rivington’s advertisement for magazines published a year earlier in January 1771 did not offer outdated material.  In fact, the October editions were about as current as any magazines that American consumers purchased.  In addition, Rivington also understood what some customers did with magazines when they acquired them.  Magazines were not just for reading; they were also for display. Some readers collected a “volume” of magazines, usually editions spanning six months or a year, and had them bound together to resemble books.  Advertising magazines “from January, 1771, to October, inclusive,” let customers interested in collecting and displaying a complete run of a magazine that Rivington could supply them with all the issues they needed.  While it may seem strange to modern readers that Rivington advertised magazines published a year earlier, doing so made good sense in 1772 because it resonated with how consumers read and otherwise engaged with those monthly publications.

December 27

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

New-York Journal (December 27, 1770).

“NEW-YEARS PRESENTS.”

In the late colonial period, most advertisers did not prompt prospective customers to think of their merchandise in association with Christmas gifts.  In the late 1760s, bookseller and stationer Garrat Noel of New York did place advertisements in which he listed books that he considered “proper for Christmas Presents and New-Year’s Gifts,” though he was usually alone in his efforts to establish a connection between those holidays and consumption in the public prints.  The appropriately-named Noel addressed “those who are willing to be generous on the Occasion.”  He encouraged that generosity by charging “extraordinary low Prices” for items he envisioned as gifts.  He ran what has become familiar as a holiday sale long before other retailers adopted the custom.  In the late 1760s, Noel was often the only advertiser from New England to Georgia who made an explicit connection between Christmas and giving gifts.

Although Noel placed newspaper advertisements in December 1770, he did not mention Christmas or encourage giving the books he sold as gifts.  One of his competitors, however, seized the opportunity to market “NEW-YEARS PRESENTS” in the December 27 edition of the New-York Journal.  James Rivington was best known as a bookseller, but, like many others in his occupation, he stocked a variety of other merchandise as well.  He published an extensive list of items “which may be thought proper Presents to and from Ladies and Gentlemen at this Season, when the Heart is more peculiarly enlarged.”  He offered everything from “NECKLACES, ear-rings, and hair pins” to “Beautiful polished leather snuff boxes” to “Siler plated tea urns” to “Dress swords and belts of all kinds.”  For some items, Rivington made appeals to sentimentality, such as “Lockets for the custody of the dear creature’s hair.”  He also advised prospective customers that he stocked items at various prices to fit their budgets.  For instance, he charged “from six shillings to £10” for tooth pick cases and snuff boxes” and “from 7 shillings to seven dollars” for lockets.  Rivington concluded his advertisement with a promise that he also carried “a myriad of other articles,” suggesting to consumers that they could find just the right “NEW-YEARS PRESENTS” when they visited his shop facing the Coffee-House Bridge.

The Christmas and New Year holidays did not animate a season of advertising associated with purchasing and exchanging gifts in the late colonial period.  Such marketing strategies were largely absent, but not completely unknown.  A small number of retailers experimented with making explicit connections between their merchandise and celebrating the holidays.  In the process, they emphasized prices that facilitated generosity.  They also encouraged sentimentality among consumers.  Although subdued by today’s standards, their efforts to market the holidays could be seen as precursors to more extensive advertising campaigns in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.