August 29

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

New-York Journal (August 29, 1771).


For many weeks in the summer of 1771, Nesbitt Deane took to the pages of the New-York Journal to advertise hats he made and sold “Aside the Coffee-House Bridge.”  His hats had several qualities he expected consumers would appreciate, including exceptional “Fineness, Cut, Colour and Cock.”  These were not ordinary hats that prospective customers could acquire in just any shop, Deane confided, but instead “MANUFACTURED … by a Method peculiar to himself, to turn rain, and prevent the Sweat of the Head damaging the crown.”  Such promises may have enticed some readers to visit his shop to examine his hats for themselves to see what distinguished them from others available in the bustling port city.  Deane also called on “Such Gentry and others, who have experienced his Ability” by purchasing and donning his hats to recommend them to others.

Eventually, the hatter determined that he might attract more attention and incite greater demand if an image accompanied his advertisement.  Without revising the copy, he doubled the length of his notice, beginning on August 29, with a woodcut depicting a tricorne hat.  A banner bearing Deane’s name, adorned with rococo flourishes completed the image.  Such finery likely prompted the “Gentry and others” among readers of the New-York Journal of the engraved images on trade cards and billheads that circulated in London and, to a lesser extent, the largest cities in the colonies.  Another advertiser, Gerardus Duyckinck, had been enclosing the copy of his advertisements within a baroque cartouche for several years.  His most recent advertisement, perhaps an inspiration for Deane, appeared once again in the August 29 edition.

The sophistication inherent in Deane’s image testified to the “Fineness” of his hats, but it also meant that he invested more in his marketing efforts.  In addition to commissioning a woodcut unique to his business, he also paid for twice as much space in the New-York Journal each time his advertisement appeared.  The compositor’s notation at the end, “95 –,” indicated that the notice with the woodcut first appeared in issue 1495 but Deane had not selected an end date.  Neither had he done so for his first advertisement composed entirely of text.  In both instances, the hatter committed to more than the standard four weeks that the printer set as a minimum.  Between the indefinite duration of his notices and enhancing them with a striking image, Deane demonstrated his belief that more and better advertising would produce results.

July 18

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

New-York Journal (July 18, 1771).


For several weeks in 1771, Nesbitt Deane promoted “HATS, MANUFACTURED by the Advertiser” in the New-York Journal.  His advertisements concluded with “86—,” a notation intended for the compositor rather than readers.  Most advertisements in the New-York Journal included two numbers, the first corresponding to the issue in which the advertisement first appeared and the other indicating the final issue for the advertisement.  That allowed the compositor to quickly determine whether an advertisement belonged in the next issue when arranging notices and other content on the page in advance of going to press.

George Ball’s advertisement for “A Neat Assortment of CHINA, GLASS, STONE and DELPH WARES” in the same column as Nesbitt’s advertisement for hats in the July 18 edition, for instance, concluded with “88 91.”  That signaled to the compositor that Ball’s advertisement first appeared in “NUMB. 1488” on July 11 and would continue through “NUMB. 1491” on August 1.  That was the standard run, four issues, for many advertisements.  According to the colophon, John Holt, the printer, charged “Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.”  Many advertisers tended to pay for the minimum number of issues and then discontinued their notices.  Others, like Jacobus Vanzandt and Son, arranged for their advertisements to appear for longer durations.  Their notice for imported textiles, garments, and housewares in the column next to Nesbitt’s notice concluded with “79 87,” indicating that they specified that it should run for nine weeks.

Deane apparently did not select an end date when he initially placed his advertisement in “NUMB. 1486” on June 27.  Instead, he opted to let it run indefinitely until he decided to remove it.  The dash instead of a second number communicated to the compositor to continue inserting the advertisement until instructed otherwise, while the “86” aided in keeping the books.  The printer did not need to consult previous editions when calculating how much Deane owed when he eventually stopped running his advertisement.  Many, but not all, printers included similar notations in advertisements that appeared in American newspapers in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.