July 3

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 1, 1771).

“THE imprudent Behaviour of my Son JESSE HALL, lays me under the painful Necessity of forwarning all Persons from harbouring or concealing him.”

Conradt Wolff lamented that his wife, Jenny, “hath behaved herself in such a manner as lays me under a necessity of forbidding any persons from trusting her on my account.”  In an advertisement in the July 1, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, he warned the public that he “will pay no debts of her contracting.”  Throughout the colonies, similar notices frequently ran in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Aggrieved husbands deployed “runaway wife” advertisements to discipline disobedient women, though their notices told only one side of a story of marital discord. Relatively few wives possessed the resources to respond in print.  Those that did usually provided much different narratives, often accusing their husbands of abuse and neglect.  From their perspective, running away was an act of self-preservation and principled resistance rather than willful disobedience.

On occasion, colonists resorted to the public prints in the wake of other sorts of tumult within their households.  On the same day that Wolff placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette, Moses Hall placed his own notice in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Hall, however, deplored the misbehavior of his son, Jesse.  “THE imprudent Behaviour of my Son,” Hall declared, “lays me under the painful Necessity of forwarning all Persons from harbouring or concealing him.” Furthermore, “they may depend on being prosecuted to the utmost Rigour of the Law, if they disregard this Notice.”  Hall did not elaborate on his son’s “imprudent Behaviour,” though gossip and rumors likely circulated beyond the newspaper.  That was almost certainly the case for the Camps and the Brents in Elizabethtown, New Jersey.  John D. Camp, Jr., informed readers of the New-York Gazette that he had been “compel’d by David Brent, to marry Catherine, his daughter.”  Camp vowed to “allow her a separate Maintenance, in all Respects suitable to her Degree,” but he would not pay “any Debts of her Contracting.”  Camp carefully avoided the details about events that resulted in his unwelcome wedding.  If friends and acquaintances had not been discussing whatever transpired between John and Catherine and her father before the advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette, its appearance probably prompted them to share what they knew for certain and speculate on what they did not.

Wolff, Hall, and Camp all attempted to focus attention on the subjects of their advertisements:  an absent wife, a troublesome son, or an imperious father-in-law.  In even publishing their notices, however, they called attention to themselves and their shortcomings in maintaining order within their households.  They sought to regain authority through the power of the press, but in the process they made their private altercations all the more visible to the public.  They framed the narratives and obscured the details, yet they still alerted others to scenes of difficulty and embarrassment that did not reflect well on them despite their efforts to shift responsibility to the actions of others.

July 1

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 1, 1771).

“A continuance of the same circumspect conduct and integrity.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, John Coghill Knapp regularly advertised the services he provided at the “Scrivener, Register, and Conveyancer’s OFFICE” in New York, including “Writings and conveyances of every kind” and “Different sums of money ready to lend.”  He also assisted in recovering debts “in the most civiliz’d easy manner, … at most times without law.”  In other words, through negotiation Knapp avoided going to court.  For “Executors and administrators,” especially those thrust into unfamiliar roles, he offered instruction “in the due execution of their office,” helping them navigate their responsibilities while “prevent[ing] the expence and difficulties from want of knowledge therein.”  In addition, Knapp aided “Seafaring men, and other strangers,” noting that they “often meet with difficulty in matter not altogether relative to the law.  Although he did not mention it in every advertisement, Knapp brokered sales of indentured servants and enslaved men, women, and children.

Knapp often composed colorful copy for his advertisements.  In a notice in the July 1, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, he started with his credentials, stating that he was “ONE of the attornies of his Majesty’s high and honourable court of King’s Bench at Westminster, duly admitted, sworn, and inrolled, the 2d day of June 1755.”  After migrating to the colonies, he established his office in New York in 1764.  Having gained experience over the years, Knapp proclaimed that he “gives the most candid and satisfactory opinion and advice in all cases of law and equity, founded on such plain truths as are not to be overcome by the alluring arguments of any smooth tongue Causidie.”  Yet Knapp possessed a smooth tongue himself, declaring that he effectively met “the loud positive harangue of him who attempts to annihilate the reason of both judge and jury.”  The attorney deployed clever turns of phrase to impress potential clients with his competence and effectiveness.

Such flamboyance, however, attracted critiques.  In addition to describing his credential and services, Knapp also offered some sort of defense of his conduct in many of his advertisements.  He claimed, for instance, that he acted with integrity and requested that manner in which he “executed the business of this office for seven years past, will intitle him to a continuance of that favour and protection” that he previously received from clients and associates in the face of attacks from competitors and rivals.  In lively language that only hinted at the particulars of previous controversies, Knapp asserted that “he has so feelingly overcome the many daring assaults and unspeakable injuries done to his person and property, by cruel, invidious and designing men.”  He labeled them “hypocrites, pretending with so much ease to see the mote in their brother’s eye, but cannot behold the beam that is in their own.”

Knapp may have been an effective attorney and advocate for his clients, but that did not always win him friends.  Alternately, his verbose advertisements may have been the eighteenth-century equivalent of the bombastic marketing campaigns undertaken by many law firms with questionable reputations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Knapp claimed that he tended to his clients’ interests, but his vigorous defense of his own conduct suggested that many readers already possessed knowledge of events that yielded an unflattering reputation.  The attorney attempted to establish his own narrative, simultaneously demonstrating his skill in making arguments on behalf of clients.

June 10

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (June 10, 1771).

“We shall refer for particulars to our general catalogue now printing.”

Booksellers, like other purveyors of consumer goods, often listed their merchandise in their advertisements.  James Rivington, for instance, inserted a notice that named dozens of titles in the June 10, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  On the same day, an advertisement for a “New-Book & Stationer’s Store” in Boston filled an entire column and overflowed into another in the Boston-Gazette, most of the space devoted to naming more than 150 books.

The partnership of Noel and Hazard, on the other hand, took a different approach in their advertisement in the New-York Gazette.  In a short paragraph, they listed sixteen books “just come to hand,” but also reported that they recently imported many other titles from London and Bristol.  The booksellers opined that “the news-paper can’t afford room but for a few articles,” so rather than publishing a longer list like Rivington and the proprietor of the “New-Book & Stationer’s Store,” a list that would have been incomplete, they directed readers to “our general catalogue now printing” in order to learn more “particulars” about their inventory.  Interested parties presumably visited Noel and Hazard’s shop to acquire copies of the catalog.

The booksellers may have also distributed copies to retailers who had done business with them in the past.  They stated that they had “a large supply of books and stationary, suitable for country stores” and noted that they sold their wares “wholesale and retail.”  Some eighteenth-century printers sent catalogs to associates with the intention that they would use them as order forms.  The recipients marked the number of copies next to each title before returning them, a more efficient method than copying titles into a letter.

Noel and Hazard used one form of marketing, a newspaper advertisement, to promote another form of marketing, a book catalog.  Other newspaper advertisements that listed scores of titles amounted to book catalogs embedded in newspapers, but Noel and Hazard instead opted to produce an item that circulated separately.  The frequency that booksellers mentioned catalogs in their newspaper advertisements suggests that retailers and consumers had access to many more than survive today.

May 13

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 13, 1771).

“Preparing catalogues … to be distributed gratis to their customers.”

In the spring of 1771, booksellers Noel and Hazard took to the pages of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to advertise the “general assortment of books, and stationary ware” available at their shop.  They sought customers of all sorts, offering their inventory both “wholesale and retail.”  The partners made recommendations for the proprietors of country stores, including “bibles, testaments, psalters, primers, childs new play thing, [and] young man’s companion.”  They also had on hand a “great variety of Newbury’s pretty little gilt picture books for young masters and misses,” encouraging adults to purchase books for children.  For prospective customers who pursued certain occupations, Noel and Hazard stocked “navigation books and instruments, surveying books and instruments, [and] architect books and instruments.”  For all sorts of other readers, they sold English and French dictionaries, a “variety of the best pieces on husbandry, gardening and farriery,” and works by Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, and a variety of other authors familiar to eighteenth-century readers.

Noel and Hazard imported their merchandise from London and Scotland.  They anticipated expanding their inventory upon the arrival of “the next vessels from London, Bristol, and Scotland.”  At that time, the items available at their shop would become “so very numerous” that a newspaper advertisement would not longer suffice.  As an alternative, Noel and Hazard were “preparing catalogues of the whole to be distributed gratis to their customers.”  Booksellers regularly produced and disseminated catalogs to supplement their newspaper advertisements.  Those catalogues took various forms, sometimes appearing as broadsides and other times as pamphlets.  Over time, they became more sophisticated in terms of organization.  Rather than listing available titles according to the size of the volumes, booksellers instead grouped them together according to genre.  Doing so assisted prospective customers in locating titles of interest and discovering items they were most likely to purchase but might not have otherwise considered.  Promising free catalogs also served as a ploy to get consumers into shops.  Noel and Hazard described an extensive inventory in their advertisement, but readers who visited their shop to acquire a complete catalog had an opportunity to browse and examine the merchandise for themselves.

Few eighteenth-century book catalogs survive relative to how often booksellers mentioned them in newspaper advertisements.  That has prompted some historians to suspect that many never actually made it into print.  After all, Noel and Hazard stated that they “are preparing catalogues,” not that the catalogs were ready for distribution.  The mere promise of a catalog may have also drawn prospective customers into shops.  Still, booksellers promoted catalogs so frequently that it seems likely that they did distribute many of them, at least in sufficient numbers for prospective customers to have reasonable expectations of acquiring catalogs described in newspaper advertisements.

April 3

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

“RD. SAUSE. CUTLER.”

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery … or a means of capitalizing on a competitor’s marketing efforts.  On March 4, 1771, Bailey and Youle, cutlers from Sheffield, ran a newspaper advertisement notable for a woodcut that included their names and depictions of more than a dozen items available at their shop.  Four weeks later, another cutler, Richard Sause, inserted a strikingly similar advertisement in the same newspaper, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Like Bailey and Youle, his notice began with a woodcut that included his name and images of various items in his inventory.  He also listed those items and more, including “oyster knives, razors, scissors; pocket, pruning and pen knives; …[and] corkscrews.”  In addition to the assortment of merchandise represented in both image and text, Sause also stocked “sundry other things too tedious to mention.”

Sause further enhanced his woodcut by incorporating his name into the depictions of a table knife and a sword, a modification not present in Bailey and Youle’s image of their wares.  The table knife appeared in the upper left and the sword in the lower right, making it likely that viewers would encounter items branded with Sause’s name first and last as they glanced at the depictions of many kinds of cutlery.  Sause’s woodcut also featured a greater number of items, testifying to the many choices he offered to consumers.  In the copy that accompanied the image, he twice invoked variations of the phrase “other articles too tedious to mention,” deploying language not present in Bailey and Youle’s advertisement.  Using his competitor’s notice as a model, Sause devised improvement for his own.

It seems unlikely that Sause produced this advertisement without having seen the notice that Bailey and Youle placed in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Furthermore, whoever carved the original woodcut probably carved the second, given the similarities between several pieces of cutlery depicted in each.  Bailey and Youle continued running their advertisement when Sause’s notice first appeared, the similarities between the two all the more apparent because they were the only images that appeared anywhere in the April 1, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and its supplement, with the exception of the masthead.  When Bailey and Youle published an advertisement that increased their visibility in the marketplace, Sause took notice and shamelessly replicated their efforts.

Detail from Bailey and Youle’s advertisement, Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

March 4

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 4, 1771).

“All sorts of knives, razors, shears, and scissars.”

When Bailey and Youle, “Cutlers from Sheffield,” advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in March 1771, a visual image distinguished their notice from others.  They devoted approximately one-third of the space in their advertisement to a woodcut that may have depicted the sign that marked the location of their shop.  A border contained their names and occupation as well as images of a razor, a knife, an awl, scissors, and a variety of other cutlery that they made and sold at their shop “NEAR THE Merchant’s COFFEE-HOUSE.”  That image represented an investment in their marketing efforts.  First, they had to commission a woodcut connected directly to their business.  Then, since newspaper printers charged by the amount of space advertisements filled rather than the number of words, they had to pay for the additional space required to include the woodcut.  That alone made their advertisement half again more expensive than if they had inserted only the copy with no image.

Was it worth the additional expense?  Bailey and Youle may have impressed prospective customers with their unique image.  The depictions of so many different kinds of cutlery underscored the range of choices in the list of merchandise that followed.  The woodcut almost certainly attracted notice and drew attention to their advertisement.  Consider its placement in the March 4, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the first issue that carried it.  Bailey and Youle’s advertisement ran on the third page in a standard issue created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  If readers perused the interior of the newspaper by holding the second and third pages open, Bailey and Youle’s woodcut would have been the only visual image they encountered among two pages of dense text in both news accounts and advertisements.  If they folded the pages over and viewed only one at a time, the woodcut in Bailey and Youle’s advertisement still would have been the only visual image visible.  Only three other images appeared elsewhere in that edition, one in the masthead as usual and two much smaller depictions of ships at sea that accompanied advertisements for passage and freight on the last page.

Bailey and Youle made appeals to consumer choice twice over in their advertisement.  Like many other purveyors of goods, they provided an extensive list of their merchandise.  In addition, however, their woodcut also cataloged the many cutlery items they offered for sale.  Text and image reinforced each other in making overtures to consumers.

February 25

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 25, 1771).

“Just received advice from London of the fashions advanced for the court ladies this year.”

Thomas Hartley made stays or corsets for “the LADIES” of New York in the early 1770s.  In his efforts to cultivate a clientele, he placed an advertisement in the February 25, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, advising prospective customers that “he makes STAYS OF ALL SORTS, in the newest and best fashion.”  Staymakers as well as tailors, milliners, and others who made garments frequently emphasized that they followed the latest fashions, assuring clients that they did not need to worry about appearing behind the times and out of style after visiting their shops and hiring their services.

Hartley enhanced such appeals with additional commentary in his advertisement, first describing himself as “LATE FROM LONDON” in a portion of his advertisement that served as a headline.  Colonists looked to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, for the latest fashions.  The gentry in New York and other colonies sought to demonstrate their own sophistication by keeping up with styles popular in London.  In proclaiming that he was “LATE FROM LONDON,” Hartley established a connection that suggested he had special insight into the current trends in the metropolis.  Later in the advertisement, he extended “humble thanks to all ladies that have favoured me with their commands,” calling into question just how recently he had arrived in New York.

The staymaker, however, suggested that something else mattered more.  After migrating across the Atlantic, he maintained contact with correspondents who kept him informed about the newest styles.  He trumpeted that he had “just received advice from London of the fashions advanced for the court ladies this year.”  As a result, Hartley felt confident that he could “give universal satisfaction” to his clients.  In making a pitch to “the LADIES” of New York, he claimed to have access to information about the garments the most elite women in London would be wearing in the coming months.  Prospective clients in New York could not expect anything more cutting edge than that!

Fashion often played a role in the appeals made by staymakers, tailors, milliners, and others.  In some instances, advertisers included generic statements using formulaic words and phrases, a shorthand intended to reassure prospective clients that they understood their trade and provided satisfactory services.  Hartley, on the other hand, elaborated on his appeal to “the very newest and best fashion,” seeking to convince customers that he did indeed possess special insights into current trends in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire.

February 11

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 11, 1771).

“It is the Book used in Princetown College and Grammar School.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, bookseller Garrat Noel frequently placed advertisements in newspapers published in New York.  Sometimes he provided lengthy lists of the titles available at his shop, but on other occasions he instead highlighted select titles for prospective customers.  When he took that approach, Noel offered more extensive descriptions, providing a preview of sorts intended to incite demand.

For instance, Noel included three books in an advertisement that extended half a column in the February 11, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He devoted half of that space to “A NEW GEOGRAPHICAL, HISTORICAL, and COMMERCIAL GRAMMAR; AND PRESENT STATE OF THE SEVERAL KINGDOMS of the WORLD” by William Guthrie.  In two columns, he enumerated the contents of the book.  In an eighteenth-century version of “but wait, there’s more,” Noel proclaimed that the book also included “a TABLE of the COINS of all Nations, and their Value in ENGLISH MONEY” and “a new and correct Set of MAPS.”  He apparently expected that an extensive presentation of the various contents would help in selling copies.

Noel took a similar approach in promoting another book, “The MESSIAH.”  He once again focused on the contents, but adopted a different format and style.  The bookseller provided a blurb, a chatty description of what readers could expect to encounter in the book.  Noel presented “The MESSIAH” as “an entertaining and instructive book, chiefly of the religious and moral Kind,” with the narrative “drawn from the Sacred Scriptures.”  Rather than a dry theological treatise, however, Noel promised prospective buyers that they would enjoy a text “set in a plain, rational, useful and interesting Light.”  Many readers likely found the blurb for the “The MESSIAH” more engaging than the list of contents for Guthrie’s historical geography.

The bookseller deployed yet another strategy for cultivating interest in the final book in this advertisement, John Mair’s “INTRODUCTION TO LATIN SYNTAX.”  In this case, Noel commented on the popularity and success of the book in other markets, hoping that would translate into demand among consumers in New York.  He described “Mair’s Introduction to the making of Latin” as “the latest and most improved Book of that Kind, and now in Use in all the principal Schools in Scotland, where the Language is taught with the greatest accuracy.”  Yet prospective customers did not need to look across the Atlantic to witness approval for this book.  Noel also noted that it “is the Book used in Princetown College and Grammar School,” a fact that the bookseller leveraged as a recommendation for others interested in Latin to purchase it.

In a single advertisement, Noel experimented with three different methods for inciting interest in some of the books he sold.  For one, he relied on an extensive recounting of the contents, while for another he commented on the contents in a spirited blurb.  For a Latin textbook, he reported on its use in both Scotland and a nearby college and grammar school.  For each book, he selected a marketing strategy that he anticipated would resonate with the consumers most likely to have incipient interest in acquiring a copy.

February 4

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 4, 1771).

“He intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights.”

When Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, arrived in New York from Europe in the fall of 1770, he placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal to introduce himself and invite colonists to attend performances “at the house of Mr. Hyer, on Hunter’s Quay” or schedule a “private exhibition.”  Saunders encouraged the curious to see his show as soon as possible or risk missing it because his “stay in this city will be but a few weeks.”  Itinerant performers often deployed that strategy for inciting interest in the spectacles they offered to prospective audiences.  They created a form of scarcity when they stated that they would remain in town for only a limited time.

Sometimes itinerant performers did move to the next town fairly quickly.  Consider, for instance, the series of advertisements placed by an unnamed performer “who has Read and Sung in most of the great Towns in America” in the Providence, Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth in less than two months in the fall of 1769.  He offered a few performances in each place before moving along to the next.  Other performers attempted to encourage interest by proclaiming that they would soon depart for other places, but then remained much longer.  Such was the case for Saunders.  On February 4, 1771, he inserted an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He no longer included his first name, perhaps believing that he achieved sufficient local celebrity in the three months he already spent in New York to dispense with such a detail.  He also eliminated the description of “variety of entertaining as well as surprising tricks” that appeared in earlier advertisements.  Instead, he simply announced that he “intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights … longer in NEW-YORK.”  That he remained in the city at that time was not by his own design but instead in response to the “PARTICIULAR DESIRE of several Ladies and Gentlemen,” or so he claimed.  Saunders sought to give the public what they wanted.  To that end, he also continued offering private shows “to any select Company,” suggesting another trajectory of demand for his “astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand.”

When they advertised, itinerant performers often emphasized that they would be in town for only a limited time so colonists needed to catch their shows before they were gone or else miss out on the popular culture experiences enjoyed by other members of their communities.  Performers often delayed their departures in order to offer additional shows.  Some, like Saunders who remained in New York for months, may not have planned to leave after a short time at all, but others did move along fairly quickly.  Even though he already remained in town for three months, Saunders attempted to leverage uncertainty about his departure in order to incite demand for his upcoming performances.

January 23

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 21, 1771).

“SADLERY WARE.”

Ornamental printing helped to make the final page of the supplement that accompanied the January 21, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury more visually interesting than any other portion of that issue.  Rather than use a single line to separate advertisements, the compositor instead selected a variety of decorative type.  Compare, for instance, the line between the advertisement for “SADLERY WARE” and George Ball’s advertisement about his new location to the ornaments that appeared above and below most of the other advertisements.

Eighteenth-century newspapers tended to feature few visual images other than a crest or signet in the masthead and a small number of woodcuts depicting ships, houses, horses, enslaved people, and runaway indentured servants.  Sometimes those woodcuts appeared in great numbers, but most often advertisers deployed them sparingly.  The edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury under consideration here ran only three advertisements with woodcuts, one on the third page and two on the fourth page.  No images appeared on the second page; only the crest in the masthead adorned the first page.  The two-page supplement included six woodcuts, two on the first page and four on the second.  (Three of them can be seen in the detail of that page above.)  With four woodcuts, the last page of the supplement already incorporated greater visual diversity than any other page of the standard issue and the supplement.

Beyond that, the compositor spruced up the page with more than twenty lines of decorative type that separated advertisements.  The third and fourth pages of the standard issue and the first page of the supplement all consisted entirely of advertising, yet none of them received such treatment.  Instead, single lines sequestered advertisements.  What explains the burst of creativity on the final page?  Was it a ploy to attract attention from readers once they discovered no news or editorials, especially those prone to skip over advertisements?  Did more than one compositor set type for that issue and its supplement?  What other factors might have influenced the design decisions that produced a final page so different from the rest of the issue?  The format of these advertisements raises interesting questions without clear answers.