November 21

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 19, 1770).

“SCONCES.”

The partnership of Abeel and Byvanck regularly advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in 1770.  While it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, the fact that they repeatedly placed new advertisements advising consumers about the merchandise they offered for sale suggests that they considered advertising a good investment.  Like other merchants and shopkeepers, they often listed items currently in stock, though sometimes they instead merely emphasized that shoppers had many choices among a “general Assortment” or “very large ASSORTMENT.”

Most purveyors of consumer goods tended to place a single advertisement to promote all of them.  Such advertisements often attracted attention due to the amount of space they occupied on the page.  Abeel and Byvanck, on the other hand, experimented with placing multiple advertisements in a single issue.  Rather than the length of their notices drawing the eye, instead it was the repetition intended to attract attention.  Abeel and Byvank’s enterprise became more memorable as a result of repeatedly encountering their advertisements.

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 19, 1770).

Readers of the November 19, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury spotted advertisements placed by Abeel and Byvank on the first and last pages.  An advertisement for ironmongery ran on the first page followed by another for looking glasses on the final page.  In addition to placing multiple advertisements, the partners also relied on headlines in oversized fonts drawing the eyes of prospective customers.  The word “SCONCES” in the notice about looking glasses appeared in a font larger than any other on the page.  Similarly, the word “NAILS” used a font that dwarfed any other on the first page except for the title of the newspaper in the masthead.  In each instance, the large font helped to create white space that further distinguished Abeel and Byvanck’s advertisements from news items and other advertisements on pages that consisted of dense paragraphs of text.

Viewed through twenty-first-century eyes, Abeel and Byvanck’s advertisements do not appear particularly sophisticated.  Considered in the context of eighteenth-century advertising practices, however, their notices possessed elements that made them notable.  Placing multiple advertisements in a single issue helped to establish name recognition, enhancing their reputation as purveyors of goods through repetition.  Savvy choices about font size increased the likelihood that readers would spot their advertisements and take note that Abeel and Byvanck actively participated in the marketplace, especially as it was represented on the printed page.

November 12

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 12, 1770).

“Two valuable negro men, and a negro wench with a female child.”

Auctioneers Thomas William Moore and Company regularly advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, advising prospective bidders of a constantly changing array of new and secondhand goods for sale at their “AUCTION-ROOM.”  On November 12, 1770, for instance, they ran advertisement announcing that the next day they would continue “the sale of a large parcel of dry goods” that included textiles, ribbons and trimmings, “printed handkerchiefs,” and “ladies gloves.”  They also had “a quantity of ironmongery” that included “scythes, frying pans, [and] wool cards” for the highest bidder.

In addition to the sales at their Auction Room, Moore and Company also sponsored other sales “On the Bridge, At the Coffee-House,” a popular meeting place for transacting business.  The auctioneers advised that a “large parcel of genteel furniture” would be sold the same day that their advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  In addition, “two valuable negro men, and a negro wench with a female child” would go on the auction block the following day.  The notice did not elaborate on the men and child, but did state that the woman was “honest, sober and good tempered.”

Enslaved people comprised a significant portion of the population of New York City during the era of the American Revolution.  Advertisements offering enslaved men, women, and children for sale as well as notices offering rewards for capturing enslaved people who liberated themselves from those who held them in bondage frequently appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and other newspapers published in the busy urban port.  Some advertisements focused on enslaved people exclusively, such as a notice offering a “LIKELY young NEGRO MAN” for sale in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy on the same day that Moore and Company ran their auction notice.  Other advertisements, like the one placed by the auctioneers, embedded the sale of enslaved people among other aspects of daily life, like buying clothing and housewares.  At a glance, it was not immediately apparent that Moore and Company’s advertisement was part of the infrastructure of the slave trade.  That only became apparent on closer inspection, but offering two Black men, a Black woman, and a Black girl for sale would not have surprised newspaper readers.  Casually inserting enslaved people among goods for sale was both insidious and ubiquitous, even in newspaper advertisements published in northern colonies.  The consumer revolution of “printed handkerchiefs” and “ladies gloves” operated in tandem with the transatlantic slave trade and the maintenance of a system of exploitation in eighteenth-century America.

October 22

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 22, 1770).

All Sorts of Gold, Silver, and Silk.”

Barnaby Andrews, an “IMBROIDERER,” placed a notice in the October 22, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to advertise his many services.  He described four different branches of his business to attract prospective customers.  Andrews commenced with the most obvious, proclaiming that he “MAKES all Sorts of Gold, Silver, and Silk for Men and Womens Ware” as well as “Pulpit Cloths, Tassels and Fringes.”  As a related service, he informed the public that he “cleans all Sorts of Gold and Silver Lace.”  These were the types of work expected of embroiderers.

Yet Andrews provided two other services beyond making and maintaining embroidery.  He offered to impart his skills to “Any Lady” who wished to take lessons.  When it came to leisure activities and household production, after all, embroidery was predominantly a feminine pastime.  Prospective pupils had two option when it came to the location for their lessons.  They could choose to have Andrews visit them at home, certainly a convenience, but they could also opt for the embroiderer’s lodgings on Broad Street.  Either way, the advertisement suggested that they would receive more personalized attention from Andrews than they would from schoolmistresses who included sewing and simple embroidery in their curriculum for girls and young women.

In addition to embroidery, Andrews also made “all Sort of Paper Work” and “Hat, Patch and Bonnet Boxes” for storing some of the items that women used to adorn their faces and heads.  Madeline Siefke Estill explains that patch boxes were “indices of gentility” similar to snuff boxes and tobacco boxes.  Patches were made from “a wide range of materials – black silk, velvet, paper, or red leather – and cut into a variety of shapes and sizes” to be “applied to the face or bosom with mastic.”  Patches served several purposed, including lending “an impression of formal distinction and enhanc[ing] one’s beauty and desirability.”  While patches could be used to disguise blemishes, women also wore them to “appear younger and more fashionable.”  Andrews asserted that he made his boxes “in the neatest and best Fashion,” suitable accouterments for genteel women to collect, display, or even give as gifts.

Andrews aimed his advertisement primarily at the local gentry, those who had the means to acquire silks and lace as well as the leisure time to learn embroidery as a diversion.  Like many other artisans, he provided the means for his clients to perform gentility though he could not claim admission to the ranks of the genteel himself.

October 15

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 15, 1770).

Hutchin’s Improved:  BEING AN ALMANACK … For the Year of our LORD 1771.”

By the middle of October 1770, advertisements for almanacs for 1771 began appearing in newspapers throughout the colonies.  Such notices were a familiar sight to readers of the public prints who encountered them every fall.  Just like the changing of the seasons, the appearance of advertisements for almanacs followed a similar pattern from year to year.  In the late summer and early fall printers first announced that they would soon publish almanacs for the coming year.  Those were usually short notices that listed little more than the titles that would soon become available.  As fall continues, the number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased, as did the length of advertisements for particular titles.  This continued into the new year before the advertisements tapered off in late January and early February.

Hugh Gaine’s advertisement for Hutchin’s Improved Almanack in the October 15, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was one of the first of the lengthy notices in the fall of 1770.  It extended more than half a column, making it the longest advertisement in that issue.  In promoting the almanac, Gaine proclaimed that the “usual Astronomical Calculations” had been “laid down with as great Accuracy as in any Almanack in America.”  In addition, Hutchin’s Improved Almanack contained a variety of other useful items, including a calendar of “Court Terms,” a guide to “Post Roads and Stages through every Settled Part of the Continent,” and instructions for remedies “to preserve Health” and “to cure Disorders incident to the Human Body.”  Gaine devoted most of the advertisement to short descriptions of twenty “select Pieces, instructing and entertaining” that ranged from “Moral Reflections” to “Historical Remarks” to “entertaining Anecdotes, Similies, Aphorisms, [and] Epitaphs.”  Among the “Moral Reflections,” readers would find “Rules for preserving HEALTH in eating and drinking.”  Gaine opined that “An Observance of these Rules will bring us to Temperance.”  The “Historical Remarks” included “An Extract from Mr. Anderson’s History of the Rise and Progress of Commerce,” while the “entertaining Anecdotes” featured “A diverting Tale” of “The Sausage Maker raised to a Prime Minister” and “the Pastor and his Flock; a droll, but True Story.”

Almanacs accounted for a significant portion of popular print culture in eighteenth-century America.  Consumers from the most humble households to the most grand acquired almanacs each year.  Printers competed with each other for their share of the market, aggressively advertising their titles in newspapers.  In doing so, they sought to distinguish their almanacs from others and convince prospective customers that their version included the most extensive, most useful, and most entertaining contents.

September 24

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 24, 1770).

“He has made a considerable Improvement in the Construction of those Shears.”

When he started a new business in 1770, Cornelius Atherton placed an advertisement to alert prospective customers.  He deployed several appeals to entice them to purchase the clothier’s shears that he manufactured.

Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury learned that Atherton claimed his shears were “equal in Goodness to any imported, and are sold upon as good Terms.”   New York’s merchants had resumed trading with their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic earlier in the year, following the repeal of most of the duties imposed on imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  Entrepreneurs like Atherton, however, did not surrender to the influx of manufactured goods from England, often perceived as being higher quality, but instead defended their role in the American marketplace.  A movement to encourage “domestic manufactures” accompanied the nonimportation agreements adopted in the late 1760s.  Atherton and others who made goods in the colonies heeded that call and then continued to promote their wares when trade resumed.  When it came to quality and price, Atherton proclaimed, his clothier’s shears could not be beat by imported alternatives.  He hoped that would be “an Inducement” to buy from him.

If that was not sufficient, Atherton offered another reason.  He devoted the second half of his advertisement to describing an innovation in the construction of his shears.  Emphasizing innovation was the most innovative part of his advertisement.  Atherton explained that he “has made a considerable Improvement in the Construction of these Shears, so that they may be taken a part with a Screw, to be ground without putting them out of their proper Order.”  This required “additional Workmanship” (that did not make the shears more expensive than imported ones), but resulted in “great Conveniency” when it came to maintenance and durability.  This innovative construction made Atherton’s shears “something higher than the Common.”  Such ingenuity merited attention from prospective customers.

In as short advertisement for clothier’s shears made in the colonies, Atherton brought together multiple marketing appeals.  He resorted to some of the most common, quality and price, but expressed them in comparison to imported alternatives.  In turn, this supported an implicit “Buy American” argument that would have been familiar to consumers in the late 1760s and early 1770s because it had been so frequently made, both implicitly and explicitly, in the public prints, including in advertisements.  Atherton may have considered the innovation in constructing his shears the most compelling of the appeals he presented to prospective customers.  That innovation contributed to quality and durability while also yielding greater convenience for his customers.

September 10

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 10, 1770).

“To be SOLD … Best PORTER.”

Colonial printers often devoted as much space to advertising as news, editorials, and other content in their newspapers.  Advertisements often overflowed from standard issues into supplements devoted entirely to paid notices.  Consider, for instance, Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Gaine published a standard issue once a week in 1770.  It consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Those standard issues usually included a significant proportion of advertisements in relation to news.  In addition, a two-page supplement often accompanied the standard issue.  Such was the case on September 10.  This did not, however, increase the contents by half since Gaine used a smaller sheet for the supplement.  Still, the supplement accounted for a considerable amount of additional material disseminated to readers.

Notably, the supplement contained advertisements and nothing else, with the exception of the masthead.  Gaine inserted more than three dozen advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue.  This was not a case of separating news from advertising, saving the latter for the supplement.  Instead, paid notices appeared throughout the standard issue as well.  One advertisement ran at the bottom of the first page.  Every other page featured a greater number of advertisements:  nearly two of the four columns on the second page, a column and a half on the third page, and the entire fourth page.  Before turning to the supplement, advertising filled nearly half of the standard issue.

Advertising generated revenues for Gaine, making publishing the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury a viable enterprise.  Then, as now, advertising revenues contributed to the dissemination of the news, though sometimes their volume may have seemed to overwhelm the other content of the newspaper.  Joseph Lawrence’s advertisement for “Best PORTER” in the supplement, one example among many, helped to underwrite news from London and Constantinople on the first page and news from other colonies on the second and third pages.

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:3:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 3, 1770).

“… practised by very few in ENGLAND, and those esteemed the best Mechanicks in Europe.”

Like many other artisans who migrated to the colonies in the eighteenth-century, James Yeoman emphasized his origins on the other side of the Atlantic.  In an advertisement that ran in the September 3, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Yeoman described himself as a “CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER, FROM LONDON.”  It was not clear from the advertisement how long he had resided in New York and practiced his trade there.  He extended “his best Thanks to the Ladies and Gentlemen of this City for the past Favours” and noted that he “he still continues his Shop … in Hanover Square.”  He had been in New York long enough that he already had customers.  All the same, he asserted his connections to London, aiming to take advantage of the cachet often derived from the metropolitan center of the empire.  For artisans, that cachet was often twofold, an association of their wares with cosmopolitanism and an insinuation that they possessed greater skill due to superior training compared to their competitors from the colonies.  For instance, when it came to replacing the parts of an “ever so nice mechanical Construction,” Yeoman stated that he provided that service “as reasonable and neat as if done in London.”

In that regard, the appeals he made in his advertisement paralleled those made by other artisans “FROM LONDON.”  Yeoman, however, did not stop there.  He added a nota bene that further linked him to artisans on the other side of the Atlantic, noting that he would “undertake to make Clocks for Churches, or Gentlemens Turrets, on an entire new Plan, practised by very few in ENGLAND, and those esteemed the best Mechanicks in Europe.” At the same time that Yeoman was advertising in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, John Simnet, “original maker from London,” inserted advertisements in the New-York Journal.  Simnet did not expound on his connections to London in any greater detail, while Yeoman made greater effort in his attempt to guide prospective customers to the conclusion that he did indeed possess greater skill due to his origins.  If only the “best Mechanicks in Europe” were capable of making clocks according to this “new Plan,” then Yeoman must have been skilled indeed.  At least that was the impression he sought to give in the nota bene that concluded his advertisement.  Anxious that describing himself as “FROM LONDON” did not sufficiently distinguish him from other clock- and watchmakers, Yeoman made his case for consumers in New York.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:13:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 13, 1770).

“Coopers Bung borers, adzes, howells, compasses, crozes, bitts and rivets.”

In the 1770s, when merchants and shopkeepers enumerated the “general assortment” of goods they offered for sale, their advertisements usually followed one of two formats.  Most listed their merchandise in a dense paragraph of text that extended anywhere from a few lines to half a column or more.  As an alternative, others created more white space and made their advertisements easier to read by including only one item per line or organizing their wares into columns.  Adopting such methods meant that advertisers could name fewer items in the same amount of space as their competitors who chose paragraphs of text with no white space.

Both sorts of advertisements regularly appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but occasionally advertisers (perhaps in consultation with printers and compositors) added variations and innovations.  Such was the case with Thomas Hazard’s advertisement for ironmongery and cutlery in the August 13, 1770, edition.  Hazard began with a dense paragraph that included “H and H-L plain and rais’d joint hinges,” “brass and iron candlesticks,” and “sword blades.”  In addition, he divided a portion of his advertisement into two columns.  Within those columns, he resorted to short paragraphs of text rather than listing only one or two items per line, but those paragraphs were brief and likely easier for eighteenth-century consumers to navigate than the dense paragraph of text that constituted the bulk of the advertisement.  Furthermore, Hazard inserted headers for each of those shorter paragraphs:  “Carpenters,” “Shoemakers,” “Coopers,” “Barbers,” “Watchmakers,” and “Silversmiths and Jewellers.”  Each paragraph listed tools used in a particular trade.  In this manner, Hazard targeted specific consumers and aided artisans in finding the items of greatest interest to them.

Prior to the American Revolution, merchants and shopkeepers published undifferentiated lists of goods in their advertisements, but occasionally some attempted to impose more order and make their notices easier for prospective customers to navigate.  Thomas Hazard did so by grouping together tools used by various sorts of artisans, setting them apart in columns, and using headers to draw attention to them.  Carpenters or watchmakers who might have overlooked items when skimming dense paragraphs of text instead had a beacon that called their attention to the tolls of their trades.

August 6

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

Aug 6 - 8:6:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 6, 1770).

“He hopes this will be an additional recommendation to every sincere lover of AMERICA.”

In the summer of 1770, Dennis McReady, a tobacconist on Horse and Cart Street in New York, advertised that he had for sale “a large quantity of the choicest snuff.”  To convince prospective customers to buy his product, he made a “Buy American” argument and proclaimed that his snuff was “equal in quality to any that has ever been imported in this city.”  The city’s merchants had withdrawn from their nonimportation agreement a few months earlier, shortly after receiving word that most of the duties imposed on imported goods in the Townshend Acts had been repealed.  With only the tax on tea remaining, New York’s merchants chose to resume trade with their counterparts in Britain.

Not all New Yorkers universally approved of that decision.  For those who had pursued “domestic manufactures” or local production of alternatives to imported goods, the boycott enhanced their ability to market their wares as symbols of patriotism and support for the American cause.  McReady cautioned prospective customers against turning back to imported goods too hastily, challenging them to try his snuff “manufactured in this country.”  In addition to declaring that his product was equal to snuff that had been processed from tobacco on the other side of the Atlantic, he issued a political challenge to “every sincere lover of AMERICA.”  That “AMERICA” was the only word in all capitals in the body of his advertisement made it easy for readers to spot and underscored the emphasis McReady placed on this particular appeal to consumers.  The tobacconist doubled down on his claims about the quality of his snuff and his challenge to choose it over imported snuff; he expressed his “hopes that no person will be persuaded to the contrary until he has made trial of [McReady’s] snuff.”  At least try this product once to test its quality, McReady demanded, rather than assume that “imported” meant “better quality.”  Instead of purchasing imported snuff just because they could, McReady sought to persuade consumers to support domestic manufactures and the patriotic ideals associated with them.

July 30

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

Jul 30 - 7:30:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 30, 1770).

“TO BE SOLD, By ELIZABETH VAN DYCK.”

The front page of the July 30, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury featured a letter “To the PRINTER” reprinted from the Public Ledger and several advertisements for consumers goods.  Many of those notices used the names of the advertisers as headlines, setting them in larger type and often in capitals.  At a glance, readers saw that ABEEL & BYVANCK; GEORGE BALL; RICHARD CURSON; Herman Gouverneur; Greg, Cunningham and Co.; PHILIP LIVINGSTON; JOHN McKENNEY; and ELIZABETH VAN DYCK all offered goods for sale to consumers in the city and beyond.

In many ways, those advertisements each resembled the others.  With the exception of George Ball and the partnership of Abeel and Byvanck, each advertiser purchased a “square” of space and filled most of it with a short list of their merchandise.  Abeel and Byvanck’s advertisement occupied two squares and George Ball’s four.  Each of those longer advertisements divided the list of goods into two columns, as did Richard Curson’s advertisement.  With minor variations, these advertisements for consumer goods adhered to a standard format.

That meant that the most distinguishing feature of Elizabeth Van Dyck’s advertisement was that it promoted a business operated by a female entrepreneur.  Women comprised a substantial minority of shopkeepers in colonial American port cities, with some estimates running as high as four out of ten.  Yet they did not place newspaper advertisements in proportion to their presence in the marketplace as purveyors of goods rather than consumers.  Van Dyck was the only female shopkeeper who advertised in that issue of New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, while more than a dozen advertisements for consumer goods deployed men’s names as their headlines.  No female shopkeepers advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Post-Boy published the same day, nor the New-York Journal three days later.

The representation of the marketplace among the advertisements in New York’s newspapers presented it as primarily the domain of men, at least as far as wholesalers and retailers were concerned.  Even though women operated shops in the bustling port in the early 1770s, they did not establish a presence in the public prints in proportion to their numbers.  When Van Dyck chose to join the ranks of her male counterparts who advertised, she composed a notice that conformed to the standard format.  She struck a careful balance, calling attention to her business but not calling too much attention to it.  In so doing, she claimed space for herself in the market, both the actual market and the representation of it in the newspaper, while demonstrating that women’s activities as entrepreneurs need not be disruptive to good order.