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.

July 2

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

Jul 2 - 7:7:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 2, 1770).

Catalogues may be had the day of viewing at the place of sale.”

On Monday, July 2, 1770, John Taylor ran an advertisement that announced an auction scheduled for the following Thursday.  He advised readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that the items up for bid included “houshold furniture, china, glass, and jewellery ware, silver watches, some copper, tea, and kitchen furniture.”  He concluded the list with “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera), an indication of even more items than the newspaper advertisement could contain.

Prospective bidders did not, however, need to consult the newspaper advertisement for a complete listing of the items offered for sale.  Taylor announced that “Catalogues may be had the day of viewing at the place of sale.”  Auctioneers and booksellers both made frequent reference to catalogs in their advertisements, though relatively few of those eighteenth-century auction catalogs or book catalogs survive.  Some historians suspect that many of those catalogs never existed; it is impossible to know for certain.  The mere promise of a catalog may have helped to convince some readers to visit Taylor’s auction house.  Taylor scheduled an advance viewing of the goods as a means of priming interest, but handing out catalogs encouraged viewers to continue engaging with items of potential interest after departing the auction house.  Upon examining the items for sale, prospective bidders did not have to rely on memory alone as they contemplated which actions they would take.  A catalog also provided additional details that prospective bidders could further enhance with their own notes.

Like other auctioneers, Taylor almost certainly realized that anticipation was an integral component of a successful auction.  Prospective bidders envisioned acquiring goods before they had an opportunity to purchase them.  They could imagine bargains if others did not bid on the items they wanted, but they could also imagine steadily increasing their bids if they encountered competition.  Either way, prospective bidders made some sort of commitment before the auction began.  By providing catalogs, Taylor facilitated these acts of imagination, increasing the likelihood that prospective bidders put them into action at the auction.

June 11

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

Jun 11 - 6:11:1770 New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (June 11, 1770).

“With an APPENDIX, containing the Distiller’s Assistant.”

In the spring of 1770, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury carried a series of advertisements from “I. FELL, at No. 14, in Pater-noster-Row, London.”  Two of them appeared in the June 11 edition.  The first, a subscription notice for the bible “On a PLAN never before attempted … By a SOCIETY of CLERGYMEN,” listed Fell as one of the booksellers.  This subscription notice stated that “the Printer hereof,” Hugh Gaine, acted as a local agent.  Interested parties needed to make arrangements with Gaine rather than contacting Fell.  As local agent, Gaine compiled a list of subscribers that he sent to Fell, collected payments, and distributed the book after it went to press.  The other advertisement listed eight titles that Fell sold at his shop.  It did not indicate that Gaine served as a local agent, though customers may very well have had the option of submitting orders through him.

Fell’s second advertisement differed from most others placed by booksellers.  They usually took one of two forms.  Some, like the subscription notice, promoted a single title, describing both the contents and the material qualities of the publication.  Others, like an advertisement placed by James Rivington in the same issue of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, listed books for sale but provided little elaboration beyond the titles.  Rivington’s advertisement listed dozens of books; others listed hundreds.  In contrast to either of those standard approaches, Fell’s advertisement featured eight books and provided a blurb about each to incite interest.

In general, Fell did not compose those blurbs.  Instead, he incorporated the extensive subtitles that tended to be a feature of many books published in the eighteenth century.  Thus “THE MEMOIRS OF Miss Arabella Bolton” became “THE MEMOIRS OF Miss Arabella Bolton, CONTAINING a genuine Account of her Seduction, and the barbarous Treatment she afterwards received from the Honourable Col. L—–L, the present supposed M—–r for the County of MIDDLESEX.  With Various other Misfortunes and Embarrasments, into which this unhappy young Woman has been cruelly involved, through the Vicissitudes of Life, and the Villainy of her Seducer.  The whole taken from the Original Letters of the said. Col. L—-L to Dr. KELLY, who attended her in the greatest Misfortunes and Distresses under which she labored:  And also from sever Original Letters to Dr. KELLY and Miss BOLTON, and from other authenticated Papers in the Hands of the Publisher.”  In addition, Fell listed the price.

Each book in Fell’s advertisement received the same treatment, though not all had subtitles as extensive as The Memoirs of Miss Arabella Bolton.  If prospective customers were unfamiliar with a particular volume, they could consult the blurb to get a better sense of what it contained.  The entry for The Country Brewer’s Assistant and English Vintner’s Instructor, for instance, rehearsed the table of contents and noted that it concluded with “an APPENDIX, containing the Distiller’s Assistant.”  In contrast to that practical guide, The Complete Wizzard included “a Collection of authentic and entertaining Narratives of the real Existence and Appearance of Ghosts, Demons, and Spectres:  Together with several wonderful Instances of the Effects of Witchcraft.  To which is prefixed, An Account of Haunted Houses, and subjoined a Treatise on the Effects of Magic.”  Several books in the advertisement included appendices or additional materials not evident in the main title alone.  The Imperial Spelling Dictionary also included a “Compendious English Grammar.”  Wilke’s Jests, or The Patriot Wit also gathered together a “pleasing Variety of Patriotic Toasts and Sentiments.”  But wait, there’s more!  The publisher also added “THE FREE-BORN MUSE; OR SELECT PIECES OF POETRY, by Mr. Wilkes, and other Gentlemen distinguished for their Wit and Patriotism.”

Fell likely intended that these blurbs would convince readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to purchase the books he sold.  His advertisement revealed not only the contents of each volume but also the added value of supplemental materials not readily apparent in the main titles alone.  Fell did not want readers to skim a list of titles quickly or pass over the advertisement entirely; instead, he sought to arouse greater interest by providing more elaborate overviews to capture their attention and convince them to purchase his books so they could read more.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:4:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (June 4, 1770).

“The public Prints taken in for Gentlemen’s Amusement.”

Edward Bardin operated taverns in both Boston and New York in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  In advance of opening “a compleat Victualing-House, [at] the Sign of the Golden Ton, in Chapel-Street” in New York he placed an advertisement detailing its many amenities in the June 4, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Bardin focused primarily on the food prepared and served at his establishment, proclaiming that “Gentlemen may Breakfast, Dine and Sup, any Day in the Week.”  He also catered “Dinners or Suppers for large or small set Companies.”  For those who did not wish to dine at the Sign of the Golden Tun, Bardin also prepared takeout food; his services included “Victuals ready dressed, sold out in any Quantity, to such Persons who may find it convenient to send for it.”  Bardin pledged that his customers would experience “the most civil Treatment, and the very best Accommodations.”  He asserted that he served meals “in the most genteel Manner.”

When it came to amenities beyond the food and service, he mentioned one in particular, noting that the “public Prints [were] taken in for Gentlemen’s Amusement.”  In other words, Bardin subscribed to newspapers that his clients could read while they dined at the Sign of the Golden Ton.  He likely received copies of all three newspapers published in New York at the time, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (in which his advertisement appeared), the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, and the New-York Journal.  He may have also subscribed to newspapers from the largest ports in the colonies and even London, all part of the service he provided at his establishment.  In addition to “Gentlemen’s Amusement,” these newspapers offered an overview of current events that would have contributed to shaping both the politics and the business ventures of Bardin’s patrons.  A single copy could have been perused by dozens of readers who dined at the victualing house.  The proprietors of coffeehouses and similar establishments aided in the dissemination of the news in eighteenth-century America by making newspapers available for their customers to read at their leisure.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

“THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”

At first glance the advertisement did not look much different than others that offered books and pamphlets for sale: “Very lately published in the City of Philadelphia, and to be sold by the Printer hereof, two Discourses by a Layman of the Church of England.”  Hugh Gaine inserted that notice in the May 28, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He offered further description of the “Discourses,” stating that they contemplated “the two following Texts; Matt. xv. 15. 25, Then came she and worshipped him saying, Lord help me; Isaiah xlv. 15. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel the Saviour.”  Gaine likely drew directly from the title page in composing that portion of the advertisement.

That part of the advertisement could have stood alone.  It provided the same amount of information as others placed by printers and booksellers in colonial American newspapers.  It was in the second portion that the printer made a sales pitch that distinguished this particular advertisement from others for books and pamphlets that ran in the same issue and in other newspapers.  Gaine informed prospective readers that “THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”  Purchasing it, he suggested, was an act of charity and an expression of concern for the public good.  If that was not enough to influence readers to buy the pamphlet, then they could consider it an opportunity to practice philanthropy at a bargain.  Gaine asserted that even though the pamphlet sold for eight pence in Philadelphia, he charged only “the small Sum” of four pence for each copy.  He ran a half-price sale.

Though brief, Gaine’s advertisement contained two marketing strategies that the printer expected would resonate with prospective customers: a bargain price and an opportunity to aid the less fortunate.  That he sold the pamphlet also enhanced Gaine’s own reputation, demonstrating that he supported efforts to benefit the prisoners in Philadelphia. Eighteenth-century advertisements should not be dismissed as simple because they were short or lacked striking visual elements.  In a few short sentences, Gaine made a powerful case for purchasing the pamphlet.

May 14

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

May 14 - 5:14:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 14, 1770).

“She has had the honour of being employed by several ladies in this city.”

Mary Morcomb did not indicate how recently she had arrived in New York in her advertisement, but it was recently enough that she described herself as a “Mantua-Maker, from London.”  After migrating to the colonies, she hoped to establish a new clientele.  To that end, she informed readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that she made “all sorts of negligees, Brunswick dresses, gowns, and every other sort of lady’s apparel.”  In addition, she extended her skills working with textiles to “cover[ing] UMBRELLOES in the neatest and most fashionable manner.”  Invoking her London origins testified to her access to the latest styles and taste, reassuring prospective customers that she did indeed produce both garments and umbrellas, a new and exotic accessory in the early 1770s, in the “most fashionable manner.”

As a newcomer who could not depend on a reputation established through interacting with clients and acquaintances over time, Morcomb instead attempted to accelerate the process.  She claimed that she already “had the honour of being employed by several ladies in this city.”  Those ladies, Morcomb reported, were satisfied with the garments she made for them and had “declared their approbation of her work.”  This was a secondhand testimonial, delivered by the provider of the goods and services, yet Morcomb hoped it would be sufficient to garner “encouragement from the ladies, in her business.”  She concluded by pledging that if prospective clients put their trust in her that they “May depend upon having their work done with all possible care and dispatch.”

In her effort to attract new customers, Morcomb deployed strategies often used by artisans, especially those in the garment trades, who only recently arrived in the colonies.  Many emphasized their connections to cosmopolitan cities where they had access to the latest fashions and then suggested that this already translated to serving select clients in their new location.  Although unfamiliar to many residents in their communities, Morcomb and other artisans attempted to incite demand by asserting that their services were already in demand.  Prospective customers should be eager to hire them, they proposed, because they had already successfully demonstrated their proficiency at their trades.