January 22

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

Jan 22 - 1:22:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 22, 1770).

He has brought with him ample Certificates of his Character.”

When John Girault, “A Native of FRANCE,” arrived in New York, he turned to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to introduce himself to the residents of that city. He also sought employment, stating that he “proposes to teach the French Language.” His origins testified to his knowledge of the language, but also raised suspicions. Less than a decade had passed since the Seven Years War concluded. That war began in the Ohio River valley, contested territory claimed by both Britain and France, but spread far beyond North America. Battles took place around the globe in what became a great war for empire that resulted in France ceding its claim to territory in North America. Yet the enmity between Britain, a Protestant nation-state, and France, a Catholic nation-state, extended back centuries. Colonists in New York had long been suspicious of French and Catholic threats to their colony as well as anxious that strangers from nearby New France would attempt to infiltrate the bustling port city for nefarious purposes.

Girault understood that he faced such suspicions when he migrated to New York. As part of his introduction, he announced that he “has brought with him ample Certificates of his Character, from the Consistory of a Protestant Congregation at Poitou in France, of which he was an Elder, and from the Consistory of a French Church in London, where he has resided for several Years.” As a “Stranger” in the colony, he offered reassurances that he was not a threat, but he did not merely ask his new neighbors to take him at his word. He arrived with documents that they could examine for themselves, in addition to offering “Messrs. James Buvelot, and Francis Bosset” as local references. At the same time that he declared himself “A Native of FRANCE” to establish his qualifications “to teach the French Language,” he also distanced himself from his place of origin by noting that he had lived in London for several years. Perhaps most importantly, he proclaimed himself a Protestant, hoping to alleviate suspicion about what might be his true purpose in the city. Even as New Yorkers and other colonists vied with Parliament over the Townshend Acts, they continued to have other concerns as members of the British Empire. Girault did what he could to address them in order to settle peacefully and to encourage students to take lessons from him.

For more on New Yorkers’ anxieties about French infiltrators in the first two thirds of the eighteenth century, see Serena R. Zabin, Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York.

November 27

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

Nov 27 - 11:27:1769 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 27, 1769).

“The above Agreement was signed by almost all the Merchants in this City.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers regularly carried several types of content. Most included news, editorials, and advertisements. Some often included a poem on the final page. Others included shipping news from the customs house or a list of prices current for commodities among the news items. Some items, however, did not neatly fit in any particular category. This notice that ran in the November 27, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was part news, part editorial, and part advertisement.

The notice offered an overview of recent developments concerning nonimportation agreements adopted by many colonists in an effort “to defeat the iniquitous Purposes of the oppressive Act of Parliament, imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, [and] Tea.” Such measures had been adopted widely in “all the middle Colonies of America, except the Colony of Rhode-Island.” This so angered that merchants of New York that most signed an additional agreement, that one targeting “any Person or Persons dwelling and residing in the said Colony of Rhode-Island,” pledging not to do business with them “until they shall fully come into the Agreement subscribed by the Merchants of Boston, New-York and Philadelphia, not to import Goods from Great-Britain until the Act imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, Tea, &c. is repealed.” In addition, New York’s merchants demanded that their counterparts in Rhode Island place in storage goods they recently imported and not sell them until after new goods arrived in the wake of the repeal of the Townshend Acts. Not only did they seek to compel Rhode Island to fall in line with the nonimportation agreement, they also sought to level the playing field when it came time to return to business as usual if they managed to make Parliament relent.

Usually such items appeared among the news and editorials in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but for some reason it was situated among the advertisements in the November 27, 1769, edition. News and editorials filled the first two pages and spilled over to the third. The remainder of the third page and the entire fourth page consisted entirely of advertisements, with the exception of this notice sandwiched between two advertisements for real estate. The compositor could have just as easily placed it among or at the end of the news that ran on the same page, but instead chose to transition from the news to a dozen advertisements before inserting this notice. Why? Was it a paid notice? Did the printer not consider it news? Did the printer suspect that it would garner greater attention in the section of the newspaper intended primarily for advertisements? Its place in the issue deviated from the order otherwise imposed on the various contents. Whatever the explanation, this notice demonstrates that even in newspapers that usually adhered to a particular structure or organization for news items, editorials, and advertisements, colonists sometimes encountered news among the paid notices. Advertising often served as an important supplement to news and editorials when it came to staying informed about current events in the era of the American Revolution.

October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:9:1769 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 9, 1769).

“NO DUTIES HERE!”

It was hard to miss the appeal to patriotism in an advertisement for the “new Glass-House” that ran in the October 9, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. A nota bene proclaimed, in all uppercase letters, “NO DUTIES HERE!” Readers readily understood that the advertisement referred to the Townshend Acts and the taxes it imposed on several imported goods, including paper, lead, paint, tea, and glass. In response to Parliament overreaching its authority, colonists adopted nonimportation agreements that encompassed a wide array of items, not just those targeted by the Townshend Acts. They also encouraged “domestic manufactures,” producing goods in the colonies as alternatives to imported goods. This offered colonists opportunities to practice politics when they made decisions as consumers. Purchasing glass made in the colonies, for instance, became an act of patriotic virtue.

Producers of many domestic manufactures did not look to their fellow colonists solely as consumers. Some also enlisted them as suppliers of the materials they needed to produce their wares and make them available in the American marketplace. Paper manufacturers, for instance, frequently placed advertisements calling on colonists to supply them with rags, an essential component for making linen paper. Garrit Rapalje, the proprietor of the “new Glass-House,” requested that colonists turn over their “Broken FLINT GLASS” so he could melt it down and transform it into new glass. To underscore the political ramifications of the entire enterprise, he directed his notice to “all Lovers of American Manufacture,” informing them that they had a duty to do “do what lies in their Power, and particularly in this Instance save, collect, and send such broken Glass” as described in the advertisement. Rapalje presented an opportunity to move beyond rhetoric and more actively participate in acts of economic resistance to the political controversies of the period. Broken glass, like linen rags, acquired political meaning in the colonies in the wake of the Townshend Acts.

August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:21:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 21, 1769).

“These are Manufactures America can have within herself.”

When George Traile advertised his “Manufactory of Snuff and Tobacco” in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in August 1769, he provided a short history of his business. Formerly located in New Rochelle, the manufactory had recently moved “to the Snuff Mills in the Bowery” in New York. Traile promoted the quality of his snuff, but he also had an eye for current tastes that ventured far beyond the American colonies. He proclaimed that he made and sold “all Sorts of Rappee now in Vogue in Great-Britain and Ireland, France and Holland.” Local consumers could acquire the varieties of snuff currently in fashion in some of the most cosmopolitan places in the Atlantic world without having to import it!

That assertion served as the backbone of Traile’s advertisement. After making brief comments about quality and fashion, he devoted most of his advertisement to a lesson in politics. He likely assumed this strategy would resonate with colonists currently participating in nonimportation agreements as economic acts of resistance to the taxes on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea levied by the Townshend Acts. As far as his Traile’s tobacco was concerned, “These are Manufactures America can have within herself, as good and as cheap as they can be imported.” Customers did not need to sacrifice quality or pay higher prices when they allowed politics to guide their purchases.

Traile charged true patriots with a duty to buy his snuff: “the Encouragement of this Branch of Business in the Colonies, will be found an Object highly worth the Attention of every real Patriot.” Furthermore, “as the popular Prejudices to the Snuff of this Country, are pretty much subsided all over the Colonies, he flatters himself he will meet with that Encouragement the Quality of his Commodities shall deserve, from every well Wisher to America.” In other words, colonists near and far preferred snuff produced in the colonies, provided it was quality merchandise, so anybody who had the best interests of the colonies at heart should eagerly purchase Traile’s snuff since he endeavored to provide the best product available. This was not an insignificant matter. Traile asked prospective customers who counted themselves among “the thinking Part of Mankind” to consider the annual expenses for snuff incurred by “Three Millions of People now computed to be upon this Continent.” Traile presented a vision of each consumer acting separately yet contributing to a collective action in defense of the rights and liberties of the colonies. He encouraged concerned colonists to practice politics through their participating in the marketplace, purchasing the right tobacco from his manufactory in New York City.

July 30

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

Jul 30 - 7:24:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 24, 1769).

“If the Patriotic Americans, should approve, large Quantities can readily be furnished.”

In the summer of 1769, Isaac Adolphus turned to the public prints to propose a new venture. In an advertisement in the July 24, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, he invited fellow colonists to visit his house to examine “some Patterns of Hosiery” that he proposed to make in larger quantities if those samples met with approval. To incite interest, he sketched out some of the most important aspects of the enterprise, positioning his hosiery as a viable alternative to imports from Britain. In so doing, Adolphus made appeals to both quality and price, two of the most common marketing strategies in the eighteenth century. He pledged that his hosiery was “superior in Goodness to British Goods of the Kinds.” Prospective customers did not have to settle for inferior quality if they chose to support local production. Furthermore, they did not have to pay a premium for that support. Adolphus’s hosiery was “equal in Price” to wares imported from England.

Beyond quality and price, Adolphus placed production and consumption of his hosiery in a political context. He called on “Patriotic Americans” to examine his wares and make determinations for themselves. Merchants, traders, and others in New York had instituted a nonimportation agreement in response to new duties levied by the Townshend Acts. The success of the nonimportation strategy depended in part on colonists both producing goods themselves and consuming those domestic manufactures. Yet not everyone acceded to the plan. A detailed account of haberdasher, jeweler, and silversmith Simeon Cooley flagrantly violating the nonimportation agreement appeared on the same page as Adolphus’s advertisement. After other colonists asserted considerable pressure, Cooley eventually apologized to his “Fellow Citizens” and attempted to make amends in order to avoid the further “Contempt and just Resentment of an injured People.” Cooley had appeared in New York’s newspapers with some regularity in July 1769.

Adolphus recognized an opportunity to enlist “Patriotic Americans” as customers for the hosiery he produced. Yet he was not willing to risk too much on the venture until he had better assurances of success. He presented himself and his wares as an alternative to men like Cooley and their “British Goods of the Kinds” he produced locally, but he delayed making “large Quantities” until he had enough orders to justify the investment of time and resources. Adolphus recognized an opportunity in the marketplace, but he used his advertisement to further gauge his prospects for success. In that regard, his advertisement facilitated rudimentary market research in the eighteenth century. The nonimportation agreement, calls to encourage domestic manufacturers, and news of Cooley’s violations all primed the pump for “Patriotic Americans” to react positively to Adolphus’s hosiery once they had an opportunity to examine it for themselves.

May 15

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

May 15 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 15, 1769).

“In August last an Agreement was made not to import any Goods from Great-Britain.”

This notice appeared in the May 15, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly MercuryBy Order of the Committee of Merchants in New-York.” The same notice appeared four days earlier in the New-York Journal. Just as “Merchants & Traders” in Boston had been reminding the public about nonimportation agreements and assessing compliance with their resolutions, so did their counterparts in New York. The committee provided a brief overview: “in August last an Agreement was made not to import any Good from Great-Britain (a few Articles excepted) that should be shipt after the first of November, until an Act of Parliament laying Duties on Paper, Glass, &c. for raising a Revenue here should be repealed.” Furthermore, any goods that arrived “contrary to the Agreement” were to be placed in a “public store” and not be offered for sale until such time that the nonimportation agreement came to an end. Those who did not comply “should be deemed Enemies to this Country.” Notably, this notice did not excoriate women as dangerous consumers of imported goods, as so many editorials tended to do, but instead imbued them with considerable political power in making choices about which goods to purchase and which purveyors to patronize.

The placement of this notice in both the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury makes it impossible to determine whether the printers included it as an editorial or as a paid advertisement. In the New-York Journal, it ran almost immediately after a short section devoted to news about the colony. A brief auction notice appeared between the two. Otherwise, the notice from the Committee of Merchants inaugurated the portion of that edition devoted to advertising. In the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the notice from the Committee of Merchants also appeared almost immediately after news from the colony, again with one advertisement about an auction preceding it. In this case, however, this meant that the notice from the Committee of Merchants appeared at the top of the column that launched the advertisements for the issue, making it much more visible than if it ran right after news from the colony at the bottom of the previous column. In both cases, the notice from the Committee of Merchants provided context and set the tone for reading the other advertisements, especially those that marketed consumer goods. The notice served as a bridge between the news delivered in the first pages and the advertising in the final pages. In that regard, whether it was a paid notice mattered not nearly as much as how the printers deployed it in their respective newspapers.

May 8

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

May 8 - 5:8:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 8, 1769).

“The Medley of Goods.”

Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury encountered a memorable image in the supplement that accompanied the May 8, 1769, edition. Gerardus Duyckinck ran a shop he named “The Medley of Goods” at a location marked by “the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.” The intricate woodcut in his advertisement depicted that sign, with a druggist’s pot perched atop an ornate cartouche and a looking glass suspended below it. The copy for the advertisement filled the remainder of the cartouche, with the entire woodcut extending more than half a column. It dominated any page on which it appeared.

Indeed, Duyckinck’s elaborate woodcut may have been the most memorable image printed in that newspaper in the 1760s. Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury included few visual images. Sometimes advertisements featured small icons of houses, horses, ship, or runaway servants or slaves. These crude woodcuts were small, belonged to the printer, and could be used interchangeably in advertisements with matching content. Elsewhere in the May 8 issue and its supplement, five advertisements included woodcuts of horses, three had ships, and one had a house. All of them were a fraction of the size of Duyckinck’s woodcut. A woodcut of a colonist and an Indian flanking a shield and crown was the only other image in that issue. Although it was considerably larger than the other woodcuts, it likely did not garner much additional notice since it was so familiar, appearing week after week. Duyckinck’s woodcut, on the other hand, ran often enough that readers would have recognized it, but not so often that they overlooked it because they expected to spot it among the many advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Even other advertisers who commissioned their own woodcuts to distinguish their notices from others did not invest in images that were as large or as lavish. Duyckinck’s woodcut stood alone among those in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Nothing in advertisements published in other newspapers in the 1760s compared to it either.

Woodcuts were prone to damage over time, coming under intense pressure with each impression made on hand-operated presses. That likely contributed to Duyckinck’s decision to deploy this expensive woodcut only occasionally, doing so frequently enough to make it familiar but not so often that it deteriorated an disappeared from the public prints too quickly. It first appeared in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal and continued for several weeks. In the spring of 1768 Duyckinck inserted it in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for a longer period before putting the image on hiatus again for many months. It did not disappear from view for so long, however, that it would have been unfamiliar when it returned in May 1769. Gerardus deployed a variety of marketing strategies in the copy of his advertisement, but the extraordinary visual element increased the likelihood that prospective customers would pay attention to the copy contained within the impressive cartouche.

May 1

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 1 - 5:1:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 1, 1769).

“A compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.”

On May 1, 1769, this advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury informed the public that there would be a public sale of household and kitchen items at the house of Nicholas Roosevelt, deceased. Roosevelt was probably a silversmith since the advertisements included “a compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.” Silver was used to create many items like teapots, silverware, plates, and bowls. Silversmithing was a notable occupation in colonial America, often seen as more of an art than a trade, according to the historians at Colonial Williamsburg.

In order to create a simple silver bowl, a silversmith needed to heat silver to 2000 degrees in a graphite and clay crucible. This liquid silver was then be poured out into a large sheet which would be hammered and molded into the desired shape. This was a difficult process because the silver would be extremely fragile while in this cooling state. To keep the silver malleable the smith repeatedly heated it and then plunged into an acid bath while it was being worked. This was a long process that required many different hammers – a “compleat set” – to achieve a perfectly smooth bowl.

These silver items had to be perfect not only because of the expensive materials used, but because they were sold to elite buyers. Silver teapots, bowls, and other items were very expensive commodities that only the upper class could afford, which they would then use to show off their affluence to their guests.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

The same day that the advertisement concerning the sale of items from Nicholas Roosevelt’s estate appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury it also ran in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. The copy was exactly the same, though the compositors for the two newspapers made slightly different decisions about the format. The executor certainly sought to achieve maximum exposure for this sale, having previously advertised in the New-York Journal on April 27. The copy for that advertisement, however, deviated from what appeared in the other newspapers. The first portion was consistent, but the notice did not include the second half that offered the tools of Roosevelt’s trade for sale.

What explained this difference? Usually when advertisers invested the time and expense in placing notices in multiple newspapers they submitted identical copy to the printing offices. Why did the executor expand on the original advertisement from the New-York Journal when it ran in other newspapers a few days later? Perhaps the circumstances for settling Roosevelt’s estate changed. Maybe the executor had arranged for a buyer for the tools but then the deal fell apart, prompting a revised version of the advertisement.

Whatever the reason for adding the tools to the second iteration of the advertisement, the executor did not consider it necessary to update the original advertisement when it made a subsequent appearance in the New-York Journal on May 4. It ran just as it had the previous week, without mention of the “compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.” With the revised advertisement slated for publication in the other two newspapers one more time on May 8, the executor may have considered that sufficient visibility for attracting buyers. Alternately, the executor may not have considered it worth the expense to tinker with the wording of the advertisement in the New-York Journal since the type had already been set. The executor may have already received special consideration when placing that advertisement. The colophon listed a fee to run advertisements for a minimum of four weeks with additional fees for each subsequent insertion, yet this advertisement ran only twice.

Collating advertisements that appeared in multiple newspapers sometimes produces fairly definitive conclusions. For instance, identical copy with variations in format strongly suggests that advertisers were responsible for generating copy and compositors responsible for graphic design. The variations in the advertisements concerning Roosevelt’s estate, however, raise questions about decisions made by advertisers and business practices in printing offices, questions that elude answers when examining only eighteenth-century newspapers. They may also elude answers when consulting printers’ records and other sources, but the questions themselves do provide direction for another stage of research on advertising in early America. As the guest curators in my Revolutionary America class reach the end of the semester, this is another important lesson: no matter who much we have learned in this process, there is still so much more to discover. Seeking answers sometimes leads us to far more questions.

January 30

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 30, 1769).

“We can turn it out in our hands better than any person that ever attempted it in America.”

Of the various appeals that artisans advanced in eighteenth-century newspapers, promoting their skill was perhaps the most significant. Skill testified to quality. Price hardly mattered if their work was not undertaken with skill. Neither did dispatch, the speed of serving customers. Skill was a necessary part of producing the goods and providing the services that colonial consumers desired from artisans.

Casey and Mathies, “SILK-dyers and scowerers, from London,” certainly considered that to be the case in the advertisement they inserted in the supplement to the January 30, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Skill was the centerpiece of their notice. They informed prospective clients that they could “scour, dye, and dress” silks and satins as well as clean brocades so skillfully that the colors would “look as well as when new.” Similarly, they cared for men’s garment “in the neatest manner … without any detriment to the cloth.” Furthermore, they also worked on cloaks of all sizes and colors, cleaning and dyeing them “to the utmost perfection.” This was a tricky business that demanded skill to undertake successfully.

So confident were Casey and Mathies in their skill that they made a bold pronouncement near the conclusion of their advertisement. They invited merchants with “any pieces of cloths to dye any colour” to bring them to their shop “at the sign of the Blue-Hand and Brush.” There they would “turn it out of our hands better than any person that ever attempted it in America, or as well as in London.” Casey and Mathies did not merely make a claim about their own skill; they ranked it relative to their competitors in New York, throughout the region, and the throughout the colonies. They asserted that prospective clients could not find silk dyers and scourers with greater skill on that side of the Atlantic. In addition, their work equaled any done in London, the center of the empire where the most skilled artisans of all sorts plied their trades.

For Casey and Mathies, nothing mattered more than skill, but their advertisement suggests that colonial consumers shared that view when it came to silk dyers and scourers. Casey and Mathies expected that message would resonate with prospective clients; otherwise, they would not have built their entire advertisement around it.