August 2

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 2, 1773).

“He makes all sorts of coaches … equal to any imported from England.”

William Deane made appeals to price and quality in an advertisement for the coaches he constructed at his shop “in Broad-street” in the August 2, 1773, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Compared to most other advertisers, however, he devised much more elaborate marketing strategies to convince prospective customers of the price and quality he offered.

Deane started by describing the various services in his shop.  He made several different kinds of carriages as well as “all sorts of harness and saddlers work.”  In addition, he also did “painting, gilding and Japanning, in the neatest and most elegant manner.”  Deane emphasized that he achieved a high level of quality while offering the lowest possible prices because he did not outsource any of those jobs to artisans.  Instead, he “finishes all carriages whatever in his own shop, without applying to any other.”  Accordingly, he was “determined to make them as good, sell them as cheap, and be as expeditious as there is a possibility.”

The carriagemaker realized that he needed “to convince the public of the truth of what he asserts.”  To that end, he vowed that he “will make any piece of work that is required, equal to any imported from England, and will sell it at the prime cost of that imported.”  His customers did not have to sacrifice either price or quality, one for the other, when they supported domestic manufacture by purchasing carriages made in his shop in New York.  Furthermore, they benefitted from additional bargains since they “will save the freight, insurance, and the expences naturally attending to putting the carriages to rights after they arrive.”  In so many ways, purchasing a carriage from Deane was so much easier than importing one made in England.  In addition, he “has now a considerable stock of the best of all materials fit for making carriages,” so he was ready to serve customers who placed orders.

Deane offered a “further inducement,” a one-year guarantee on the carriages made in his shop.  He had been providing guarantees in newspaper advertisements for at least six years (including in an advertisement with nearly identical copy in the New-York Journal more than a year earlier).  The carriagemaker declared that he “will engage his work for a year after it is delivered, that is, if any part gives way, or fails by fair usage, he will make it good at his own expence.”   To make the choice even more clear, he underscored that prospective customers would not have access to that kind of customer service in maintaining their carriages if they opted for ones made in England.  “Those advantages,” Deane intoned, “cannot be obtained on carriages imported.”

The carriagemaker’s advertisement revolved around price and quality.  He did more than make casual reference to them, developing a sophisticated marketing strategy that touted the advantages of purchasing carriages made in his shop.  He used only the best materials and oversaw every aspect of the construction to produce carriages that rivaled in craftsmanship those imported from England.  He also offered competitive prices, especially since his customers saved on shipping and insurance, and a one-year guarantee on any parts that might require repairs.  Deane sought to convince prospective customers that all of this made his carriages the best choice.

June 28

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (June 28, 1773).

I have not yet been favoured with a sufficiency of subscribers to enable me to carry it into immediate execution.”

Samuel Gale, the author of The Complete Surveyor, looked for subscribers to publish his work for more than a year.  He distributed a handbill with the dateline “PHILADELPHIA, MARCH 12th, 1772,” to advise those who already subscribed for copies of the book that even though he already collected two hundred subscribers on his own and expected to receive others from local agents in other cities and towns “the number in the whole falls considerably short of my expectations.”  Furthermore, he anticipated that “this work will be large, and the expence of printing it considerably greater than would be defrayed by the present number of subscribers.”  Accordingly, others had advised him “to delay the printing of it a little longer” out of concerns that he “might perhaps be a loser by proceeding too hastily.”  In other words, Gale received sound advice that he would likely incur expenses that he could not pay if he took the book to press without enough subscribers to defray the costs.

To that end, he hoped “for many Gentlemen in America, to encourage this publication” by becoming subscribers or, if they had already subscribed, recruiting other subscribers.  To reassure prospective subscribers of the quality of The Complete Surveyor, Gale asserted that the “Manuscript Copy has met with the approbation of some of the best judges of these matters in America,” including William Alexander, the Earl of Stirling, a member of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia; Alexander Colden, the Surveyor General of New York; David Rittenhouse, a prominent astronomer, mathematician, and surveyor in Philadelphia; and John Lukens, the Surveyor General of Pennsylvania.  Gale inserted short testimonials from each of these supports below a heading that called attention to “RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE ABOVE WORK.”  In addition, he hoped to entice subscribers by promising to insert an “Essay on the Variation of the Needle, written by the late Mr. LEWIS EVANS,” a renowned Welsh surveyor and geographer who published the General Map of the Middle British Colonies in America in 1755.  Gale concluded the handbill with a list of local agents who accepted subscriptions in a dozen towns from Boston to Savannah.  In addition, he declared that “all the Booksellers and Printers in America” accepted subscriptions.

Apparently, such an extensive network did not yield a sufficient number of subscribers.  At the end of June 1773, more than fifteen months later, Gale ran an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He once again stated that the “manuscript copy has met with the greatest approbation,” yet “I have not yet been favoured with a sufficiency of subscribers to enable me to carry it into execution, without running too great a hazard.”  He requested that those who already subscribed give him a few more months to solicit subscribers among “the other well-wishers to mathematical learning among the public.”  He included the endorsements that previously appeared on the handbill and an even more extensive list of local agents, concluding with a note that “all the Booksellers and Printers in America and the West-India Islands” forwarded subscriptions to him.

Despite his best efforts, Gale never managed to attract enough subscribers to publish the book.  A note in the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog entry for the handbill states that “an insufficient number of subscriptions were received to encourage publication.”  Gale circulated advertising materials in more than one format, deployed testimonials from prominent experts in his field, offered a bonus essay as a premium, and made it convenient to subscribe via local agents throughout the colonies.  He developed a sophisticated marketing campaign, but it ultimately fell short of inciting sufficient demand for the book he wished to published.

Samuel Gale’s handbill promoting The Complete Surveyor. Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

May 31

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 31, 1773).

“The above will be sold very low, as the subscriber has a great deal on hand.”

Appropriately enough, Jacob Wilkins advertised “ONE hundred and thirty pair of brass and iron and-irons” at the “Sign of the Gold And-iron and Candlestick” in the May 31, 1773, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Prospective customers could choose from among the “newest patterns and … different sorts and sizes” to outfit their places.  Wilkins also carried several accessories, including “tongs and shovels and fenders to suit the and-irons.”  In addition, he made “sundry sorts of brass-work” and stocked “a quantity of earthen ware … and all sorts of coarse ware.”

Wilkins concluded his advertisement with a note that “[t]he above will be sold very low, as the subscriber has a great deal on hand.”  It was not clear if he meant the andirons and accessories or all of the merchandise listed in his advertisement, but he may have been willing to dicker with customers over the price of any item.  Unlike other advertisers who merely promoted “very reasonable prices” (as George Ball did in a notice on the same page), Wilkins gave consumers a reason to believe that they would indeed acquire his wares at bargain prices.  He had so much inventory that he was determined to offer good deals just to reduce how much he had on hand.  Whatever determinations he already made about the lowest prices he could offer, Wilkins allowed prospective customers to feel as though they had the upper hand.  They may have been more enthusiastic about visiting his shop with the confidence that the seller had confessed in the public prints that he needed to reduce his inventory.

Wilkins enhanced his appeal to price with additional commentary intended to demonstrate the veracity of his pledge to sell andirons and other housewares “very low.”  Other advertisers sometimes did so as well, though their strategies often involved stories about how they acquired goods directly from producers in England rather than going through middlemen.  Wilkins took a rather novel approach, one that gave consumers the impression that they had the stronger position when it came time to discuss prices.

April 12

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 12, 1773).

“He intreats those who are so obliging as to intend advertising in the first Number of the New-York Gazetteer, to favour him with their Advertisements as soon as convenient.”

As he prepared to launch his New-York Gazetteer, James Rivington placed a notice in the April 12, 1773, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to announce that he published and distributed “AN ADDRESS TO THE SUBSCRIBERS” for his newspaper.  He worried, however, that not every subscriber actually received their copy.  He arranged for each of them to “have the Address left at their Houses,” but discovered that “thro’ Inadvertency, [some] may have been hitherto neglected.”  To remedy the situation, he offered that they “may be furnished sans Expence with as many Copies of it as may be required for themselves or for their Friends” upon sending a request to the printing office.

Why might subscribers have been interested in obtaining multiple free copies of this address and sharing them with others?  It was not an extended subscription proposal.  Instead, Rivington explained that it “contains the Speeches in Parliament, subsequent to that from the Throne at the opening of the present Session,” made by nearly twenty politicians and other dignitaries, including “the truly eloquent Mr. Edmund Burke, Agent for our Colony.”  Those speeches elaborated on “the most important Subjects, in which the Inhabitants of this Continent are very materially interested.”  Rivington devised a premium or gift that he gave to subscribers before the first issue of his newspaper went to press.  He likely hoped that any of the additional copies that subscribers ordered to share with their friends might also induce others to subscribe as well.

The printer had another purpose, however, in placing this notice in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Between his offer to distribute additional copies of the “ADDRESS TO THE SUBSCRIBERS” and his explanation of the contents, he made a pitch to prospective advertisers.  Rivington “intreats those who are so obliging as to intend advertising in the first Number of the New-York Gazetteer, to favour him with their Advertisements as soon as convenient.”  He explained that advertisements “will be inserted on the usual terms,” though he did not specify the rates, and promised that the newspaper “will have a very extensive Circulation.”  Colonizers familiar with the full name of the newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s-River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, already anticipated that would be the case.  Furthermore, Rivington previously disseminated subscription proposals in New York, Pennsylvania, and New England.  Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others could depend on prospective customers near and far glimpsing their advertisements as they perused Rivington’s newspaper.

This notice appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury ten days before Rivington published the first issue of his new newspaper on April 22, 1773.  He presented a gift to his subscribers and offered additional free copies of speeches delivered in Parliament in hopes of inciting more interest among prospective subscribers.  At the same time, he positioned a call for advertisers in the middle of his description of the premium his subscribers and their friends received.  When the first issue went to press, advertising filled five of the twelve columns.  Through his various efforts, Rivington convinced advertisers to take a chance on placing notices in his new publication.

March 8

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 8, 1773).


It was an annual event.  Patriots in New York gathered to celebrate the “ANNIVERSARY OF THE REPEAL OF THE STAMP ACT.”  Newspaper notices summoned them, including in 1770, 1771, 1772, and, once again 1773.  At that time, seven years had passed since colonial resistance contributed to Parliament’s decision to repeal the legislation, while simultaneously passing the Declaratory Act to save face.  Patriots gathered each year to commemorate their victory, encourage further vigilance, and call on others to make common cause with them.  The notice in the March 8, 1773, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury invited “those Gentlemen … who associated [at Abraham de la Montaigne’s tavern] last Year” as well as “their Friends” to join the festivities.  Occasionally, advertisements in newspapers published in other cities also promoted similar commemorations.  In 1771, for instance, a notice in the Boston-Gazette informed the public that “The Feast of ST. PATRICK is to be celebrated, together with the Repeal of the STAMP-ACT … at the Green Dragon.”

In addition to commemorating that triumph over oppressive legislation, colonizers also marked the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  On March 8, 1773, the same day that the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury carried the notice about the upcoming dinner to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act, the Boston Evening-Post reported that on “the Anniversary of the 5th of March,” the day that British soldiers fired into a crown and “barbarously murdered” several colonizers in 1770, the committee that organized the commemoration the previous year “engaged Dr. BENJAMIN CHURCH, to deliver an ORATION, on the dangerous Tendency of Standing Armies being placed in free and populous Cities, and to perpetuate the Memory of the horrid Massacre.”  Church delivered the address “at the Old South Meeting, where the people crowded in such Numbers, that it was with Difficulty the Orator reached the Pulpit.”  According to the article, Church’s “Fellow Citizens … requested a Copy of his Oration for the Press.”  In the coming weeks, readers would encounter advertisements for the address.

In the evening, a “Select Number of the Friends of Constitutional Liberty” displayed a lantern with a pane painted with “a lively Representation of the bloody Massacre” perpetrated three years earlier.  When lit, the lantern cast eerie shadows depicting the event near the spot where it occurred.  The side panels included other images; on the right, a personification of America, “sitting in as Mourning Posture, looking down and the Spectators,” and, on the left, a “Monument, sacred to the Memory” of the victims.  The organizers extinguished the lantern at “a Quarter after Nine, the Time of the Evening when the bloody Scene was acted.”  Then, “most of the Bells in Town toll’d till Ten.”  The Boston-Gazette carried similar coverage the same day, as did the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy in their next issues on March 11.  Residents of Boston would have been familiar with these commemorations before they appeared in the newspapers.  The printers published the accounts to inform readers in other towns and for printers in other cities to reprint and disseminate to even greater numbers of colonizers.  The Essex Gazette, published in Salem, reprinted the account on March 9, the day after it first appeared in the Boston-Gazette.

Commemorations of the events that resulted in thirteen colonies declaring independence began before the fighting started at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.  As acts of resistance, colonizers marked significant events associated with the American Revolution even before they knew that the outcome would indeed be a revolution.  Such commemorations may have helped convince some colonizers of the merits of separating from Great Britain.

December 14

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 14, 1772).

“The underwritten certificate, from one well known in New-York, and now in perfect health.”

James Rivington is best remembered today as a Loyalist printer who published a newspaper during the era of the American Revolution.  Before he launches his newspapers, he often placed advertisements for “KEYSER’s PILLS” in other newspapers published in New York in the early 1770s.  Whether or not they published newspapers, printers frequently stocked patent medicines, along with books, stationery, and writing supplies, to generate additional revenues.  That being the case, colonizers would not have considered it unusual to encounter advertisements in which Rivington hawked a medicine to those afflicted with venereal disease.

In an advertisement that ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for several weeks in late November and early December 1772, the printer advised that “Any Person desirous of being made more particularly acquainted” with the efficacy of Keyser’s Pills “than can be decently communicated in an Advertisement” could discuss the remedy with him and then “try a Method the easiest and safest, and so secret that the Patient may be cured” without anyone “harbouring the least Suspicion” of their “lamentable Circumstances.”  Yet Keyser’s Pills had an ameliorative effect on more than just venereal diseases.  Rivington devoted a section of his advertisement to how the pills had “Great Effects” on “THE RHEUMATISM” and concluded by noting that they would “cure a Negro in the worst Stage of the Yeaws.”

On December 14, Rivington placed a new version of his advertisement.  He asserted that Keyser’s Pills were so effective in alleviating “every appearance of the venereal distemper” that “persons tormented with other diseases” made “tryals” of the pills.  Those patients included William Shipman, “well known in New-York,” who “was a long time the verist of cripples” but now, as a result of taking Keyser’s Pills, was “in perfect health.”  Rivington referred readers to a “Copy of W. Shipman’s certificate” or testimonial that provided an overview of his suffering as a result of being “so violently afflicted with the rheumatism,” his disappointment with other medicines, his decision to “make trial of Dr. Keyser’s pills,” and the “suprizing relief” that he began experiencing after only two weeks.  Shipman continued taking the pills “without any other consequence but that happy one of being restored to perfect health and ease.”

Shipman’s testimonial comprised half of Rivington’s advertisement, indicating that the printer believed it would effectively market Keyser’s pills to prospective patients.  Rivington acknowledged that Shipman “took a great many of the pills, which made his cure expensive.”  Yet the effectiveness justified the expense.  The “health, strength and agility” that Shipman “now enjoys,” Rivington argued, “is an ample compensation for the purchase money.”  Consumers could acquire “boxes of Ten, Twenty, and Forty Shillings each” as they made their own “tryals” of the pills and determined how much they wished to invest.  Rivington likely intended that Shipman’s testimonial about taking the pills over a period of several months would convince customers to purchase in larger quantities in hopes of achieving the same results.

November 16

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 16, 1772).


When furrier John Siemon returned to New York in the fall of 1772 after having spent several months in Philadelphia, he announced his intention to remain in the busy port with advertisements in at least two of the newspapers published in the city, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal.  (Unfortunately, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy has not been digitized, making it more difficult to consult.)  Siemon inserted identical copy in the two newspapers, first in the New-York Journal on November 12 and then in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on November 16, though the compositors in the printing offices made different decisions about the format of the advertisements.

Despite differences in typography, an image of a muff remained consistent between the notices in the two newspapers.  Upon examining digitized editions, it appears that the printing offices used the same woodcut, which suggests that Siemon invested some effort in having that woodcut transferred from one printing office to another.  He may have retrieved it himself or he may have made arrangements with the printers to exchange the woodcut.  Either way, that resulted in some inconvenience in the printing offices, especially since Siemon’s advertisement did not run just once.  A notation at the end of his advertisement in the New-York Journal, “58 61,” indicated that he initially intended for the notice to run for four issues from “NUMB. 1558” to “NUMB. 1561.”  According to the colophon, that was a standard run: “Five Shillings, four Weeks.”  The advertisement actually ended up running through “NUMB. 1566” on January 7, 1773, for a total of nine consecutive weeks.

In contrast, Siemon’s advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for only four weeks.  After the first insertion, the image no longer adorned the notice, further evidence that the furrier commissioned only one woodcut rather than one for each printing office.  After moving the woodcut from one printing office to another and back again when he first began advertising in the middle of November, Siemon may have decided that he did not have the time to oversee its transfer between the two printing offices twice a week.  Alternately, the printers may have made the decision for the furrier, determining that adding and removing the woodcut from type already set each time they took an issue to press was too disruptive.  Either way, Siemon likely had to settle for the image appearing in his advertisements the first time they ran in each newspaper, drawing attention to his return to New York, and then continuing in only one of those publications.

November 9

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 9, 1772).

“L / Leather dog collars / [Leather] Bottle stands.”

Several merchants, shopkeepers, and other entrepreneurs included lengthy lists of their merchandise in the November 9, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Richard Sause, a cutler, listed scores of items in a dense advertisement that consisted of a single paragraph.  William Neilson did as well.  John Morton resorted to two dense paragraphs, a longer one for his general merchandise and a shorter one with a headline, “CHINA,” to direct prospective customers to those items.

In contrast, other advertisers attempted to make it easier for readers to navigate their notices and spot items of interest by dividing their advertisements into two columns with only one item per line.  Shaw and Long published a short advertisement for wine, beer, spirits, tea, and groceries that featured two columns.  Robert G. Livingston, Jr., stocked all sorts of textiles and housewares, neatly arranged in two columns in a lengthy advertisement.  Similarly, William Prince, a gardener, listed a “large collection of Fruit Trees” as well as “Timber trees and flowering shrubs” in an advertisement that extended an entire column.  He included headers for various kinds of trees, ranging from “Apricots” to “Pears” to “Apples.”  Prince also gave prices for some of his trees.

Among those advertisements, William Bayley experimented with another method of making his merchandise accessible to prospective customers.  In addition to using two columns with one item per line, the merchant also alphabetized his wares.  In 1772, that approach was rather extraordinary.  Booksellers occasionally took that approach in their newspaper notices and book catalogs, but not always.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and others beyond the book trades, however, did not alphabetize their wares, making Bayley’s approach innovative.

Bayley inserted headers for each category, starting with “B” for “BATH stove grates” and “Brass ditto.”  (Advertisers often saved space by deploying ditto.  Readers knew that Bayley meant “Brass stove grates” as an alternative to “BATH stove grates.”)  He concluded with “W” for “Wire fenders,” the only item under that letter.  Bayley did not strictly adhere to alphabetization under the various headers.  For instance, “Copper sauce pans” appeared under “C” before “Cases with silver handle knives and forks.”  The various “Brass” and “Japan’d” items also appeared in groups but not alphabetized.  “Brass headed shovels & tongs” ran above “— Dog collars” and “Japan’d tea tables” ran above “Plate Warmers.”  Each category was short enough that Bayley likely did not consider it necessary to be rigid about alphabetizing the items under each header.

Bayley devised a format that made his advertisement more readable for consumers while also directing them to similar and related items.  He may not have been the first to introduce readers to an alphabetized list of general merchandise, but few advertisers had used that method when Bayley experimented with it in 1772.  Even if prospective customers did not require the aid of alphabetization in advertisements, Bayley still delivered a format that differentiated his newspaper notice from others, perhaps making it memorable as a result.

October 26

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 26, 1772).

“JAMES RIVINGTON Takes Leave to exhibit a second Advertisement of Articles just imported in the Rose.”

Bookseller and shopkeeper James Rivington placed two advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercuryafter receiving new inventory via the Rose in the fall of 1772.  In the first, he listed dozens of titles, including “Grotius on War and Peace,” “a new Edition of Salmon’s Geographical Grammar,” and “the whole Works of the inimitable Painter Hogarth, in one Volume, with all the Plates he published.”  In addition, he stocked “a fine Assortment of venerable Law Books,” “a fine Assortment of Classicks,” and magazines published in London.  Like so many other newspaper notices placed by booksellers, Rivington’s advertisement served as a book catalog adapted to a different format.

Rivington devoted his second advertisement to other merchandise, stating that he “Takes Leave to exhibit” an additional entry in the public prints to advise prospective customers about “Articles just imported in the Rose, Capt. Miller, different from his literary Exhibition of this Day.”  That advertisement featured a variety of items and marketing strategies.  In a single paragraph, it had sections for musical instruments, patent medicines, clothing, and swords for “Those Gentlemen who propose to take the Field.”

Rather than merely list the patent medicines, Rivington inserted testimonials to assure consumers they were authentic: “Turlington’s Balsam: We certify that the Balsam advertised and sold by Mr. James Rivington, is the genuine sort purchased from us, made from the Receipt left by Mr. Turlington, to us, MARY WRAY, MARY TAPP.”  Similarly, prospective customers interested in “Anderson’s Scots Pills” did not need to worry about counterfeits.  Another testimonial stated, “I do certify that the Scot’s Pills sold by Mr. Rivington of New-York, are genuine, INGLIS.”  The layout of the advertisement did not call particular attention to these testimonials, but readers expecting a list of merchandise likely noted that Rivington departed from the usual format.

Rivington also devised a section about “elegant small Swords of all kinds.”  He listed several varieties, including “Cutteaus De Chase, Seymaters, Light Infantry, Cut and Thrust, &c.”  He concluded with the common abbreviation for et cetera to suggest that he carried even more swords.  To entice customers to examine the swords, he proclaimed that they were “the most beautiful … that ever were offered to Sale in this City.”  Rivington anticipated that customers interested in “superfine ribb’d Worsted Stockings for the wear of Gentlemen, of the best and newest Fashions” in another section of the advertisement would desire attractive swords that enhanced their attire.

A newspaper advertisement did not provide sufficient space for Rivington to tout all of his wares.  He concluded with a note that he “has many more Articles, of which a Catalogue is printing.”  Did that catalog provide commentary about any of those goods, whether blurbs about the clothing, swords, and musical instruments or additional testimonials about the patent medicines?  In a third advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the October 26, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Rivington included a testimonial about the “PATENT SHOT” he sold.  With more space available in a catalog, he may have elaborated on some of his merchandise in greater detail.

September 27

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 21, 1772).

“As yet there has not appeared an American Edition of this valuable Piece, what few came over were soon snatch’d up.”

Thomas Nixon sold several books at “his Shop at the Fly-Market” in New York in the fall of 1772.  In an advertisement in the September 21, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury he promoted “THE celebrated Lecture on HEADS, by George Alexander Stevens” and “the Devil upon Crutches in England, or the Night Scenes in London, a satirical Work, written upon the Plan of the celebrated Diable Boiteua of Monsieur La Sage, by a Gentleman of Oxford.”  Both books had been published in Philadelphia, The Celebrated Lecture on Heads by Samuel Dellap, whose name appeared just as prominently in the advertisement as Nixon’s own, and The Devil upon Crutches by William Evitt. According to Isaiah Thomas, Dellap traveled frequently between Philadelphia and New York, transporting books from each location for sale in the other.

Nixon composed an advertisement that deployed the popularity of those works to market them to consumers in New York.  To entice readers to purchase Stevens’s satire on fashion and physiognomy, Nixon proclaimed, “These Lectures have been exhibited in London upwards of One Hundred successive Nights, to crowded Audiences, and met with the most universal Applause.”  Consumers could experience that sensation themselves, though tangentially, by acquiring their own copies of the “celebrated Lecture.”  The advertisement went into even greater detail about audience reception of The Devil upon Crutches.  “This Satyre,” Nixon explained, “is universally approved of by all Ranks of People in Europe, and all those Parts of America where it has made its Appearance.”  The bookseller attempted to use the strength of sales elsewhere to influence local consumers, reporting that “six large Impressions were struck off in London in one Year, besides several other Impressions printed in Dublin and Edinburgh.” A few copies found their way to the colonies, met with such demand that they “were soon snatch’d up, tho’ sold at no less Price than 5s.”  Rather than five shillings, Nixon offered the first American edition of only two shillings, surely a bargain for readers who wanted to partake in the phenomenon of The Devil upon Crutches.

Today, publishers regularly cite bestseller lists and the number of copies sold in their efforts to convince consumers to purchase books that have already achieved widespread popularity.  Nixon devised a version of that strategy when he marketed The Celebrated Lecture on Heads and The Devil upon Crutches in New York during the era of the American Revolution.