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.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 7, 1770).

“Mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city.”

Upon the occasion of moving to a new location, jeweler and goldsmith James Bennet placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He informed former and prospective customers that he no longer ran a shop on Maiden Lane.  Instead, the “public in general” could find him at his new shop at “the house next to Mr. Peter Goelet’s, the sign of the Golden Key, near the Old-Slip Market, Hanover-Square.”  In an era before standardized street numbers, Bennett provided plenty of landmarks to help customers find his new location.

He opened his advertisement by expressing appreciation for “those ladies and gentlemen who have been so kind as to favour him with their custom.”  He hoped that they would continue as customers.  Acknowledging their prior support for his business also alerted prospective new customers that even though he set up shop at a new location this was not a new endeavor.  Bennett already had experience pursuing his trade in New York.  In thanking former customers, he also sought to demonstrate demand for his services among readers who had not yet visited his shop at any location.

To further capture their interest, he briefly described his services, stating that he continued “to make, mend, [and] sell … all sorts of jewellery and goldsmith’s work.”  He embellished that rather plain overview with a much more enticing offer, claiming that he “makes mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city, and with the greatest expedition.” An advertisement for a jeweler and goldsmith moving from one location to another was pretty standard fare among the notices that ran in colonial newspapers.  A declaration about the lowest prices possible for a popular piece of jewelry, on the other hand, challenged consumers to visit his shop to see for themselves.  If that managed to get customers through the door, it gave Bennett opportunities to secure other sales.  Even if readers were skeptical of his claim, they could not know for certain unless they investigated on their own.  Rather than merely announce that he moved to a new location, Bennett enticed prospective customers with a bold claim intended to grab their attention.

March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 19, 1770).

“Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine.”

It was a familiar appeal, one that became even more urgent when colonists boycotted imported paper in response to duties imposed on it (along with glass, lead, paint, and tea) in the Townshend Acts.  Newspaper printers throughout the colonies regularly issued calls for readers to collect and contribute “old Rags” that could be transformed into paper, offering “Ready Money” in exchange.  Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury encountered it not once, not twice, but three times in the March 19, 1770, edition.

Either Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown,” or a compositor who worked in his printing office inserted similar notices on both the third page and the fourth page.  One stated, “Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine,” and the other “Ready Money for Linnen Rags.”  In both instances, these brief notices appeared at the bottom of the final column, completing the page and producing columns of equal length.  Yet they were more than convenient filler.  After all, Gaine or the compositor could have inserted other sorts of notices.  Eighteenth-century printers often hawked printed blanks in any leftover space.  Another one-line advertisement did run at the bottom of the second column on the third page, advising readers of “The Ten Pound Act, sold by H. Gaine.”  The notice about linen rags likely appeared more than once out of a sense of pressing need that outweighed promoting pamphlets and printed blanks for sale at the printing office.

John Keating’s lengthy appeal on behalf of “the Paper Makers” once again ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, calling on “Friends to their Country” to save “clean RAGS” as a means of “preserv[ing] the Rights and Liberties” of the colonists.  Keating framed collecting rags to manufacture into paper as a patriotic duty.  His petition ran week after week in Gaine’s newspaper, inflecting the printer’s much more humble calls for rags with additional meaning because, as Keating explained, none of the items taxed by the Townshend Acts were “more necessary and considerable than Paper.”  A single line that lends the impression of filler at first glance – “Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine” – overflowed with political meaning when considered in the context of current events.

March 12

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

Mar 12 - 3:12:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 12, 1770).

“… from a Principle of Love to their Country.”

John Keating became a familiar figure in advertisements that appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and other newspapers in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He operated a paper manufactory and presented his enterprise as providing a patriotic alternative to paper imported from Britain.  He objected to the duties that Parliament levied on imported paper in the Townshend Acts while simultaneously noting that consumers could foil such attempts to tax them by purchasing paper made locally.  He also frequently took the pages of the New York’s newspapers to encourage colonists to participate in the production of paper by collecting rags and turning them over to him to be transformed into paper, as he did in the March 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.

His entreaty commenced with a prologue that could have been part of a political tract rather than a newspaper advertisement: “THE Imposition of a Tax upon Goods imported from Great-Britain to her Colonies, altho’ a palpable Violation of their most sacred Rights, was not more injurious to them, than in itself impolitic, absurd and detrimental to Great-Britain, herself: Yet, notwithstanding the Absurdity of the Measure, the Contrivers of it had Cunning enough to lay the Tax upon Articles of necessary to us, that it was with Reason supposed we could not do without them, and therefore should be compelled by our Wants, to submit to the Imposition.”  From there, Keating outlined the nonimportation agreements that went into effect in several colonies, noting that “Friends to their Country” could play an important role in continuing to make paper available if only they would collect their rags and turn them over to the paper manufactory.  Keating estimated that there “are Rags abundantly sufficient for the Purpose” that colonists should save “from a Principle of Love to their Country.”

Keating frequently made such appeals, but on this occasion his exhortation may have gained additional urgency.  It ran next to a news item dated “BOSTON, March 1” that reported “the melancholy Affair at the North End.”  The Massachusetts Historical Society provides this summary of events that took place on February 22: “Ebenezer Richardson, a customs informer, fired a musket through a broken window in his house at a crowd of young men and boys who had been taunting customers of a store selling British imports.”  In addition to wounding others, Richardson killed Christopher Seider, age eleven.  His funeral on February 26 was a significant event.  According to the report in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, “a great Multitude of People assembled in the Houses and Streets to see the Funeral Procession, which departed “from Liberty-Tree.”  Killed less than two weeks before the Boston Massacre, Seider could be considered the first casualty of the American Revolution.  News of that “Bloody Massacre,” as Paul Revere labeled it, did not yet appear in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but the death of Seider may have been sufficient to put Keating’s calls for colonists to collect rags into new perspective.  He offered a practical means for “Service they would do their Country, in whose Welfare their own is involved.”

**********

For a more complete accounting of the death and burial of Christopher Seider, see the series of articles by J.L. Bell on Boston 1775.

February 26

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

Feb 26 - 2:26:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 26, 1770).

Advertisement to the Ladies.”

Like other auctioneers and vendue masters, Moore, Lynsen, and Company used newspaper advertisements to alert prospective bidders to upcoming sales.  In an advertisement that appeared in the February 26, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, they noted upcoming auctions of Irish linens, gloves, and sugar.  Moore, Lynsen, and Company also indicated that they handled a portion of the estate of “his late Excellency Sir HENRY MOORE, Baronet,” the royal governor of New York who had passed away the previous September.  Among the items for the Moore estate, the auctioneers advertised “Genuine old Madeira WINE of the first quality” and “A COACH, CARRIAGE, HORSES, AND SADDLERY.”  Those items were slated for sale the following day.

Rather than conducting a single estate sale, Moore, Lynsen, and Company scheduled a second auction, that one to be begin more than a week later on March 6 and “continue every morning” until everything was sold.  For that “great auction,” the vendue masters inserted a special “Advertisement to the Ladies.”  They called attention to the “great variety of the genteelest furniture, made by the first workmen,—all new, and in the best order” as well as “PLATE, CHINA, &c. &c.”  The double “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) promised a vast assortment of goods.  In addressing “the Ladies” in particular, Moore, Lynsen, and Company made a relatively rare appeal.  Editorials that appeared in other parts of eighteenth-century newspapers frequently accused women of becoming too enamored of the consumer revolution, asserting that female consumers surrendered to the vice of luxury.  Yet purveyors of goods and services rarely targeted women exclusively when they marketed the “genteelest” merchandise.  Eighteenth-century advertisements suggest that despite the rhetoric of gendered consumption that circulated widely, those who sold goods pursued customers of both sexes and anticipated that men were as likely as women to make purchases.  Moore, Lynsen, and Company were relatively unique in their assertion that “the Ladies” would be most interested in the “genteelest” wares that they put up for bid.

February 5

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

Feb 5 - 2:5:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 5, 1770).

“All the Books in this Catalogue are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.”

Robert Bell, one of the most industrious booksellers in eighteenth-century America, owed his success in part to savvy advertising. His advertisement for an “Auction of Books” in the February 5, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, for instance, incorporated two significant marketing strategies intended to incite consumer demand.

Bell began by announcing that he had just published a “CATALOGUE of new and old BOOKS” that prospective customers could acquire “gratis at the Place of Sale.” Bell likely intended that distributing the catalog would get people through the door. When they came to pick up a catalog many might decide to view the merchandise. Then they carried away a catalog as a reminder of the books they had examined. In passing out catalogs, Bell also enhanced the dissemination of information about his merchandise beyond the reach of his newspaper advertisement. Prospective customers who obtained catalogues could share them with members of their household as well as friends and neighbors. Bell did not rely on a single medium to attract attention to his “Auction of Books.” Instead, he had multiple marketing media in circulation.

He also addressed the politics of consumption, concluding his advertisement with a note about the origins of the books he offered for sale. “[A]ll the Books in this Catalogue,” he assured prospective customers, “are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.” Although colonial printers produced some American imprints, the most books in the colonies were imported from England prior to the American Revolution. Bell sought to mediate that reality by focusing on the fact that his books had been imported before merchants, shopkeepers, and others enacted a boycott of imported goods to protest the duties levied on certain imported goods in the Townshend Acts. Rather than focus on where those volumes had been produced he instead emphasized when they had arrived in the colonies. Still, he did make an appeal to the place of production when he could, noting that some of his books were indeed “American Manufacture.” To underscore the importance of these distinctions, he addressed prospective customers as “Lovers and real Practisers of Patriotism,” challenging all readers to consider the political meanings of consumer goods.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements have sometimes been dismissed as mere announcements that made no effort at marketing. Bell’s notice, however, demonstrates that some advertisers engaged in savvy marketing campaigns … and that consumers were exposed to their efforts to shape the colonial marketplace.