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.

January 16

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 16, 1769).

“As she is a Stranger, will make it her constant Study to give intire Satisfaction.”

When milliner Margaret Wills migrated from Dublin to New York she placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to announce that she now received customers “in the Broadway, Next Door to Richard Nicol’s, Esq.” She briefly described the services she offered, noting that she made “all Sorts of Caps, Hats, Bonnets, Cloaks, and all other Articles in the Millinary Way.” She incorporated some of the most common appeals made by milliners and others who advertised consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America: price and fashion. She stated that she charged “the lowest Prices” and that her hats and garments represented “the newest and most elegant Fashion.” In addition, she provided instruction to “young Ladies” interested in learning a “great Variety of Works” related to her trade.

Wills devoted half of her advertisement, however, to addressing her status as a newcomer in the busy port. Unlike many of her competitors who had served local residents for years and cultivated relationships, she was unfamiliar to colonists who perused her advertisement. She acknowledged that she was “a Stranger” in the city, but strove to turn that to her advantage. To build her clientele, she pledged “to make it her constant Study to give intire Satisfaction to those who please to honor her with their Commands.” In so doing, she advanced customer service as a cornerstone of her business. Its allure had the potential to attract prospective clients for an initial visit; following through on this vow could cement relationships between new customers and the milliner “Just arrived from DUBLIN.” It might even lead to word-of-mouth recommendations, but Wills determined that she needed to start with a notice in the public prints to enhance her visibility before she could rely on any satisfied customers circulating any sort of buzz. Her advertisement operated as a letter of introduction to the entire community.

January 9

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 9, 1769).

“The Business of Shoe-making is carried on as usual.”

Mary Ogden likely never appeared in the public prints prior to the death of her husband, but in the wake of that event she placed two advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. The first was a standard estate notice for Moses Ogden of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, that listed her as executrix along with executors Robert Ogden, Jr., and John Cousens Ogden. It called on “ALL Persons having any Demands upon the Estate of Moses Ogden” as well as “those who are any wise indebted to the said Estate” to settle their accounts as quickly as possible. The Ogdens also threatened legal action or “further Trouble” for those who did not heed the notice.

Although Mary worked in collaboration with the executors, presumably relatives, in the first advertisement, the second invoked her name alone. Appearing immediately below the estate notice, it deployed her name as a headline in a font much larger than the rest of the advertisement. The widow announced “that the Business of Shoe-making is carried on as usual.” Furthermore, “orders for any Articles in that Way, shall be complied with in the best and most expeditious Manner.” In other words, the death of her husband Moses did not bring an end to the family business. Mary sought to support herself by continuing the endeavor “as usual.”

The widow Ogden did not provide further details about the operations of the business. She may have made shoes herself, or she may have overseen one or more employees who previously worked for her husband. Like many other wives of shopkeepers and artisans, she likely played an important role in maintaining the family business while her husband still lived, although his would have been the most prominent public face associated with their shared enterprise. Still, she may have interacted with customers, helped with bookkeeping, and assisted in making shoes. All of these roles prepared her for running the business on her own after the loss of her husband. At that time, her name became the one associated with the business. Her name achieved much greater prominence in the marketplace and, especially, in print, even if her contributions to the family business did not much change after the death of her husband.

October 31

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

Oct 31 - 10:31:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 31, 1768).

“The above patent Medicines from the original Warehouses in London, and warranted genuine.”

In the fall of 1768 Thomas Brownjohn advertised “a large Assortment of DRUGS & MEDICINES” available at “his Medicinal Store, in Hanover-Square” in New York. He provided a list of many of the items in his inventory, confident that prospective customers were already familiar with the symptoms each of the remedies supposedly cured. Most goods had not yet been differentiated into brands in the eighteenth century, but patent medicines were an exception. They carried names readily recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, including “Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, Stoughton’s and Squires Grand Elixir, Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Doctor Radcliff’s famous purging Elixir, … Doctor Walkers Jesuit Drops, … [and] Hooper’s Anderson’s, and Locker’s Pills.” The same names appeared in advertisements placed by apothecaries from New England to Georgia.

These nostrums were widely known but not necessarily well regulated. Consumers also knew that counterfeits regularly entered the market. To address the skepticism of potential customers, Brownjohn reported that “The above patent Medicines [came] from the original Warehouses in London.” Furthermore, he pledged that they were “warranted genuine.” Turlington’s Balsam of Life was indeed Turlington’s Balsam of Life. In that case, however, customers did not have to rely solely on Brownjohn’s promises. They could also examine the packaging. John Styles notes that Turlington attempted to ward off counterfeits by rotating through “rectangular, violin and tablet shaped bottles.” In addition, those bottles “were identifiable not simply because of their shapes, but also because almost every surface was heavily embossed with letters of images.” Furthermore, “the bottles were sold with an accompanying printed bill of directions” that “illustrated the current shape of the bottle and listed the embossed information.”[1] Other patent medicine makers also deployed unique packaging in the eighteenth century. Although Brownjohn did not mention any of these additional means of confirming the authenticity of the patent medicines he sold, other retailers sometimes did so. Brownjohn may have considered it unnecessary if consumers possessed widespread familiarity not only with the products but also with the packaging when it came to patent medicines.

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[1] John Styles, “Product Innovation in Early Modern London,” Past & Present 168 (August 2000): 153-156.

October 17

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

Oct 17 - 10:17:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 17, 1768)

“I also expect by the first vessels from London and Bristol, a number of other articles suitable for the season.”

In the fall of 1768 Eleazer Miller, Jr., placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to promote the “neat assortment of Goods fit for the Season” that he had “just imported.” Miller’s inventory included a variety of textiles, garments, and adornments, including an “assortment of silk handkerchiefs, mens black cravats, [and] womens Barcelona handkerchiefs.” Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he indicated the English ports where shipments of those goods had originated. Some had arrived “from London, per Capts. Gilchrist, Farquhar, Mund, & Miller” and others via the “last vessels from Bristol.” Doing so helped to confirm that Miller carried new merchandise. He assumed that readers would be familiar with the vessels that had recently arrived in port. Those who were not could compare Miller’s list to the shipping news, a list of ships, captains, and ports of origin provided by the customs house.

Yet Miller did not solely market goods “just imported” from English cities. He also encouraged prospective customers to anticipate other merchandise that would arrive soon. After listing dozens of items already in stock, Miller noted, “I also expect by the first vessels from London and Bristol, a number of other articles suitable for the season, which will also be sold cheap.” Perhaps Miller hoped that prospective customers would make their way to his store in Hanover Square regularly to see what kinds of new items had arrived since their last visit. Announcing that he expected additional shipments let consumers know that he did not allow the inventory on his shelves to stagnate, nor did he expect shoppers to accept whatever goods happened to remain. Instead, he refreshed his wares to better serve his customers … at least for the moment.

In addition to such concerns, Miller also faced a deadline of sorts. On August 27, “nearly all the Merchants and Traders in Town” had subscribed to a nonimportation agreement in response to the taxes levied by the Townshend Act. Their resolution appeared in the September 8, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. The first resolution stated that they “will not send for from Great-Britain, either upon our own Account or on Commission, any other Goods than what we have already ordered.” By underscoring that he expected the imminent arrival of new merchandise via vessels from London and Bristol, Miller could claim that these were goods that he had “already ordered” and that they did not violate the nonimportation agreement. Furthermore, the second resolution stated that the city’s merchants and traders “will not import any kind of Merchandise from Great-Britain, either on our own Account or on Commission … that shall be shipped from Great-Britain after the First Day of November.” Again, by emphasizing that any new merchandise in his shop would arrive on “the first vessels from London and Bristol” Miller suggested that he abided by the parameters of the nonimportation agreement.

Merchants and shopkeepers in New York subscribed to their nonimportation agreement only after stockpiling goods to sell to local consumers. By skating right up to the deadlines for ceasing orders and deliveries, Miller did not explicitly mention the nonimportation agreements but he did send a message to prospective customers with a wink and a nod. Even as colonists extolled the virtues of resistance through their endorsements of nonimportation they could continue many of their usual habits of consumption. The new merchandise at Miller’s store provided the means for doing so.

October 3

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

Oct 3 - 10:3:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 3, 1768).

“JUST imported by ADAM GILCHRIST.”

Hugh Gaine, the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, took in so many advertisements that he could not fit all of them in the standard four-page issue for October 3, 1768. In addition to two pages of advertising in the regular issue, Gaine distributed a two-page supplement comprised solely of advertisements. That still did not provide sufficient space for all of the paid notices submitted to the printing shop at the Sign of the Bible and Crown in Hanover Square. Either Gaine or the compositor who set the type for the October 3 edition made space for inserting four additional advertisements on the second and third pages by printing them in the margins.

The first and fourth pages appeared as usual: three columns on each page as well as the masthead and prices current running across the top of the first page. The second and third pages, however, each had a slender fourth column created by rotating the text of short advertisements and setting them perpendicular to the rest of the content. These advertisements appeared in the left margin of the second page and the right margin of the third page, positioned away from the fold that separated the two pages.

This strategy required selecting short advertisements to divide into columns. For instance, the second page featured two short advertisements: nine lines from Adam Gilchrist promoting textiles he had recently imported and five lines announcing an employment opportunity for “A Person qualified to teach three or four Children, in a Gentleman’s Family.” These notices had the same width as other advertisements and news content throughout the rest of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury yet they were broken into several columns to fit them in the margins. If necessary, the several columns of each could be combined into one and printed elsewhere in subsequent issues without having to set the type from scratch.

The unconventional placement of these advertisements may have given them more visibility than if they had appeared in the long columns amidst other paid notices. Their position on the page may have incited curiosity among readers, yielding a benefit for the advertisers even as Gaine and the compositor sought to solve the problem of having too much content for the current issue of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Many printers throughout the colonies resorted to this trick on occasion, yet not so frequently that the unusual placement of these advertisements would have passed without notice.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 29, 1768).

“Many other Articles too tedious to mention.”

In a brief notice in the August 29, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, William Moor advertised “a great Number of School Books” as well as “A large Assortment of Bibles, Testaments, Psalm Books, Psalters and Primers, with a great Variety of other Books on Law, Physick, and Divinity.” In addition, he stocked “a large Assortment of Saddles, Carpets, and many other Articles too tedious to mention.”

That Moor designated some of his merchandise “too tedious to mention” rather than publishing an extensive list of goods (an alternate strategy adopted by several other retailers whose advertisements appeared on the same page) had the unintended effect of influencing the placement of his advertisement in that issue. Moor’s entire notice extended only eight lines, making it short enough that the compositor could divide it into columns of four lines each, both printed perpendicular to the rest of the content on the page.

Compositors sometimes deployed this strategy as a means of squeezing more items, especially paid advertisements, into current issues rather then delay publication until the following week. Even though a two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising accompanied this particular issue, it did not offer space to insert all of the advertising. Not so much remained to justify adding an additional page to the supplement. Instead, the compositor looked to the margins.

The standard issue consisted of four pages, each with three columns. The compositor converted the outer margin, away from the fold, of the first, third, and fourth pages into advertising space by dividing short notices into multiple columns of no more than four lines each and then positioning them perpendicular to the columns that ran the length of the page. In addition to Moor’s advertisement on the fourth page, a sixteen-line advertisement for a runaway servant appeared on the first page, divided into four columns of four lines each and positioned along the outer margin to the right of the masthead and essay that comprised the rest of the page. A bankruptcy notice, eight lines divided into four columns, ran in the outer margin of the third page. A short estate notice divided into two columns ran alongside Moor’s advertisement on the fourth page.

Moor likely had no choice concerning the unusual placement of his advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. All the same, the compositor’s efforts to find more space for paid notices may have served Moor’s interests by producing the unconventional format since readers may have been especially curious to see what sorts of items had been consigned to the margins. Rather than becoming marginal, the advertisements in the margins may have evoked additional notice.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 15, 1768).

“I am Master of the new Mode, lately invented in London, of making Wigs.”

In the advertisements they placed in American newspapers in late colonial period, entrepreneurs in occupations tied to fashion often underscored their connections to London, the cosmopolitan center of the Britain’s empire. Tailors, milliners, and others who made apparel often proclaimed that they were “from London.” Hairdressers and wigmakers advanced similar appeals. Even shopkeepers did so when they thought that it might help them to sell imported garments, textiles, and assorted adornments.

John Lewis, a native of New York, could not claim to be “from London,” but his origins mattered less than the time he had spent in that city. The “HAIR-DRESSER, and PERUKE-MAKER” opened his advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury by informing prospective clients that “after considerable Residence in London” he had returned to New York and set up shop. During the time that he had resided in London Lewis had worked with “the most eminent Masters in the above mentioned Branches of Business” and, as a result, had “acquired Abilities equal to any of my Brethren, in the Professions of Hair-Dressing and Wig-Making.” This made him particularly qualified to serve customers in New York and its environs.

Lewis highlighted his familiarity with current fashions and the most advanced methods of his trade, both acquired during his time in London. To that end, his advertisement served as a primer to newspaper readers about some of styles currently popular on the other side of the Atlantic. “I am Master of the new Mode, lately invented in London,” he proclaimed, “of making Wigs that shall not need dressing for six Months, preserving their Shape and first Appearance during that Time.” For those who were unaware, he firther explained that “This fashion is much esteem’d at present in England [for] its Usefulness and Convenience.” Since such wigs were new to the American marketplace, Lewis proposed another means of helping prospective clients become more familiar with them. In addition to describing the wigs in advertisements, he made several “Specimens” or samples that “Gentlemen” could examine before engaging his services.

Lewis leveraged his connections to London in his advertisement. He not only claimed familiarity with the current styles but also asserted that he was in a position to educate potential customers about new tastes and methods that they had not yet encountered in the colonies. He provided extensive detail in hopes that these factors would distinguish him from local competitors who either had never traveled to London or had not done so recently.

August 1

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

Aug 1 - 8:1:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 1, 1768).

“One of the most beautiful Animals, call’d, The LEOPARD.”

In addition to an array of consumer goods and services, newspaper advertisements also promoted a variety of entertainments and leisure activities, from concerts and plays to fireworks and exotic animals. Readers of the August 1, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury could not have missed Abraham Van Dyck’s advertisement that invited them to view a leopard that had just arrived in the city. The relatively large woodcut that accompanied the advertisement crudely depicted the large cat, inciting even greater interest than Van Dyck’s description of the animal.

Van Dyck introduced New Yorkers to a spectacle previously unknown to them, “one of the most beautiful Animals.” He could not assume that prospective viewers were already familiar with leopards, prompting him to publish a short description to supplement the woodcut. Van Dyck explained that the leopard was “adorned all over with very neat and different spots, black and white.” It had “large sparkling Eyes, and long Whiskers on both Sides of his Jaws.” In comparison to an animal that may have been more familiar to many colonists, “This Leopard is much in Shape, Nature, and Colour, like unto a Panther.” To augment the excitement of viewing this exotic beast, Van Dyck noted that the leopard was “greedy in catching his Prey by leaping at it,” but those tantalized by this description did not need to worry about their safety when they went to see this exotic creature. “Gentlemen and Ladies may have a full View of the Leopard,” Van Dyck promised, as he is well secured with a Chain.”

The leopard was not Van Dyck’s only attraction. He informed readers that he had “several other Animals, which will be seen at the same Time,” though he did not indicate which other animals comprised the rest of the show. The leopard was the star, the exotic beast that Van Dyck expected would draw viewers willing to pay a shilling to glimpse a creature so out of the ordinary compared to the sights they encountered on most days. The woodcut underscored that the leopard was a true curiosity that readers did not want to miss.

June 27

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

Jun 27 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (June 27, 1768).

“RUN-away from the subscriber at Hosack, near Albany, an indented Irish servant Man.”

The second and third pages (or the two center pages of a broadsheet folded in half to create the standard four-page issue) of the June 27, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury included more than just the usual three columns. The compositor created a very thin fourth column by rotating the type ninety degrees; this allowed for the insertion of three additional advertisements in the outside margins that otherwise would not have fit on the page. Two of those advertisements appeared on the second page. John Duncan and Thomas Peeles placed a notice calling on those indebted “to the estate of John Knox, of the town of Schenectady, and county of Albany” to settle accounts. Collin McDonald “of the manor of Livingston, and county of Albany” inserted a notice warning others against trusting his wife, Catherine. She had “eloped from his bed,” causing him to “forewarn all persons not to trust or harbour her on my account, as I will pay no debts contracted by her.” A single advertisement occupied the additional column on the third page. In it, John Macomb, “at Hosack, near Albany,” described James McKinzie, a runaway indentured servant. Given that all three of these advertisements came from Albany and none of them previously appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, they likely all arrived at the same time via the same post carrier or messenger, after the type for the rest of the issue had been set but not before it went to press. The printer and compositor may have had a brief window of opportunity to work these advertisements into the June 27 issue rather than wait a week to publish them.

The placement of these advertisements was certainly out of the ordinary for the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but it was not altogether uncommon in newspapers published in the American colonies during the eighteenth century. Printers and compositors sometimes made space for short advertisements in the side margins or across the bottom of the page, but usually only when special circumstances required. This aspect of American newspaper production and format differs significantly from standard practices in Dutch newspapers in the 1760s, as I learned from during a panel on “Newspapers and Information Management in the Atlantic World” at the 24th annual conference sponsored by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture held earlier this month. In her paper on “Dutch Newspaper Coverage of the Berbice Slave Revolit, 1763,” Esther Baakman (Leiden University) presented images of the newspapers she consulted. In terms of graphic design, they featured two columns for news and a third column for advertising. The column for advertising was slightly narrower than the other two and rotated ninety degrees. What amounted to an occasional strategy for inserting additional advertisements in American newspapers was a design feature intended to aid readers in distinguishing among content in Dutch newspapers in the middle of the eighteenth century.