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first of November, until an Act of Parliament laying Duties on Paper, Glass, &c. for raising a Revenue here should be repealed.”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.

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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.

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.