May 13

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 13, 1771).

“Preparing catalogues … to be distributed gratis to their customers.”

In the spring of 1771, booksellers Noel and Hazard took to the pages of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to advertise the “general assortment of books, and stationary ware” available at their shop.  They sought customers of all sorts, offering their inventory both “wholesale and retail.”  The partners made recommendations for the proprietors of country stores, including “bibles, testaments, psalters, primers, childs new play thing, [and] young man’s companion.”  They also had on hand a “great variety of Newbury’s pretty little gilt picture books for young masters and misses,” encouraging adults to purchase books for children.  For prospective customers who pursued certain occupations, Noel and Hazard stocked “navigation books and instruments, surveying books and instruments, [and] architect books and instruments.”  For all sorts of other readers, they sold English and French dictionaries, a “variety of the best pieces on husbandry, gardening and farriery,” and works by Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, and a variety of other authors familiar to eighteenth-century readers.

Noel and Hazard imported their merchandise from London and Scotland.  They anticipated expanding their inventory upon the arrival of “the next vessels from London, Bristol, and Scotland.”  At that time, the items available at their shop would become “so very numerous” that a newspaper advertisement would not longer suffice.  As an alternative, Noel and Hazard were “preparing catalogues of the whole to be distributed gratis to their customers.”  Booksellers regularly produced and disseminated catalogs to supplement their newspaper advertisements.  Those catalogues took various forms, sometimes appearing as broadsides and other times as pamphlets.  Over time, they became more sophisticated in terms of organization.  Rather than listing available titles according to the size of the volumes, booksellers instead grouped them together according to genre.  Doing so assisted prospective customers in locating titles of interest and discovering items they were most likely to purchase but might not have otherwise considered.  Promising free catalogs also served as a ploy to get consumers into shops.  Noel and Hazard described an extensive inventory in their advertisement, but readers who visited their shop to acquire a complete catalog had an opportunity to browse and examine the merchandise for themselves.

Few eighteenth-century book catalogs survive relative to how often booksellers mentioned them in newspaper advertisements.  That has prompted some historians to suspect that many never actually made it into print.  After all, Noel and Hazard stated that they “are preparing catalogues,” not that the catalogs were ready for distribution.  The mere promise of a catalog may have also drawn prospective customers into shops.  Still, booksellers promoted catalogs so frequently that it seems likely that they did distribute many of them, at least in sufficient numbers for prospective customers to have reasonable expectations of acquiring catalogs described in newspaper advertisements.

April 3

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

“RD. SAUSE. CUTLER.”

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery … or a means of capitalizing on a competitor’s marketing efforts.  On March 4, 1771, Bailey and Youle, cutlers from Sheffield, ran a newspaper advertisement notable for a woodcut that included their names and depictions of more than a dozen items available at their shop.  Four weeks later, another cutler, Richard Sause, inserted a strikingly similar advertisement in the same newspaper, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Like Bailey and Youle, his notice began with a woodcut that included his name and images of various items in his inventory.  He also listed those items and more, including “oyster knives, razors, scissors; pocket, pruning and pen knives; …[and] corkscrews.”  In addition to the assortment of merchandise represented in both image and text, Sause also stocked “sundry other things too tedious to mention.”

Sause further enhanced his woodcut by incorporating his name into the depictions of a table knife and a sword, a modification not present in Bailey and Youle’s image of their wares.  The table knife appeared in the upper left and the sword in the lower right, making it likely that viewers would encounter items branded with Sause’s name first and last as they glanced at the depictions of many kinds of cutlery.  Sause’s woodcut also featured a greater number of items, testifying to the many choices he offered to consumers.  In the copy that accompanied the image, he twice invoked variations of the phrase “other articles too tedious to mention,” deploying language not present in Bailey and Youle’s advertisement.  Using his competitor’s notice as a model, Sause devised improvement for his own.

It seems unlikely that Sause produced this advertisement without having seen the notice that Bailey and Youle placed in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Furthermore, whoever carved the original woodcut probably carved the second, given the similarities between several pieces of cutlery depicted in each.  Bailey and Youle continued running their advertisement when Sause’s notice first appeared, the similarities between the two all the more apparent because they were the only images that appeared anywhere in the April 1, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and its supplement, with the exception of the masthead.  When Bailey and Youle published an advertisement that increased their visibility in the marketplace, Sause took notice and shamelessly replicated their efforts.

Detail from Bailey and Youle’s advertisement, Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 1, 1771).

March 4

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 4, 1771).

“All sorts of knives, razors, shears, and scissars.”

When Bailey and Youle, “Cutlers from Sheffield,” advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in March 1771, a visual image distinguished their notice from others.  They devoted approximately one-third of the space in their advertisement to a woodcut that may have depicted the sign that marked the location of their shop.  A border contained their names and occupation as well as images of a razor, a knife, an awl, scissors, and a variety of other cutlery that they made and sold at their shop “NEAR THE Merchant’s COFFEE-HOUSE.”  That image represented an investment in their marketing efforts.  First, they had to commission a woodcut connected directly to their business.  Then, since newspaper printers charged by the amount of space advertisements filled rather than the number of words, they had to pay for the additional space required to include the woodcut.  That alone made their advertisement half again more expensive than if they had inserted only the copy with no image.

Was it worth the additional expense?  Bailey and Youle may have impressed prospective customers with their unique image.  The depictions of so many different kinds of cutlery underscored the range of choices in the list of merchandise that followed.  The woodcut almost certainly attracted notice and drew attention to their advertisement.  Consider its placement in the March 4, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the first issue that carried it.  Bailey and Youle’s advertisement ran on the third page in a standard issue created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  If readers perused the interior of the newspaper by holding the second and third pages open, Bailey and Youle’s woodcut would have been the only visual image they encountered among two pages of dense text in both news accounts and advertisements.  If they folded the pages over and viewed only one at a time, the woodcut in Bailey and Youle’s advertisement still would have been the only visual image visible.  Only three other images appeared elsewhere in that edition, one in the masthead as usual and two much smaller depictions of ships at sea that accompanied advertisements for passage and freight on the last page.

Bailey and Youle made appeals to consumer choice twice over in their advertisement.  Like many other purveyors of goods, they provided an extensive list of their merchandise.  In addition, however, their woodcut also cataloged the many cutlery items they offered for sale.  Text and image reinforced each other in making overtures to consumers.

February 25

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 25, 1771).

“Just received advice from London of the fashions advanced for the court ladies this year.”

Thomas Hartley made stays or corsets for “the LADIES” of New York in the early 1770s.  In his efforts to cultivate a clientele, he placed an advertisement in the February 25, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, advising prospective customers that “he makes STAYS OF ALL SORTS, in the newest and best fashion.”  Staymakers as well as tailors, milliners, and others who made garments frequently emphasized that they followed the latest fashions, assuring clients that they did not need to worry about appearing behind the times and out of style after visiting their shops and hiring their services.

Hartley enhanced such appeals with additional commentary in his advertisement, first describing himself as “LATE FROM LONDON” in a portion of his advertisement that served as a headline.  Colonists looked to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, for the latest fashions.  The gentry in New York and other colonies sought to demonstrate their own sophistication by keeping up with styles popular in London.  In proclaiming that he was “LATE FROM LONDON,” Hartley established a connection that suggested he had special insight into the current trends in the metropolis.  Later in the advertisement, he extended “humble thanks to all ladies that have favoured me with their commands,” calling into question just how recently he had arrived in New York.

The staymaker, however, suggested that something else mattered more.  After migrating across the Atlantic, he maintained contact with correspondents who kept him informed about the newest styles.  He trumpeted that he had “just received advice from London of the fashions advanced for the court ladies this year.”  As a result, Hartley felt confident that he could “give universal satisfaction” to his clients.  In making a pitch to “the LADIES” of New York, he claimed to have access to information about the garments the most elite women in London would be wearing in the coming months.  Prospective clients in New York could not expect anything more cutting edge than that!

Fashion often played a role in the appeals made by staymakers, tailors, milliners, and others.  In some instances, advertisers included generic statements using formulaic words and phrases, a shorthand intended to reassure prospective clients that they understood their trade and provided satisfactory services.  Hartley, on the other hand, elaborated on his appeal to “the very newest and best fashion,” seeking to convince customers that he did indeed possess special insights into current trends in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire.

February 11

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 11, 1771).

“It is the Book used in Princetown College and Grammar School.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, bookseller Garrat Noel frequently placed advertisements in newspapers published in New York.  Sometimes he provided lengthy lists of the titles available at his shop, but on other occasions he instead highlighted select titles for prospective customers.  When he took that approach, Noel offered more extensive descriptions, providing a preview of sorts intended to incite demand.

For instance, Noel included three books in an advertisement that extended half a column in the February 11, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He devoted half of that space to “A NEW GEOGRAPHICAL, HISTORICAL, and COMMERCIAL GRAMMAR; AND PRESENT STATE OF THE SEVERAL KINGDOMS of the WORLD” by William Guthrie.  In two columns, he enumerated the contents of the book.  In an eighteenth-century version of “but wait, there’s more,” Noel proclaimed that the book also included “a TABLE of the COINS of all Nations, and their Value in ENGLISH MONEY” and “a new and correct Set of MAPS.”  He apparently expected that an extensive presentation of the various contents would help in selling copies.

Noel took a similar approach in promoting another book, “The MESSIAH.”  He once again focused on the contents, but adopted a different format and style.  The bookseller provided a blurb, a chatty description of what readers could expect to encounter in the book.  Noel presented “The MESSIAH” as “an entertaining and instructive book, chiefly of the religious and moral Kind,” with the narrative “drawn from the Sacred Scriptures.”  Rather than a dry theological treatise, however, Noel promised prospective buyers that they would enjoy a text “set in a plain, rational, useful and interesting Light.”  Many readers likely found the blurb for the “The MESSIAH” more engaging than the list of contents for Guthrie’s historical geography.

The bookseller deployed yet another strategy for cultivating interest in the final book in this advertisement, John Mair’s “INTRODUCTION TO LATIN SYNTAX.”  In this case, Noel commented on the popularity and success of the book in other markets, hoping that would translate into demand among consumers in New York.  He described “Mair’s Introduction to the making of Latin” as “the latest and most improved Book of that Kind, and now in Use in all the principal Schools in Scotland, where the Language is taught with the greatest accuracy.”  Yet prospective customers did not need to look across the Atlantic to witness approval for this book.  Noel also noted that it “is the Book used in Princetown College and Grammar School,” a fact that the bookseller leveraged as a recommendation for others interested in Latin to purchase it.

In a single advertisement, Noel experimented with three different methods for inciting interest in some of the books he sold.  For one, he relied on an extensive recounting of the contents, while for another he commented on the contents in a spirited blurb.  For a Latin textbook, he reported on its use in both Scotland and a nearby college and grammar school.  For each book, he selected a marketing strategy that he anticipated would resonate with the consumers most likely to have incipient interest in acquiring a copy.

February 4

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 4, 1771).

“He intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights.”

When Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, arrived in New York from Europe in the fall of 1770, he placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal to introduce himself and invite colonists to attend performances “at the house of Mr. Hyer, on Hunter’s Quay” or schedule a “private exhibition.”  Saunders encouraged the curious to see his show as soon as possible or risk missing it because his “stay in this city will be but a few weeks.”  Itinerant performers often deployed that strategy for inciting interest in the spectacles they offered to prospective audiences.  They created a form of scarcity when they stated that they would remain in town for only a limited time.

Sometimes itinerant performers did move to the next town fairly quickly.  Consider, for instance, the series of advertisements placed by an unnamed performer “who has Read and Sung in most of the great Towns in America” in the Providence, Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth in less than two months in the fall of 1769.  He offered a few performances in each place before moving along to the next.  Other performers attempted to encourage interest by proclaiming that they would soon depart for other places, but then remained much longer.  Such was the case for Saunders.  On February 4, 1771, he inserted an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He no longer included his first name, perhaps believing that he achieved sufficient local celebrity in the three months he already spent in New York to dispense with such a detail.  He also eliminated the description of “variety of entertaining as well as surprising tricks” that appeared in earlier advertisements.  Instead, he simply announced that he “intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights … longer in NEW-YORK.”  That he remained in the city at that time was not by his own design but instead in response to the “PARTICIULAR DESIRE of several Ladies and Gentlemen,” or so he claimed.  Saunders sought to give the public what they wanted.  To that end, he also continued offering private shows “to any select Company,” suggesting another trajectory of demand for his “astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand.”

When they advertised, itinerant performers often emphasized that they would be in town for only a limited time so colonists needed to catch their shows before they were gone or else miss out on the popular culture experiences enjoyed by other members of their communities.  Performers often delayed their departures in order to offer additional shows.  Some, like Saunders who remained in New York for months, may not have planned to leave after a short time at all, but others did move along fairly quickly.  Even though he already remained in town for three months, Saunders attempted to leverage uncertainty about his departure in order to incite demand for his upcoming performances.

January 23

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 21, 1771).

“SADLERY WARE.”

Ornamental printing helped to make the final page of the supplement that accompanied the January 21, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury more visually interesting than any other portion of that issue.  Rather than use a single line to separate advertisements, the compositor instead selected a variety of decorative type.  Compare, for instance, the line between the advertisement for “SADLERY WARE” and George Ball’s advertisement about his new location to the ornaments that appeared above and below most of the other advertisements.

Eighteenth-century newspapers tended to feature few visual images other than a crest or signet in the masthead and a small number of woodcuts depicting ships, houses, horses, enslaved people, and runaway indentured servants.  Sometimes those woodcuts appeared in great numbers, but most often advertisers deployed them sparingly.  The edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury under consideration here ran only three advertisements with woodcuts, one on the third page and two on the fourth page.  No images appeared on the second page; only the crest in the masthead adorned the first page.  The two-page supplement included six woodcuts, two on the first page and four on the second.  (Three of them can be seen in the detail of that page above.)  With four woodcuts, the last page of the supplement already incorporated greater visual diversity than any other page of the standard issue and the supplement.

Beyond that, the compositor spruced up the page with more than twenty lines of decorative type that separated advertisements.  The third and fourth pages of the standard issue and the first page of the supplement all consisted entirely of advertising, yet none of them received such treatment.  Instead, single lines sequestered advertisements.  What explains the burst of creativity on the final page?  Was it a ploy to attract attention from readers once they discovered no news or editorials, especially those prone to skip over advertisements?  Did more than one compositor set type for that issue and its supplement?  What other factors might have influenced the design decisions that produced a final page so different from the rest of the issue?  The format of these advertisements raises interesting questions without clear answers.

January 16

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 14, 1771).

“Said Morton has to dispose of, a large and very neat assortment of gilt and plain frame looking-glasses and sconces.”

Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown, in Hanover-Square,” printed the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, one of several newspapers published in the city in the early 1770s.  On many occasions, Gaine devoted more space to disseminating advertising than news articles, letters and editorials, prices current, and shipping news from the customs house.  Such was the case for the January 14, 1771, edition.

Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, that issue consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, but Gaine distributed paid notices throughout his newspaper.  The first two columns on the first page of the January 14 edition contained advertising.  News accounted for most of the third and fourth columns, but five short advertisements concluded the fourth column.  News filled the first three columns of the second page before giving way to advertising in the final column.  On the third page, readers encountered news in the first two columns and advertising in the last two.  The final page consisted entirely of paid notices.  Overall, nine of the sixteen columns, more than half of the issue, delivered advertising to readers.

Yet that was not all.  Gaine had so many advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue that he also published a two-page supplement to accompany it.  With the exception of the masthead, that supplement contained nothing but paid notices, another eight columns of advertising.  Considered together, this amounted to seventeen of the twenty-four columns in the standard issue and supplement.  More than two-thirds of the content that Gaine delivered to subscribers and other readers that week consisted of advertising.

For many newspaper printers in eighteenth-century America, advertising generated revenues that rivaled or surpassed subscription fees.  For Gaine, that was almost certainly the case, thought the volume of advertising also suggests impressive circulation numbers.  Advertisers would not have chosen to insert their notices in his newspaper if they were not confident that they would reach the general public.

January 9

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 7, 1771).

“ADDRESS To those who possess a PUBLIC SPIRIT.”

When bookseller Robert Bell inserted a notice about upcoming auctions in the January 3, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal, he devoted the second half of the advertisement to promoting an American edition of William Robertson’s multivolume History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V.  He addressed the “real friends to the progress of Literary entertainment, and to the extension of useful Manufactures in a young country.”  Bell advanced a “Buy American” marketing strategy during the period of the imperial crisis that ultimately culminated in the American Revolution.

Later that week, he continued his advertising campaign with another notice in the January 7 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Bell included some of the copy from the earlier advertisement in this much lengthier iteration.  Both versions highlighted the phrase “THE LAND WE LIVE IN” by printing it in all capitals and centering it on a line of its own within the advertisement, drawing attention to Bell’s proposition that consumers who purchased this work also contributed to the “elevation and enriching” of the colonies.  He enhanced that argument with a headline that described the entire advertisement as an “ADDRESS To those who possess a PUBLIC SPIRIT.”  Potential customers, Bell asserted, had an opportunity to engage in acts of consumption that possessed political significance.

At the same time, the bookseller declared that the American edition was a bargain compared to imported alternatives.  He charged “the moderate price of One Dollar each Volume” for the three volumes, noting that the “British edition cannot be imported for less than Twelve Dollars.”  Colonists could acquire the work at a significant savings, a reward for their role in creating a distinctive American marketplace for the production and consumption of books.  Only the first volume had gone to press, so the advertisement also served as a subscription notice.  Bell encouraged “Gentlemen who have rationality enough to consider they will receive an equivalent” to an imported edition to sign on as subscribers, simultaneously flattering and cajoling prospective customers.

Bell informed the “Encouragers of printing this Grand Historical Work” that they “may depend upon ebullitions of gratitude,” but that was only an ancillary reason for purchasing Robertson’s biography of Charles the Fifth.  He presented their own edification and their responsibility for promoting domestic manufactures in the colonies as the primary reasons for buying the first volume and subscribing for the subsequent second and third volumes.

December 31

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 31, 1770).

“Exhibiting his Art of Dexterity of Hand.”

As 1770 came to an end and 1771 began, William Patridge, an itinerant performer, took to the pages of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to inform residents of the busy urban port that he provided entertainments for “every admirer of REAL CURIOSITIES.”  Patridge rented “a large and commodious room … fitted up in a genteel Manner” for giving performances on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

His show consisted of several acts, including “Dexterity of Hand,” “Mr. Punch and his merry Family,” and an “Italian Shade.”  Patridge included additional details about each in his efforts to entice audiences to attend his performances.  He described his “Italian Shade,” mostly likely some sort of illumination, as “so much admired in Europe.”  Audiences on the other side of the Atlantic had been impressed and delighted by this portion of his show, Patridge seemed to suggest, so residents of New York would not want to miss such an acclaimed exhibition.  The portion of the evening devoted to “Mr. Punch and his merry Family” presumably involved a puppet show.  Patridge incorporated “new Alterations every Evening,” making each performance different from any other.  Members of the audience who attended more than one performance would experience something new each time.  When it came to the “Art of Dexterity of Hand,” Patridge declared that he practiced “a new Method different from other Performers.”  Even if readers had seen Hyman Saunders perform when he spent several weeks in New York in November, they supposedly had not seen anything like Patridge’s sleight of hand.

Patridge also saw to the comfort of his audience.  In addition. To selecting a “commodious room … fitted up in a genteel Manner,” he also pledged that he had “taken proper Care to have the Room well aired” for those who saw his show.  He offered “all Accommodations,” though he did not go into greater detail.  He likely expected that residents of the city would already be familiar with “Mr. Mc. Dougall’s” establishment “at the sign of Lord John Murray, in Orange-street, Golden-Hill.”  For those “Gentlemen and Ladies” who did not wish to mix with crowd at one of Patridge’s performances at that location, he also gave private performances in their homes, provided that they gave “timely Notice.”  Patridge hinted at a higher level of refinement and status; rather than attending a performance, those “Gentlemen and Ladies” could have a performer attend on them.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements reveal a variety of entertainments and amusements available to colonial consumers, a range of popular culture options available to them.  Itinerant performers depended on those advertisements to make the public aware when they arrived in town and what kinds of diversions they offered.  Although Patridge did not do so, many also declared that they would be in town for only a short time, attempting to incite greater demand by making their performances scarce commodities.  Still, Patridge did not merely announce his presence in New York.  Instead, he resorted to other kinds of appeals to attract audiences for his shows.