January 3

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

New-York Journal (January 3, 1770).

“The promotion of which vivifieth individuals, and tendeth towards the elevation and enriching of THE LAND WE LIVE IN.”

Robert Bell was one of the most innovative, industrious, and influential booksellers in eighteenth-century America, known for the larger-than-life personality he cultivated and the entertainment he provided at auctions.  Bell’s auctions were events, public spectacles that amused those in attendance.  The bookseller was also known for his work in creating and promoting a distinctly American market for books, especially after the revolution.  He got started on that enterprise, however, several years before the colonies declared independence from Britain.

In the first issue of the New-York Journal published in 1771, Bell launched a new advertising campaign that announced book auctions on Friday and Saturday evenings.  In addition to giving information about the auctions, he devoted half of the advertisement to a nota bene about the “American Edition of Robertson’s Charles the Fifth.”  Rather than purchase imported alternatives, Bell asserted that the “real friends to the progress of Literary entertainment, and to the extension of useful Manufactures in a young country” would acquire the edition produced in the colonies.  Over the course of his career, Bell became known for the verbose and convoluted prose he deployed in his marketing materials.  He used labyrinthine language even by eighteenth-century standards, including in this advertisement for an American edition.  Consumers were already familiar with arguments in favor of domestic manufactures in the wake of boycotting imported goods, but Bell approached the endeavor with more verve than proponents when he trumped that “the promotion” of American products “vivifieth individuals, and tendeth towards the elevation and enriching of THE LAND WE LIVE IN.”  The bookseller advocated on behalf of American commerce and American culture simultaneously, arguing that consumers could enhance both through the decisions they made when buying books.

Bell did not merely present customers with options for reading “Divinity, History, Novels, and Entertainment.”  Instead, he challenged them to think about how their participation in the marketplace could aid the American cause and contribute to the formation of a distinctly American identity.  He intensified those arguments as his career continued, building on marketing strategies from the early 1770s.

December 27

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

New-York Journal (December 27, 1770).

“NEW-YEARS PRESENTS.”

In the late colonial period, most advertisers did not prompt prospective customers to think of their merchandise in association with Christmas gifts.  In the late 1760s, bookseller and stationer Garrat Noel of New York did place advertisements in which he listed books that he considered “proper for Christmas Presents and New-Year’s Gifts,” though he was usually alone in his efforts to establish a connection between those holidays and consumption in the public prints.  The appropriately-named Noel addressed “those who are willing to be generous on the Occasion.”  He encouraged that generosity by charging “extraordinary low Prices” for items he envisioned as gifts.  He ran what has become familiar as a holiday sale long before other retailers adopted the custom.  In the late 1760s, Noel was often the only advertiser from New England to Georgia who made an explicit connection between Christmas and giving gifts.

Although Noel placed newspaper advertisements in December 1770, he did not mention Christmas or encourage giving the books he sold as gifts.  One of his competitors, however, seized the opportunity to market “NEW-YEARS PRESENTS” in the December 27 edition of the New-York Journal.  James Rivington was best known as a bookseller, but, like many others in his occupation, he stocked a variety of other merchandise as well.  He published an extensive list of items “which may be thought proper Presents to and from Ladies and Gentlemen at this Season, when the Heart is more peculiarly enlarged.”  He offered everything from “NECKLACES, ear-rings, and hair pins” to “Beautiful polished leather snuff boxes” to “Siler plated tea urns” to “Dress swords and belts of all kinds.”  For some items, Rivington made appeals to sentimentality, such as “Lockets for the custody of the dear creature’s hair.”  He also advised prospective customers that he stocked items at various prices to fit their budgets.  For instance, he charged “from six shillings to £10” for tooth pick cases and snuff boxes” and “from 7 shillings to seven dollars” for lockets.  Rivington concluded his advertisement with a promise that he also carried “a myriad of other articles,” suggesting to consumers that they could find just the right “NEW-YEARS PRESENTS” when they visited his shop facing the Coffee-House Bridge.

The Christmas and New Year holidays did not animate a season of advertising associated with purchasing and exchanging gifts in the late colonial period.  Such marketing strategies were largely absent, but not completely unknown.  A small number of retailers experimented with making explicit connections between their merchandise and celebrating the holidays.  In the process, they emphasized prices that facilitated generosity.  They also encouraged sentimentality among consumers.  Although subdued by today’s standards, their efforts to market the holidays could be seen as precursors to more extensive advertising campaigns in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

December 16

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

New-York Journal (December 13, 1770).

“54 57.”

“55 58.”

The numbers at the end of bookseller Garret Noel’s advertisement in the December 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal would have been a familiar sight to readers, even if they did not take the time to grasp their significance.  After all, they were not intended for readers, but instead for the compositor.  A brief notation, in this case “55 58,” alerted the compositor to the first and last issues in which an advertisement was supposed to appear.  The December 13 edition was “NUMB. 1458,” according to the masthead, thus the final issue for this particular advertisement.  It first ran three weeks earlier in “NUMB. 1455.”

This advertisement, however, had another notation with two other numbers, “54 57,” associated with it.  They appeared midway through the advertisement, a rather unusual situation.  This resulted from Noel placing two separate advertisements.  The first listed books “imported in the Britannia, Capt. Miller.”  It first ran in “NUMB. 1454” on November 15.  The following week, Noel placed another advertisement for books “IMPORTED, In the Albany, Capt. Richards.”  Rather than run it as a separate advertisement, the compositor appended it to Noel’s other notice.  In so doing, the compositor for the New-York Journal made a different decision than the compositor for the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  In the latter publication, Noel’s advertisements ran as separate items on different pages.

Noel derived advantages from both methods.  In the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, readers encountered his advertisements multiple times.  This increased visibility may have made Noel and his books more memorable for prospective customers.  On the other hand, combining the advertisements into a single notice in the New-York Journalcreated a lengthy notice that testified to the range of choices available at Noel’s shop.  The amount of spaced it occupied on the page may have helped draw attention as well.  Furthermore, it seems likely that Noel may have enjoyed a free insertion of his first advertisement for an additional week.  It should have been discontinued with “NUMB. 1457” on December 6, but it appears the compositor overlooked the notation in the middle of the advertisement.  No portion of the advertisement appeared in “NUMB. 1459” on December 20.  The compositor heeded the notation at the end, the usual position, and removed the entire advertisement.

The notations at the end of many advertisements help to tell stories about business practices and the production of newspapers in the eighteenth century.  In this case, the unusual configuration of multiple notations in a single advertisement in the New-York Journal demonstrates that even though the advertiser wrote the copy the compositor exercised discretion concerning format.  The single notice in the New-York Journal had quite a different format compared to the notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.

November 11

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

New-York Journal (November 8, 1770).

“Just received per the Hopewell … 53 56.”

John Morton’s advertisement for a “Neat and general Assortment of Good suitable for the Season” appeared on the front page of the November 8, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  Morton indicated that he had just received a shipment via “the Hopewell, Capt. SMITH, from LONDON.”  The two numbers at the end of the advertisement, “53 56,” confirmed that it was the first time his notice ran in the newspaper.  The compositor included those numbers as a shorthand to indicate the first and last issues to insert the advertisement.  They corresponded to issue numbers in the masthead.  The November 8 edition was “NUMB. 1453.”  Morton’s advertisement was scheduled to run in issue 1454 on November 15, issue 1455 on November 22, and issue 1456 on November 29.

Morton’s advertisement was not the only one that included a combination of issue numbers and reference to Captain Smith and the Hopewell.  Hallett and Hazard proclaimed that they had “just imported an assortment of goods “in the Hopewell, Capt. Smith.”  Their advertisement ended with “53 6,” issue numbers intended for the compositor rather than readers.  Similarly, William Neilson promoted “a large Assortment of Goods suitable for the Season, imported in the Hopewell, Capt Smith, from London.”  His advertisement also ended with “53 6,” numbers not related to his merchandise but to bookkeeping in the printing office.

Morton, Neilson, and Hallett and Hazard all apparently placed advertisements as quickly as they could after acquiring new inventory transported across the Atlantic on the Hopewell.  The shipping news, labelled “CUSTOM HOUSE NEW-YORK, INWARD ENTRIES,” included the “Snow Hopewell, Smith, London” among the several ships that arrived in the busy port since the previous issue of the New-York Journal.  Readers may not have paid much attention to the correlation between the issue number and the notations at the end of advertisements, but they were more likely to have noticed the roster of vessels that had just arrived in New York.  That would have helped them to calibrate how recently advertisers acquired the goods they hawked to consumers.  That Morton received his wares via the Hopewell was not a quaint detail.  It was not any more insignificant than the numbers at the end of his advertisement.  Both delivered important information to eighteenth-century readers who understood the context.

November 1

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

New-York Journal (November 1, 1770).

“New and astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand.”

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements sometimes provide insight into the popular culture and entertainment of the day, including concerts and shows by itinerant performers.  In their advertisements, many performers exhibited their showmanship to prospective audiences as part of their efforts to incite interest and convince them to see their acts in person.  For instance, in an advertisement in the New-York Journal, one illusionist, the “celebrated HYMEN SAUNDERS” who had “Just arrived from EUROPE.” proclaimed that his show included “several new and astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand, different than what has been hitherto attempted, and such as was never seen in this province.”  Saunders expected the novelty of his act to attract the attention of curious colonists.  He further described his performance, whetting the appetite of the public.  “His dexterity of hand, or grand deception,” he trumpeted, “will consist of a variety of entertaining as well as surprising tricks.”  He had so much material to amuse and astound his audiences that “his performance will be divided into acts” with a “concert of music” between the acts.  He promised that the room where he performed would be “illuminated,” allowing spectators good views of his sleight of hand, as well as “well air’d” for their comfort.
Saunders’s advertisement was the first one that appeared after the news in the October 25, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, likely increasing the likelihood that local audiences would take note of it.  He announced that his first performance would take place on October 29, so by the time the advertisement ran again on November 1 and in subsequent issues, readers had already missed out on being among the first to attend the show.  The performer underscored that his “stay in this city will be but a few weeks,” further warning prospective audiences that they had only a limited time to see his “grand deception” for themselves before he departed for other towns.  In addition to his public performances, Saunders also offered a “private exhibition” to those who hired him at least a day in advance.  Like other itinerant performers, Saunders also relied on word of mouth to promote his act, especially after locals saw his “dexterity of hand” in person, but he did not rely on such reviews alone.  Even after his performances commenced, he continued to run advertisements to promote both the show and his persona, the “celebrated” performer who brought a novel act all the way from Europe to the colonies.

October 21

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

New-York Journal (October 18, 1770).

“The Medley of Goods Sold by G DUYCKINCK.”

Few visual images adorned advertisements published in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Most of those that did appear depicted ships at sea (for freight and passage or imported goods), houses (for real estate), horses (for breeding), enslaved people (for sale or fleeing from bondage), or indentured servants (running away before their contracts expired).  These stock images, which belonged to the printers, were used interchangeably with any advertisement from the appropriate genre.  Far fewer advertisements featured unique images created expressly to represent a particular business, depicting particular merchandise or the shop sign that marked the location.  In those cases, advertisers commissioned the woodcuts and retained exclusive use of them.  Most were fairly modest, making Gerardus Duyckinck’s large and elaborate woodcut all the more notable and memorable.

Duyckinck operated a shop known as the “UNIVERSAL STORE” for its broad assortment of merchandise available to consumers.  He also referred to his inventory as “The Medley of Goods.”  Located at the “Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot” in New York, Duyckinck sold his wares “Wholesale and Retail.”  His woodcut featured an intricate rococo border that enclosed most of the copy for his advertisements, though he usually inserted a couple of lines of introductory material above it.  The copy within the border changed regularly.  A “Druggist Pot” sat at the top of the border and a “Looking Glass” with an ornate frame took up one-third of the space within the border, those two items replicating the shop sign that alerted prospective customers they had reached their destination.  The graphic design resembled the borders and other images that decorated trade cards distributed frequently by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans in London and less often by their counterparts in the American colonies.  The image testified to taste and gentility, suggesting that these qualities were transferable to consumers who purchased goods from Duyckinck.

This ornate border and the lists of goods it enclosed appeared in the New-York Journal regularly in the late 1760s and into the 1770s.  Duyckinck first published it on October 29, 1767.  Three years later, it became a familiar sight to subscribers and other readers of the New-York Journal.  Even as other advertisements cycled through that newspaper, many running for the standard four weeks specified in the colophon before being discontinued, Duyckinck’s rococo border was present for weeks and months, the copy updated but the visual image remaining the same.  Other advertisers, such as staymaker Richard Norris and shopkeeper John Keating, invested in advertising campaigns that extended over months rather than weeks.  Their notices often ran on the same page as Duyckinck’s advertisement, as was the case in the October 18, 1770, edition, but they did not have visual elements that made them instantly recognizable.  No matter which other advertisements appeared alongside Duyckinck’s notice, his attracted attention due its striking image.  Prospective customers did not have to read the advertisement to know that Duyckinck made an assortment of goods available for purchase.  The repetition of such a memorable woodcut over the course of several years was a marketing strategy in and of itself.

October 7

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

New-York Journal (October 4, 1770).

“There is no other Art so various perhaps and universal in its Influence, as Music.”

D. Propert and W. C. Hulett took very different approaches to promoting music lessons in the October 4, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. Hulett, who described himself as a “DANCING-MASTER,” advertised both his “public DANCING SCHOOL” and lessons for several instruments. Like many other dancing masters, he also provided fencing lessons for gentlemen.  Most of his advertisement focused on his work as a dancing master, but he did begin and end with information about music lessons.  The headline proclaimed, “The GUITTAR, TAUGHT By W. C. HULETT, DANCING-MASTER.”  In the final paragraph, he informed prospective pupils that also gave lessons for the violin and flute as well as the small sword.  Overall, Hulett’s notice resembled most advertisements for music lessons that appeared in American newspapers in the era of the American Revolution.

Propert, on the other hand, placed a very different advertisement, starting with the headline that introduced him to prospective students as “D. PROPERT, Professor of MUSIC.”  Nearly four times the length of Hulett’s notice, this advertisement included a short essay on how music benefited “Body and Mind” for those who heard it and those who performed it.  “Music,” Propert declared, “has ever been held in the highest Esteem, by the most exalted Characters, and finest Geniuses of almost every Age and Nation.”  Music had a sublime impact; it was “capable of raising the Soul into Dispositions for the most pleasing, useful and noble purposes.”  Propert extolled the influence of music in worship services, on the battlefield, and at funerals, banquets, and balls.  Music enhanced any activity “for it has Expression for all the various Passions and Emotions of the Heart and Soul.”  Making his pitch to those who considered themselves genteel or aspired to the ranks of gentility, Propert concluded his homily on music with an assertion that “this Art has obtained the Patronage, Regard and Praises of the greatest Personages” throughout recorded history.  He instructed prospective pupils that music “hath been the Delight and Study of every polished and ingenious National in all Climates and in all Ages.”

Propert’s advertisement and Hulett’s advertisement happened to appear one after the other, Propert’s first in the October 4 edition and Hulett’s first in the next issue on October 11.  Appearing alongside a competitor may have worked to Hulett’s benefit since Propert made a case for the virtues of learning to play an instrument that applied to Hulett’s lessons as well as his own.  According to the advertising rates in the colophon, Propert paid four times as much to run his advertisement.  Not only did the printer collect those revenues, Hulett accrued benefits as well in his quest for students for this “most pleasing of the liberal Arts.”  Propert’s innovation in marketing may have worked to the advantage of all music instructors in New York.

October 4

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

New-York Journal (October 4, 1770).

“They render the skin delicately white and soft.”

Amid advertisements for textiles and housewares. James Thompson marketed cosmetics in the New-York Journal in September and October 1770.  He informed readers that he had recently acquired a “Parcel of the Queen’s pearl wash balls” that would “render the skin delicately white and soft.”  For only three shillings, consumers could use this balm for “removing sun burning, freckles, roughness of the skin, and pimples.”  Thompson also presented this product as a restorative for their skin after contracting smallpox, recommending that they dissolve the “Queen’s pearl wash balls” in milk for maximum effectiveness.  Upon applying the mixture to the face, neck, arms, and hands, they would discover that it “heals the skin, takes off the redness, and prevents it from being pitted or marked.”  Thompson also declared that the product was “well known and esteemed by the nobility and gentry in Europe, particularly in England and France.”  He encouraged consumers to associate celebrities and cosmetics in the eighteenth century, anticipating the famous spokespeople, predominantly women, who would promote cosmetic lines and brands in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Thompson also stocked “La Cieur’s celebrated ointment for thickening and preserving the hair.”  He received his inventory “from the original warehouse.”  This ointment both “prevents the hair from falling off” and “when rubbed on bald places, with certainty promotes its growth.  In marketing the “Queen’s pearl wash balls” and “La Cieur’s celebrated ointment,” Thompson encouraged colonists to experience anxiety about their appearance and make purchases to alleviate them.  Richard Norris, a staymaker, adopted a similar strategy in his advertisements that ran for months in the New-York Journal.  He addressed “Ladies uneasy in their shapes,” especially “young ladies and growing misses.”  Thompson did not target female consumers exclusively, though women may have been his primary audience.  Norris, on the other hand, specifically sought to stoke anxiety among female consumers and promised them relief from their apprehensions about their appearance.  Such trends continue today, with marketers playing on the apprehensions of all consumers but targeting women much more intensively when it comes to cosmetics and other products intended to enhance their appearance and “correct” any shortcomings.

September 16

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

New-York Journal (September 13, 1770).

“The best Clubs, and the greatest Entertainments in this City, were at the above Tavern.”

Samuel Fraunces was one of the most illustrious tavernkeepers of his day.  His fame continues into the twenty-first century, due in part to the quality of the services he provided to guests in eighteenth-century America and in part to the continued operation of Fraunces Tavern as a restaurant and museum at the corner of Pearl Street and Broad Street in New York.  Fraunces advertised the various taverns he operated in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  More than a decade later, he hosted George Washington’s farewell to his officers at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

Fraunces ran an advertisement in the September 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal to announce the opening of his newest venture, the “QUEEN’s-HEAD TAVERN, Near the Exchange.”  He attempted to downplay the necessity of placing an advertisement even as he promoted the various services and amenities available at his tavern.  He emphasized that during his “many Years” of operating a tavern “the best Clubs” met at his establishment and experienced “the greatest Entertainments.”  Given the reputation he had built, Fraunces “flatters himself the Public are so well satisfied of his Ability to serve them, as to render the swelling of an Advertisement useless.”  Its only purpose, he declared, was to “assure his former Friends and the Public in general, that every Endeavour will be used to give them the highest Satisfaction.”

Yet other “swelling” embellished Fraunces’s advertisement as he attempted to attract patrons.  He noted renovations taking place; the tavern was “now fitting up in the most genteel and convenient Manner.”  He also inserted a nota bene to inform prospective customers that he provided take-out and delivery options for those “who live at a convenient Distance.”  Fraunces concluded with a manicule directing attention to a short note explaining that the “House at the Gardens will be duly attended as usual.”  He referred to another venture that he operated simultaneously, Vauxhall Garden, a restaurant, tavern, and pleasure garden named after the popular site in London.

Fraunces had indeed established his reputation as restaurateur and tavernkeeper before opening the Queen’s Head Tavern in the fall of 1770, yet he did not consider his past success sufficient for attracting patrons to his new enterprise.  Instead, he inserted an advertisement to spread the word about his newest venture, amplifying his reputation in the process.

September 9

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

New-York Journal (September 6, 1770).

“PETER VIANY.  CONTINUES to teach Fencing and Dancing.”

Peter Vianey taught dancing and fencing in New York in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  To attract students, he periodically placed newspaper advertisements in the New-York Journal.  His advertisements often appeared in September in advance of a new season of lessons to commence at his “public Dancing School” in October, though he placed notices on other occasions as well.  For prospective pupils who desired more personalized attention (or who were anxious about others potentially seeing them in awkward positions as they worked to master the steps), he also taught “Ladies and Gentleman in private either at his School or at their own Houses.”

Vianey inserted a relatively short advertisement into the September 6, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  His statement that he “CONTINUES to teach Fencing and Dancing” suggests that he expected that many residents of New York were already familiar with his services.  It was a very different tone than he took two years earlier when his advertisement included a short introduction and three additional paragraphs.  The first announced the opening of his school in October, described the dances he taught, listed his fees, and offered private lessons.  The second emphasized the quality of instruction.  Vianey proclaimed that he taught “in the Style of the best Masters in Europe.”  His methods were so effective that the results were already “discoverable in his Scholars” even though “none of them have yet had Time to be perfected in their Minuets.”  It was the final paragraph, however, that was the most important.  In it, Vianey addressed gossip and a case of mistaken identity.  “Having been informed,” he stated, “that he has been mistaken for a Dancing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago, he takes Liberty to inform those who are acquainted with him, that he never was in this Country, till the Year 1764.”  He further asserted that “all who know him” could “testify that his Conduct has ever been regular and unexceptionable.”  Vianey sought to manage his reputation in the wake of reports that confused him with another dancing master.  Given that teaching dancing often required being in close physical proximity with his students, even touching them as they danced together and he demonstrated the steps, Vianey needed to establish that he was beyond reproach in order to protect his livelihood.

Apparently, Vianey successfully rehabilitated his reputation after placing his advertisement in 1768.  In subsequent advertisements, including the one placed in advance of a new season of lessons starting in October 1770, he did not mention further difficulties, nor was it in his interest to remind readers of gossip he wished to put behind him.  That he continued to reside in New York, offer lessons, and place advertisements testified to his success in overcoming the gossip and suspicions directed at him.