February 5

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

New-York Journal (February 2, 1769).

“PETER VIANEY, Fencing and Dancing Master.”

Peter Vianey’s advertisement that ran in the New-York Journal for four weeks in late January and early February 1769 was notable for its brevity. The fencing and dancing master announced that he had recovered from an illness that had forced him to decline teaching for three weeks. Now that he was feeling better, he intended to provide lessons once again, both public and private to suit the desires of his clients.

The tone of this notice differed significantly from the one he had placed in the same newspaper just a few months earlier. In September 1768, he composed a lengthier notice to inform readers that he “CONTINUES to teach Music, Fencing and Dancing.” He listed his rates and described his satisfied pupils. Finally, he broached the most important – an uncomfortable – topic that he needed to address in his advertisement, an attack on his reputation. He lamented that he had been “mistaken for a Dancing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago.” He explained that he had not even resided in the colonies that the time the offenses had occurred. Furthermore, he called on “all who know him … to testify that his conduct has ever been regular and unexceptionable.” Dancing masters were often suspect figures in early America, in part because many tended to be itinerant. That prevented them from establishing reputations based on years of interacting with members of the community. In addition, their occupation required them to come into close physical contact with their pupils, an especially problematic situation when teaching pupils of the opposite sex. Finally, dancing masters taught skills that colonists needed to demonstrate their own status and gentility, yet the instructors were not themselves from among the ranks of the genteel. This slippage often raised suspicions about their character. Even if Vianey had always comported himself with utmost decorum, his previous advertisement demonstrated that he was susceptible to rumors and accusations that could disrupt or even terminate his ability to teach in the local market.

Yet his shorter advertisement indicated that he believed he had rehabilitated his reputation. Except for the short break caused by his illness, he had returned to offering lessons. Perhaps the advertisement defending his honor had been effective. Perhaps friends, acquaintances, and students heeded his call to testify to his good character. Within a few months, he no longer felt much need to do much marketing at all. He merely announced that he would soon return to teaching after a brief hiatus due to an illness: no descriptions of the dance he taught and no commentary on his skills or character. Apparently, Vianey believed all of that had been settled satisfactorily among the public.

January 12

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

New-York Journal (January 12, 1769)

“[No Room for News. Advertisements left out will be in our next.]”

John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, faced a dilemma when he prepared the January 12, 1769, edition to go to press. He had too much content for the standard four-page issue. A short notice at the bottom of the final column on the third page advised readers that there was “[No Room for News. Advertisements left out will be in our next.]”

Why place this notice on the third page instead of the last? Consider the mechanics of printing a four-page newspaper on a hand-operated press in eighteenth-century America. Minimizing the number of impressions reduced the amount of time required working at the press. To maximize efficiency, printers produced the standard four-page edition by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. This required setting type for the fourth and first pages to print simultaneously and then the second and third pages to print together. Compositors usually set the exterior pages first, in part because they included material that repeated from week to week, such as the masthead on the first page and the colophon and advertisements on the fourth page. The type for the third page often would have been the last set for the issue, explaining why Holt’s notice about not having enough space for all the news and advertisements appeared at the bottom of the final column of that page.

Still, Holt made additional efforts to serve his customers. A legal notice concerning James Cunningham, “an insolvent debtor,” that otherwise would have appeared among the advertisements instead ran along the right margin of the third page. It concerned a hearing that would take place on January 17, before publication of the next edition of the New-York Journal. If Holt wished to generate the advertising revenue, it was imperative to find a way to insert that advertisement in the January 12 issue. Printers sometimes ran short advertisements in the margins, rotating the text so it appeared perpendicular to the rest of the column. In most cases such advertisements ran in several columns, only a few lines each and the same width as the columns that ran the length of the entire page. Compositors used advertisements that already appeared in previous issues, transferring lines of type already set. The legal notice concerning Cunningham, however, had not previously appeared in the New-York Journal. It appeared as a short but wide paragraph that ran the length of the page.

Holt also issued a two-page Supplement to the New-York Journal. Except for the masthead, the first page consisted entirely of “The ANATOMIST, No. XIV,” the next installment in a series of essays that ran in the weekly supplement. The essay concluded on the following page, leaving space for some news (“JOURNAL of OCCURRENCES, continued,” with the dateline “BOSTON, December 10”) and two advertisements. One of those advertisements included a notation on the final line, “56 59,” to remind the compositor that the advertisement was to appear in issues 1356 through 1359. The January 12 edition and its supplement comprised issue 1358. Though he did not have sufficient space in the standard issue, Holt made room in the supplement to insert that advertisement.

As the January 12, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal demonstrates, colonial printers and compositors made creative choices in their efforts to circulate news and advertising to colonial readers and consumers. Even as he offered assurances to advertisers that their notices would indeed appear in the next issue, Holt finagled additional space that allowed some to circulate immediately rather than being delayed a week.

December 18

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

New-York Journal (December 15, 1768).

“Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers at New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charles-Town, South-Carolina.”

A subscription notice for publishing “THE WORKS OF THE CELEBRATED JOHN WILKES, Esq” appeared among the advertisements in the December 15, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Wilkes, a radical English politician and journalist considered a friend to American liberties, was widely recognized in the colonies, so much so that the publishers of the New-England Town and Country Almanack inserted his portrait as the frontispiece and emphasized its inclusion as part of their marketing efforts. News concerning Wilkes regularly appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies. As the imperial crisis unfolded, Wilkes became a hero to Americans who opposed Parliament’s attempts to tax and otherwise interfere in colonial affairs. Printers and booksellers sensed that a market for his collected works might exist, but it required proper cultivation.

Such was the purpose of the subscription notice. It deployed several strategies intended to incite demand. Among them, it constructed what Benedict Anderson has described as an “imagined community” of readers, a community drawn together through their engagement with the same printed materials despite members being geographically dispersed. The advertisement noted that “Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers at New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charles-Town, South-Carolina.” Readers of the New-York Journal who encountered this advertisement and purchased Wilkes’s works would participate in an endeavor that was more than merely local. They would join with others in faraway places, people they likely would never meet but who were exposed simultaneously to the same ideas and ideals through common acts of purchasing and reading Wilkes’s works. The notice indicated that there were “but a few Sets left unsubscribed for,” suggesting that the community was already vast and those who had not yet reserved their copies risked their own exclusion. To further evoke a common sense of identity, the subscription notice pledged that “The Paper for this Edition was manufactured, and all the Printing performed in this Country.” This was an American edition, produced by colonists for colonists from New England to the Lower South.

In marketing this three-volume set of Wilkes’s works, the publisher resorted to more than invoking the politics of the imperial crisis. This subscription notice sought to foster a sense of belonging among prospective subscribers, suggesting that they formed a community that transcended residence in one colony or another. That common identity gave colonists a shared political purpose, but it also facilitated selling books.

November 27

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

Nov 27 - 11:24:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 24, 1768).

He does not Doubt but their Cheapness will be sufficient Recommendation to Traders and Shop Keepers to become his Customers.”

Like many other advertisements in the New-York Journal and other newspapers published throughout the colonies, John Thurman’s notice listed “a large Assortment of Goods” that he imported and offered for sale. Shopkeepers who dealt directly with end-use consumers placed many of those advertisements, but merchants who sold wholesale placed similar notices. Advertisers sometimes made it clear whether they parted with their wares wholesale, retail, or both, but not always. Abeel and Vynack, for instance, explicitly stated that they sold “wholesale and retale,” but Edward Laight did not mention which methods he practiced. Laight was not alone. Many eighteenth-century newspaper notices did not indicate what types of buyers the advertisers sought, though that may have been considered unnecessary since many readers already would have been familiar enough with local merchants and shopkeepers to distinguish between them when perusing their advertisements.

Even under those circumstances, some advertisers did address particular sorts of customers, especially in the process of advancing other appeals intended to make their merchandise more attractive. Thurman, for instance, believed that the low prices he set for his goods “will be sufficient Recommendation to Traders and Shop Keepers to become his Customers.” He explained that he sold textiles, adornments, and other wares “at the lowest Rates.” He was able to do so because “he purchased the Goods himself from the Manufactories.” In other words, he bypassed English merchants, the middlemen notorious for passing along higher prices to colonial consumers. By dealing directly with the producers, Thurman kept prices down for both retailers and, ultimately, their customers.

Given the distribution of the New-York Journal and other colonial newspapers, advertisers like Thurman addressed “Traders and Shop Keepers” in towns and villages as well as retailers in busy port cities. Those who did not live in the vicinity of Thurman’s “Store in Wall-Street” in New York may not have been as familiar with his status as a wholesale rather than retailer. Making it clear that he sought customers who wished to buy in volume for resale may not have been necessary as far as his neighbors were concerned, but essential in cultivating a wider market for his merchandise. Explaining that he kept prices low by eliminating English merchants from the distribution chain may have made his wares more attractive to country “Traders and Shop Keepers” looking to acquire inventory from merchants in the city. Thurman certainly made more effort to entice them with his explanation of his supply chain than Abeel and Vynack did when they simply stated that “they prose selling reasonably, wholesale and retale.”

November 10

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

Nov 10 - 11:10:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 10, 1768).

“A Large and neat Assortment of Windsor Chairs.”

A woodcut depicting a Windsor chair dominated Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement in the Supplement to the New-York Journal published on November 10, 1768. In that regard, his advertisement deviated significantly from the vast majority of paid notices placed in newspapers throughout the colonies. Most advertisements consisted entirely of text unaccompanied by images, in part because woodcuts required an additional investment. Printers did provide some woodcuts that advertisers could insert in their notices, but they were limited to a narrow selection. The selection was usually limited to depictions of ships, houses, horses, slaves, and runaways (servants and slaves). They were used interchangeably. For instance, a real estate advertisement could incorporate any woodcut depicting a house; the details of the woodcut did not necessarily correspond to the description of the house offered in the copy.

When advertisers desired to include images that represented their shop signs or, as was the case with Hampton, their merchandise, they could not draw from stock images provided by printers. Instead, they incurred the additional expense of commissioning woodcuts that then belonged exclusively to them. Not only did those images not accompany any other advertisements in a particular publication, advertisers could collect them and submit them from the printing office and submit them for inclusion in advertisements they placed in competing newspapers.

Even though it appears to have been damaged as the result of repeated impressions on a hand-operated press, the woodcut depicting a Windsor chair in Hampton’s advertisement would have drawn attention. Except for the masthead, no images appeared in the standard issue of the New-York Journal distributed on November 10, 1768. The supplement included only two images, Hampston’s Windsor chair and the elaborate frame that enclosed Gerardus Duyckinck’s list of goods he sold “At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.” That frame incorporated both a looking glass and a druggist pot.

Some advertisements deployed typography or ornamental printing to distinguish them from others, yet they still consisted entirely of text and type. Including a woodcut helped some advertisers to even further differentiate their notices as a means of drawing attention to the goods and services they offered to prospective customers.

November 3

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

Nov 3 - 11:3:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (November 3, 1768).

“Circumstances may yet enable him to set one Day in Six apart to give Advice to indigent Persons, Gratis.”

John Coghill Knapp, “Attorney at Law,” was a familiar figure to colonists who read the New York newspapers in the 1760s. He frequently placed lengthy, chatty advertisements offering a variety of legal services. In November 1768 he inserted a new advertisement, one that extended half a column, in the New-York Journal. He proclaimed that he “WILL continue to give the most candid Opinion and Advice, in all Cases of Law or Equity, with such Reasons laid down in Support thereof, as fully to give the desired Satisfaction.” He drew up “Memorials, Remonstrances, or any Case” as well as “Writings and Conveyances of every Kind, from the smallest Agreement, to Deeds of the greatest Consequence.” Although he did not state it explicitly in this new advertisement, earlier notices made clear that “Conveyances of every Kind” included the buying and selling of enslaved men, women, and children. As he had done in previous advertisements, he promised “strict Secrecy, Integrity, and Dispatch” in serving all his clients no matter what kind of work they brought to his office.

In addition to those attributes particularly valued in an attorney, Knapp concluded by declaring that he had “some Hopes, Circumstances may yet enable him to set one Day in Six apart to give Advice to indigent Persons, Gratis.” He aspired to some day be in a position to provide free legal services to those who could not otherwise afford his fees, but he did not have the means to do so at the moment. The lawyer cleverly leveraged his best intentions, which testified to his character, to attract clients who could pay. He did so while simultaneously promoting his industriousness, indicating that he pursued his profession six days of every week. Just as he set the seventh day aside for worship, he desired to set the sixth day aside for altruism. That was only possible, however, if he earned enough throughout the rest of the week to support himself. Knapp suggested that he wanted to provide aid “to all indigent Persons,” but called on prospective clients to give him the opportunity to do so. By engaging his services, they indirectly contributed to a charitable enterprise. Knapp attempted to distinguish himself from other attorneys by deploying philanthropy as a marketing strategy.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:27:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (October 27, 1768).


John Holt’s newspaper lived up to the full name that appeared in the masthead: “THE NEW-YORK JOURNAL; OR, THE GENERAL ADVERTISER.” In many instances, Holt’s newspaper might better have been called an advertiser because it carried significantly more paid notices than news content.

Consider, for example, the October 27, 1768, edition. It consisted of the standard four-page issue created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Each page featured three columns. In addition, Holt distributed a four-page “SUPPLEMENT to the NEW-YORK JOURNAL OR GENERAL ADVERTISER.” Printed on a smaller sheet, each page had two columns of text the same width as those in the regular issue as well as a third column of text rotated such that it appeared perpendicular to the rest. The sheet was not wide enough to accommodate three columns, so the compositor devised a creative means of inserting advertisements using type already set for previous issues.

In the regular issue, advertising filled a significant amount of space: five of the twelve columns. News and other content, such as a table of the tides and a poet’s corner, accounted for the remaining columns. Advertising comprised an even greater proportion of the supplement. Only two columns of news appeared in it.

Those advertisements helped to sustain the New-York Journal. Like most eighteenth-century newspapers, its viability depended in large part on the revenues generated from advertising. Unlike most newspapers of the era, it listed the fees for advertisement in the colophon. “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth,” Holt specified, “are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.” A great many advertisements happened to be longer than they were wide. In such instances, Holt charged “in the same Proportion” for “larger Advertisements.” Peter T. Curtenius’s advertisement, twice as long as it was wide, would have cost ten shillings to set the type and run for four weeks and an additional two shillings for each additional insertion.

Not all colonial newspapers contained as many advertisements as the New-York Journal, but most did devote at least one-quarter of their space – and often much, much more – to paid notices. In that regard, newspapers were delivery mechanisms for advertising as much as for news, even in an era predating the rise of Madison Avenue and the modern advertising industry.

October 27

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

Oct 27 - 10:27:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 27, 1768).

“A grand set of Fire-works.”

The proprietors of Ranelagh Garden advertised leisure activities, especially fireworks displays, to colonists in New York and the surrounding area throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 1768. As October drew to a close, they announced plans for “a grand Set of Fire-Works” for “the last Time for the Season.” The proprietors planned to go out with a bang, literally, by presenting a program that included “a Variety of Pieces, several of them in an intire new and elegant Taste.” The “Pieces” did not consist primarily of projectiles launched into the air and visible from some distance. Instead, they amounted to an ornamental design created by igniting devices filled with gunpowder and other combustible chemicals.

The show took place in four stages, each with a display even grander the previous. Indeed, the descriptions of the “FIRST FIRING” through the “FOURTH FIRING” became increasingly elaborate. The first, for instance, presented a “beautiful Cascade of different Fires,” but the grand finale consisted of “An illuminated Statue of Harlequin flying on a Cord, with a Fire Tube in his right Hand, which will set fire to an Italian Candle, I the right Hand of a Figure representing Columbine; which Figure will communicate Fire to an Horizontal Wheel, by which she will be turned round, backwards and forwards several Times. The Whole to conclude with the Flight of Harlequin, to the Place from whence he came, and several large double and single Rockets.”

This entire program was a show that colonists would be disappointed to miss, not only because it happened to be the last of the season. Several of the pieces had not “ever been exhibited here before,” including “A new Piece representing a large and beautiful Palm Tree, with three large Chinese Fountains, on the Top curiously decorated.” One of the most elaborate displays depicted “a magnificent Pavilion, with three Fronts beautifully embellished, with Illuminations, Chinese and Venetian Fountains, Italian Candles, and Diamonds, with the Letters G.R. under an illuminated Crown.” The initials stood for George Rex, a Latin appellation for George III. Colonists participated in entertainments that honored the monarch even as they quarreled with Parliament over the quartering of troops in Boston and the imposition of taxes on paper, glass, and other goods throughout the colonies.

Among the many advertisements for consumer goods that crowded New York’s newspapers, other notices promoted leisure activities. They marketed experiences to colonists who had the time and the means to partake in them. Along with pleasure gardens, spas, and inns, the fireworks at Ranelagh Gardens were part of an incipient tourism and hospitality industry that emerged as part of the consumer revolution in the second half of the eighteenth century.

October 23

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

Oct 23 - 10:20:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 20, 1768).

Imported by him in the last Vessels from Europe.”

Peter T. Curtenius sold a variety of goods “At the Sign of the Golden Anvil” in New York in the fall of 1768. He advertised “a fresh Assortment” of textiles and hardware in the New-York Journal, advising that they had been “imported by him in the last Vessels from Europe.” The timing was important. The September 8 edition reported that the city’s merchants had met on August 27 to adopt a series of resolutions concerning imported goods. Until Parliament repealed duties on paper and glassware, the merchants vowed to cease trading with Great Britain … yet this nonimportation agreement had certain parameters. The merchants stated that they “will not send for … any other Goods than what we have already ordered.” This allowed for the arrival of merchandise that had been ordered prior to August 27 and the stockpiling of those goods. Merchants made a political statement while simultaneously stockpiling goods and minimizing the effects on their own finances.

Almost two months had passed when Curtenius’s advertisement appeared in the October 20 edition of the New-York Journal, but it had first been published three weeks earlier in the September 29 issue. Given the amount of time required for ships to transmit orders across the Atlantic and return with their cargoes, any items imported “in the last Vessels from Europe” at the end of September must have been ordered before merchants in New York adopted their nonimportation agreement.

Demonstrating that he had abided by those resolutions may have been particularly important for Curtenius. After listing his imported wares, he devoted a paragraph to goods “made at the New-York Air Furnace,” including “Pots, kettles, pie pans and baking ovens.” Even as he sold imported goods, Curtenius joined a movement that promoted production and consumption of “domestic manufactures” as a means of asserting greater economic independence from Great Britain. He would have undermined the political meaning of ironmongery produced in New York if he had marketed goods that departed from the provisions of the nonimportation agreement. To make those items even more attractive to prospective customers, Curtenius also underscored the quality of some of them. When it came to hammers made at the New-York Air Furnace, for instance, he asserted that they “have been found upon proof to be superior to the English hammers.” Customers did not have to sacrifice quality when choosing to buy products that made a political statement.

Elsewhere in the October 20 edition of the New-York Journal, “A CITIZEN’ lamented the landing of troops in Boston and other measures intended “to humble and molify our refactor, (or as they will be stiled) rebellious Spirits.” Colonists could hardly read advertisements for consumer goods and services without thinking of the political ramifications associated with their own habits and decisions concerning consumption. Even as Curtenius deployed formulaic language about the vessels that transported his goods, that language took on new meaning for readers in the wake of new developments in the realm of politics.

September 25

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

Sep 25 - 9:22:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 22, 1768).

“Too many other articles too tedious to mention.”

In an extensive advertisement that comprised almost an entire column in the September 22, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, Samuel Broome and Company emphasized the choices they offered consumers by listing hundreds of items. Organized into two neat columns with only one or two items listed on each line, this list of goods enumerated a vast array of merchandise “imported in the Mercury, from London, and the last vessels from Bristol, Liverpool, and Scotland.”

Visually, the design of the advertisement readily communicated the choices available to prospective customers, but Broome and Company relied on more than just copy filling so much space in the newspaper to make their point. For many items they provided descriptions that further testified to the variety readers could expect to encounter upon visiting their store “near the Merchant’s Coffee-House.” For instance, they stocked “Gilt, silver’d and metal buttons of all sorts.” After listing dozens of textiles, Broome and Company stated that they also stocked “a large assortment of other handsome figur’d stuffs.” They did not merely carry ribbons but instead “Ribbons a complete assortment.” Similarly, they carried “Rose blankets of all sorts.” They also emphasized the range of colors and prints for many of their fabrics and garments, including “Flannels of all colours,” “Tammies, durants, and callimancoes of all colours,” “Silk, hair and scarf twist of all colours,” and “Cotton checks of all sorts[,] Check linen handkerchiefs[, and] Printed blue and red do.” They used an eighteenth-century abbreviation for “ditto” – “do” – as they expanded on the variety of handkerchiefs. They did the same when they listed an assortment of hinges: “H and HL hinges[,] Table do[,] Dovetail do[,] Butts do[, and] Rais’d joint do.”

As if this was not enough to entice potential customers, Broome and Company invoked a familiar refrain to conclude their list: “With too many other articles too tedious to mention.” Despite all of the textiles, housewares, and hardware named in the advertisement, the partners suggested to consumers that they provided only a small preview of the many wares available at their store. Many of their competitors who advertised in the same issue of the New-York Journal also made appeals to consumer choice, but the combination of copy and design deployed by Broome and Company most effectively delivered the message to consumers in the city and its hinterlands.