November 9

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

Nov 9 - Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (November 9, 1769).

“The Whole of which were imported by himself before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”

William Greenleaf’s advertisement in the November 9, 1769, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter looked much like others that promoted consumer goods. Extending half a column, it listed a vast assortment of items available at his shop, everything from “Silk & worsted Sagathies” to “Ivory, Bone, & Ebony Fans” to “Necklaces and Earings of various sorts” to Persia Carpets three yards square.” In addition to its celebration of consumer culture and encouragement for colonists to acquire more goods, Greenleaf’s advertisement also addressed the politics of the day. The shopkeeper assured the entire community that his entire inventory had been “imported by himself before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.” In so doing, he protected his reputation and signaled to prospective customers that they could buy his wares without compromising their political principles.

When it came to advertising textiles and accessories, the bulk of Greenleaf’s merchandise, most merchants and shopkeepers emphasized how recently their goods had arrived in the colonies. “Just Imported” implied that these items represented the latest fashions from London and other English cities. In 1769, however, this popular appeal no longer possessed its usual power to entice prospective customers. New merchandise was politically problematic merchandise. The merchants and traders of Boston and other towns in Massachusetts adopted nonimportation agreements to protest the duties Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea. If Parliament intended to tax those items, then colonists resolved not to import an even greater array of goods from Britain. The goods that merchants and shopkeepers stocked and sold possessed political significance based on when those items arrived in the colonies.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, colonists observed the commercial practices of their friends, neighbors, and other members of their communities. Greenleaf realized that all merchants and shopkeepers were under scrutiny to detect if they violated the nonimportation agreement. Committees investigated suspected violations and published names and accounts of their actions in newspapers, alerting consumers not to do business with them and warning others to abide by the agreement. In such an environment, Greenleaf considered it imperative to assert that he sold merchandise that did not breach the nonimportation agreement. In his business practices, he expressed a commitment to the patriot cause.

November 6

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

Nov 6 - 11:6:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (November 6, 1769).

“This Work will be committed to the Press, when American Paper can be procured.”

An advertisement for “A REPLY to Dr. Chandler’s ‘Appeal defended’ … By CHARLES CHAUNCY, D.D. Pastor of the First Church in Boston” appeared in the November 6, 1769 edition of the Boston-Gazette. Rather than inviting readers to purchase copies already in stock or encouraging subscribers to reserve their copies in advance, this advertisement stated that the book was “Ready for the PRESS.” Those involved in publishing it had temporarily halted production, noting that “This Work will be committed to the Press, when American Paper can be procured, which it is hoped will be very soon.”

The book did eventually go to press, “Printed by Daniel Kneeland, opposite the probate-office, in Queen-Street, for Thomas Leverett, in Corn-Hill” in 1770. It took Kneeland and Leverett several months to acquire the “American Paper” they desired for this publication. Why insist on paper made in the colonies? The Townshend Acts were in effect, imposing duties on several imported items, including glass, tea, lead, paint, … and paper. Printers and other colonists avoided incurring the additional expense, but they also took a principled stand against the despised legislation. In Boston and other towns throughout Massachusetts, colonists adopted nonimportation agreements, refusing to import a vast array of goods as a means of economic protest to achieve political goals. Many simultaneously vowed to encourage “domestic manufactures” by producing goods in the colonies and consuming them as preferred alternatives to imported wares. It became impossible to overlook the politics of commerce and consumption in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

Advertisements contributed to the public discourse about the benefits of nonimportation and the virtues of domestic manufactures. The frequency of advertisements that advanced “Buy American” appeals increased, especially in Boston’s newspapers, as the boycotts of goods imported from Britain continued. This advertisement for a book “Ready for the PRESS” but not yet printed was part of that movement. It attempted to incite interest in both the contents of the book and its production, placing a premium on “American Paper.” That production temporarily halted due to patriotic considerations increased the visibility of a product that was not yet available in the colonial marketplace.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:30:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 30, 1769).

“VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON.”

Advertising increasingly took on a political valence during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Advertisers made political arguments about which goods and services to purchase, encouraging colonists to support “domestic manufactures” and abide by nonimportation agreements intended to exert economic pressure to achieve political goals. Some advertisements included commentary on current events, blurring the line between advertisements and editorials.

Other advertisements sometimes delivered news to colonists. Consider an advertisement for a pamphlet that appeared in the October 30, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. Patriot printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill announced that they has “Just Published … AN APPEAL TO THE WORLD; OR A VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON,” a pamphlet historians attribute to Sam Adams. The pamphlet included “certain Letters and Memorials, written by Governor Bernard, General Gage, Commodore Hood, the Commissions of the American Board of Customs, and others” as well as “RESOLVES” from “a Meeting of the Town of BOSTON.” The lengthy advertisement concluded with an excerpt “From the APPEAL to the WORLD, Page 33.” Edes and Gill gave prospective customers a preview of the contents of the pamphlet in order to entice them to purchase their own copies.

Even if readers did not buy the pamphlet, the advertisement still delivered news to them. Indeed, it looked much more like a news item than an advertisement, especially given its placement in the October 30 edition of the Boston-Gazette. It appeared on the first page, nestled between news items, spilling over from the first column into the second. Most of the advertising for that issue ran on the third and fourth pages. Edes and Gill exercised their prerogative as printers of the Boston-Gazette to give the advertisement a privileged place in their own newspaper. Yet they were not the only printers to do so. The same advertisement, including the “RESOLVES” and the excerpt from the pamphlet, ran on the first page of the Boston Evening-Post on the same day. It was also nestled between news items and spilled over from one column to the next, while most of the advertising for that newspaper also ran on the third and fourth pages. T. and J. Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, gave the advertisement the same privileged place in their own newspaper, further blurring the line between advertising and news. Even though they were rivals when it came to selling newspapers, they had an affinity when it came to politics. The Fleets used the advertisement to deliver news to their readers while simultaneously presenting an opportunity to become even better informed by purchasing the pamphlet. The worlds of commerce and politics became even more firmly enmeshed as printers and advertisers deployed advertising for partisan purposes during the era of the American Revolution.

October 26

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

Oct 26 - 10:26:1769 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (October 26, 1769).

“Printed in AMERICA.”

John Mein was an ardent Tory. In the late 1760s, he and John Fleeming published the Boston Chronicle, one of the most significant Loyalist newspapers. Merrill Jensen describes the Boston Chronicle as “the handsomest newspaper in America” but “also one of the most aggressive.”[1] Mein and Fleeming made it their mission to contradict and oppose the narrative promulgated by patriot printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill in the Boston-Gazette. Mein opposed the nonimportation agreements ratified by Boston’s merchants in response to Parliament imposing duties on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea. Yet when it came to marketing the wares available at his London Book Store on King Street, Mein sometimes adopted a strategy more often associated with patriots who encouraged resistance to the abuses perpetrated by Parliament. In an advertisement that extended an entire column in the October 26, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle, Mein proclaimed that he sold books “Printed in AMERICA.” In this instance, the printer and bookseller managed to separate business and politics, hoping to increase the appeal of more than a dozen titles, including several “Entertaining Books for Children,” by making a “Buy American” appeal to consumers.

In that same issue of the Boston Chronicle, Mein and Fleeming published “Outlines OF THE Characters of some who are thought to be ‘WELL DISPOSED.’” As Jensen explains, the “Well Disposed” was “a name first used by the popular leaders to describe themselves, but which their enemies had turned into a gibe.”[2] The character sketches included “Johnny Dupe, Esq; alias the Milch-Cow of the “Well Disposed” (John Hancock), “Samuel the Publican, alias The Psalm Si[ng]er” (Samuel Adams), “Counsellor Muddlehead, alias Jemmy with the Maiden Nose” (James Otis), and “The Lean Apothecary” (Joseph Warren). Jensen notes, “There were many other nicknames which contemporaries doubtless recognized.” These insults created such an uproar that Mein soon departed from Boston in fear of his life. A mob attacked him, but Mein managed to escape, first hiding in the attic of a guardhouse and eventually disguising himself as a soldier and fleeing to a British warship in the harbor. From there he sailed to England, only to discover that “London booksellers to whom he owed money had given power of attorney to John Hancock to collect from his property in Boston.”[3] On Hancock’s suggestion, Mein was jailed for debt.

Mein’s proclamation that he sold books “Printed in AMERICA” had a political valence, but the politics of the marketing appeal did not necessarily match his own politics. Instead, he appropriated a marketing strategy that resonated with prospective customers rather than reflected his own partisan position. His editorials made clear where he stood when it came to current events and the relationship between the colonies and Britain, but that did not prevent him from making a “Buy American” argument in the service of selling of wares.

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[1] Merrill Jensen, The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763-1776 (Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing, 1968, 2004), 360.

[2] Jensen, Founding of a Nation, 361.

[3] Jensen, Founding of a Nation, 362.

October 19

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

Oct 19 - 10:19:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 19, 1769).

“AMERICAN PAPER HANGINGS, MANUFACTURED in Philadelphia.”

Like many other advertisers, Plunket Fleeson, an upholsterer, launched a “Buy American” campaign in the late 1760s. With increasing frequency, advertisers encouraged their fellow colonists to practice politics in the marketplace as the imperial crisis intensified. The Townshend Act imposed duties on certain imported goods, including glass, lead, paint, tea, and paper. In response, merchants and shopkeepers subscribed to nonimportation agreements, seeking to exert economic pressure on British merchants and suppliers to intervene on their behalf with Parliament. At the same time that nonimportation agreements went into effect, many colonists advocated for “domestic manufactures” as alternatives to imported goods; buying items made in the colonies simultaneously helped to correct a trade imbalance, employed local workers, and made a political statement.

Fleeson joined the chorus of advertisers who encouraged consumers to consider the political ramifications of the purchases they made. In an advertisement in the October 19, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he promoted “AMERICAN PAPER HANGINGS, MANUFACTURED in Philadelphia.” His paper hangings (or wallpaper) rivaled the products that came from England. He described them as “not inferior to those generally imported, and as low in price.” Although many advertisers made similar arguments about their wares and expected prospective customers to make the right connections to current events on their own, Fleeson explicitly spelled out the stakes for readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette. “[A]s there is a considerable duty imposed on paper hangings imported her,” he explained, “it cannot be doubted, but that every one among us, who wishes prosperity to America, will give a preference to our own manufacturers.” Doing so did not have to be a sacrifice. Fleeson underscored that his paper hangings were “equally good and cheap” compared to imported paper hangings. Purchasing them did not put consumers at a disadvantage. They did not pay more, nor did they acquire inferior merchandise. That being the case, there was no reason not to “give a preference to our own manufacture” and aid the American cause in doing so.

Fleeson also listed a variety of other goods available at his upholstery shop, but devoted half of his advertisement to making a political argument about the meaning associated with the “AMERICAN PAPER HANGINGS” he sold at his shop on Chestnut Street. He was one of many advertisers in the late 1760s and early 1770s who aimed to convince prospective customers that their decisions about consumer goods were imbued with political significance.

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For a case study on advertisements for paper hangings in the 1760s through the 1780s, see Carl Robert Keyes, “A Revolution in Advertising: ‘Buy American’ Campaigns in the Late Eighteenth Century,” in Creating Advertising Culture: Beginnings to the 1930s, vol. 1, We Are What We Sell: How Advertising Shapes American Life … And Always Has, ed. Danielle Sarver Coombs and Bob Batchelor (Praeger, 2014), 1-25.

October 12

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

Oct 12 - 10:12:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 12 1769).

“We have suffered much by the generous Sacrifice of the Mercantile Interest to the public Freedom and Happiness.”

This “ADVERTISEMENT” by John Barrett and Sons most likely was not a paid notice but rather a letter to the editor of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Either the Barretts or the printer used the word “advertisement” to mean a notification or a written statement calling attention to something, common usage in the eighteenth-century but chiefly historical today. Unlike most paid notices that ran for multiple weeks, this “ADVERTISEMENT” appeared only once, suggesting that the printer did indeed insert it as an article of interest for readers. Still, this “ADVERTISEMENT” appeared immediately above a paid notice for consumer goods. It testifies to some of the discourse that animated the appeals made in paid notices that promoted consumer goods and services.

Barrett and Sons sought to address rumors that dogged their business in the midst of the nonimportation agreement. Others had “maliciously reported” that they engaged in price gouging, charging much more than they did “before the general Non-Importation” to take advantage of the perceived scarcity of goods. The Barretts assured readers, both their customers and the general public, that they had “invariably, on the same Terms” sold their wares at the same prices “as we have done for three Years last past.” Just as significantly, they had accepted the ramifications to their business for doing so, indicating that they had “suffered much by the generous Sacrifice of the Mercantile Interest to the public Freedom and Happiness.” They pledged to continue “selling at the same low Rates” as to support the cause. The prospects for their business and their personal interests mattered less than virtuously participating in the nonimportation agreement for the benefit of all colonists.

That being the case, Barrett and Sons addressed a second rumor that accused them of ordering surplus stock ahead of the nonimportation agreement going into effect in order to have plenty of merchandise to continue selling to colonial consumers. The Barretts argued that was exactly the opposite of what happened: the “Rumour is as groundless as it is injurious.” Instead, in June 1768, two months before the merchants of Boston signed the nonimportation agreement, Barrett and Sons cancelled their orders for fall goods. They feared that the merchants would not reach agreement on nonimportation and, if that happened, the general public would then assume adopt nonconsumption as an alternative strategy, refusing to purchase imported goods. The Barretts expected that a broad nonconsumption movement by colonists would sway merchants, convincing them to overcome their hesitation about nonimportation. That had not become necessary, but Barrett and Sons informed the public (and prospective customers) that they envisioned the possibility of such a plan going into effect.

The politics of commerce and consumption tinged every word in this “ADVERTISEMENT” by Barrett and Sons. They defended their reputation to the general public, presenting a narrative of their own actions in relation to nonimportation and nonconsumption intended to enhance, rather than merely rehabilitate, their standing in the community. They sought to convince their fellow colonists that they were savvy but not unscrupulous traders who simultaneously tended their own business interests and promoted the public good … and when the two came into conflict, they opted for the public good over their own enterprises. Civic virtue imbued the decisions they made about their business.

September 26

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

Sep 26 - 9:26:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 26, 1769).

“A single article of which has not been imported since last year.”

As summer turned to fall in 1769, Nathan Frazier of Andover placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to inform prospective customers that he stocked “a very good assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS” that he sold both wholesale and retail. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he provided an extensive list of his merchandise as a means of demonstrating the many choices available to consumers. This catalog consisted primarily of textiles and accessories (everything from “Devonshire and Yorkshire kerseys and plains” to “taffaties and Persians of all colours” to “a genteel assortment of ribbons”), but Frazier also carried a “very large assortment of glass, delph and stone ware” and a “general assortment of hard ware goods” imported from London. Such advertisements became a familiar part of the consumer revolution in the middle of the eighteenth century.

Most such advertisements, however, emphasized that imported goods had only just arrived in the colonies, that they were fresh from London and other English ports. Merchants and shopkeepers usually promoted only the newest merchandise, tacitly assuring prospective customers the latest fashions rather than leftovers that consumers previously refused to purchase. Frazier did not adopt that approach in his advertisement, and with good reason. He framed his list of goods with assurances that “a single article of which has not been imported since last year,” which meant that his entire inventory had been in his possession for at least nine months and perhaps even longer. These were not the newest goods presented to customers as soon as they became available, but making that appeal was not politically viable in the fall of 1769. Colonists in Boston and other towns in Massachusetts adopted nonimportation agreements that commenced on January 1, 1769. They deployed this form of economic resistance to protest an imbalance of trade with Britain and, especially, the taxes on certain imported goods that Parliament imposed in the Townshend Acts. Boycotting goods imported from Britain previously contributed to repealing the Stamp Act. Colonists hoped a new round of nonimportation agreements would have a similar effect with the Townshend Acts.

Nonimportation may have been an opportunity rather than a sacrifice for Frazier and other merchants and shopkeepers. Imported goods glutted the American market. Frazier’s lengthy list of merchandise suggests he had surplus goods that he had not managed to sell for the better part of a year. Adhering to the nonimportation agreement made a virtue of selling goods that lingered on shelves and in storerooms for some time, goods that consumers might otherwise not have even considered purchasing. The politics of the periods sometimes provided convenient cover for merchants and shopkeepers to rid themselves of goods they had difficulty selling in a crowded marketplace.

September 21

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

Sep 21 - 9:21:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (September 21, 1769).
“Goods were shipp’d in London for Boston, last September & October.”

In the late 1760s several vendue masters (or auctioneers) operated in Boston and regularly advertised in the city’s many newspapers. John Gerrish ran the “Public Vendue-Office” in the North End, where he held auctions on Tuesdays. In addition to putting items up for bid, Gerrish also sold some items by wholesale and retail, including an array of goods that he advertised in the September 21, 1769, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. These included textiles, stockings, pins, “and a great Variety of other Articles, too many to be here enumerated.”

Gerrish made a point of informing “his Friends, Country Gentlemen, Shopkeepers, Traders,” and anyone else reading his advertisement that the goods he offered for sale had been imported via London “last September & October.” They arrived a year earlier! Under most circumstances merchants, shopkeepers, and other traders avoided attaching any sort of age to inventory they had not just received on the latest ships from London and other English ports. Indeed, many advertisements for consumer goods incorporated standard language in the first lines, like “just imported,” before even listing the merchandise. This signaled to prospective customers that they could choose from among the most current fashions rather than sorting through leftovers which other shoppers passed over and left on the shelves for considerable amounts of time.

The age of Gerrish’s “very large Assortment of Goods, and Merchandize,” however, became a virtue as fall arrived in 1769. Items “shipp’d in London for Boston, last September & October” had been ordered before the nonimportation agreement adopted by merchants, shopkeepers, and other residents of Boston went into effect. As a means of economic resistance to the taxes levied in the Townshend Acts, colonists in Massachusetts and elsewhere vowed not to import goods from England. They hoped to disrupt trade so significantly that Parliament could not help but take notice, especially if English merchants pressured for repeal of the odious measures. That Gerrish’s goods arrived in Boston “last September & October” was not trivial. It was an important detail that kept the auctioneer in the good graces of his fellow colonist while giving them permission to purchase his wares without violating the terms of the nonimportation agreement.

September 17

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

Sep 17 - 9:14:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 17, 1769).

“As cheap … as he did before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.”

According to an advertisement he inserted in the September 14, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal, Peter T. Curtenius sold a vast assortment of merchandise at his shop “At the Sign of the Golden Anvil.” He listed an array of textiles, accessories, and accouterments among “many other Articles in the Dry-Good Way,” but he also stocked housewares, hardware, and even a few books and grocery items. In many ways, his lengthy list of the wares he made available resembled other advertisements emphasizing consumer choice that had been running in American newspapers for the better part of two decades.

Yet Curtenius’s advertisement was also the product of a particular moment. It opened and closed with a nod to the politics of the period. In 1769 New Yorkers, like many other colonists, participated in a nonimportation agreement as an economic protest against the taxes levied on imported paper, tea, glass, and other items by the Townshend Acts. Before he even described his inventory to prospective customers, Curtenius pledged that he set prices “as cheap … as he did before the Non-Importation Agreement took Place.” In other words, the shopkeeper did not take advantage of the situation to engage in price gouging. Curtenius suggested that as supply of imported goods dwindled that colonists could expect prices to rise, but he pledged to shield his customers from that aspect of the market. This may not have been solely an altruistic sacrifice on his part if he happened to have surplus goods in stock and welcomed an opportunity to rid himself of merchandise that had been taking too long to sell before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.

Curtenius concluded his advertisement with a list of “Goods made at the New-York Air Furnace,” including pots, kettles, and stoves of various sorts. As an alternative to importing goods from Britain, discontented colonists embraced “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies. Instead of consuming imported wares, they encouraged the conspicuous consumption of items made locally. The proprietors of the New-York Air Furnace frequently advertised their products, as did shopkeepers like Curtenius who intermixed politics and commerce. Curtenius assured prospective customers of the quality of the items produced at the New-York Air Furnace, asserting that the hammers in particular “have been found on Proof, to be superior to English Hammers.”

At a glance, the format of Curtenius’s advertisement did not look different from others that regularly appeared in the New-York Journal and other newspapers published throughout the colonies. On closer inspection, however, colonists discovered that Curtenius engaged with the politics of the imperial crisis as a means of marketing his merchandise. He promised that he did not inflate his prices while simultaneously offering consumers alternatives to some of the items they previously imported.

August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:21:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 21, 1769).

“These are Manufactures America can have within herself.”

When George Traile advertised his “Manufactory of Snuff and Tobacco” in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in August 1769, he provided a short history of his business. Formerly located in New Rochelle, the manufactory had recently moved “to the Snuff Mills in the Bowery” in New York. Traile promoted the quality of his snuff, but he also had an eye for current tastes that ventured far beyond the American colonies. He proclaimed that he made and sold “all Sorts of Rappee now in Vogue in Great-Britain and Ireland, France and Holland.” Local consumers could acquire the varieties of snuff currently in fashion in some of the most cosmopolitan places in the Atlantic world without having to import it!

That assertion served as the backbone of Traile’s advertisement. After making brief comments about quality and fashion, he devoted most of his advertisement to a lesson in politics. He likely assumed this strategy would resonate with colonists currently participating in nonimportation agreements as economic acts of resistance to the taxes on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea levied by the Townshend Acts. As far as his Traile’s tobacco was concerned, “These are Manufactures America can have within herself, as good and as cheap as they can be imported.” Customers did not need to sacrifice quality or pay higher prices when they allowed politics to guide their purchases.

Traile charged true patriots with a duty to buy his snuff: “the Encouragement of this Branch of Business in the Colonies, will be found an Object highly worth the Attention of every real Patriot.” Furthermore, “as the popular Prejudices to the Snuff of this Country, are pretty much subsided all over the Colonies, he flatters himself he will meet with that Encouragement the Quality of his Commodities shall deserve, from every well Wisher to America.” In other words, colonists near and far preferred snuff produced in the colonies, provided it was quality merchandise, so anybody who had the best interests of the colonies at heart should eagerly purchase Traile’s snuff since he endeavored to provide the best product available. This was not an insignificant matter. Traile asked prospective customers who counted themselves among “the thinking Part of Mankind” to consider the annual expenses for snuff incurred by “Three Millions of People now computed to be upon this Continent.” Traile presented a vision of each consumer acting separately yet contributing to a collective action in defense of the rights and liberties of the colonies. He encouraged concerned colonists to practice politics through their participating in the marketplace, purchasing the right tobacco from his manufactory in New York City.