July 27

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 27, 1772).

“J. BAILEY. Cutler. from Sheffield.”

In the early 1770s, cutlers in New York competed with each other not only for customers but also in producing elaborate images to accompany their advertisements in the city’s newspapers.  It began in the spring of 1771 with Bailey and Youle, “Cutlers for Sheffield,” running an advertisement with a woodcut depicting more than a dozen items made and sold at their shop, enhancing their list of “surgeons instruments, … knives, razors, shears, and scissors.”  Not long after, Richard Sause followed their lead with an advertisement featuring a woodcut depicting more than a dozen items available at his shop.  Two items, a knife and a sword, had his name on them, suggesting that he marked his wares so consumers would recall who produced them and, if satisfied with the quality and durability, buy from him again.  In that regard, Sause improved on the image distributed by Bailey and Youle, although his competitors may have also marked their cutlery even if the woodcut in the newspaper did not indicate that was the case.

When Bailey and Youle dissolved their partnership a year later, Youle retained the woodcut and modified it to remove any reference to his former associate.  Not long after Youle disseminated that image in the public prints, Lucas and Shephard, WHITESMITHS and CUTLERS, From BIRMINGHAM and SHEFFIELD,” published their own advertisement with a woodcut showcasing many of the items they made and sold.  Bailey apparently considered that strategy effective for attracting customers (or at least not losing them to his competitors) because he devised his own woodcut that enclosed “J. BAILEY.  Cutler.  from Sheffield” and several cutlery items within a decorative border.  The copy of his advertisement gave his location as “the Sign of the Cross Swords, the Corner House opposite the Merchant’s Coffee-House.”  A pair of crossed swords appeared at the center of the woodcut.  A second woodcut appeared at the end of the advertisement, under a nota bene that advised that Bailey “has now for sale fullers shears.”  The cutler used the additional image to distinguish his notice from those of his competitors.  All three advertisements ran in the July 27, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (Bailey’s on the third page, Youle’s on the first page of the supplement, and Lucas and Shephard’s on the second page of the supplement).  Given the prevalence of images in advertisements placed by his competitors, Bailey may have considered it imperative to get his own woodcut depicting his wares into circulation among consumers in New York.

Left: New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 4, 1771); Right: Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 27, 1772).

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).