August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:6:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 6, 1770).

“The FLYING MACHINE.”

Partners John Barnhill and John Mercereau took different approaches to adverting their stage wagon service between New York and Philadelphia in 1770.  Barnhill was responsible for operations in Philadelphia, while Mercereau ran his portion of the business in New York.  Presumably, each partner handled marketing in the city at his end of the circuit.

Barnhill placed a brief advertisement in the August 6, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Extending only three lines, it announced that “The FLYING MACHINE, kept by JOHN BARNHILL in Elm-street, sets out for New-York, on Mondays and Thursdays, and performs the Journey in TWO DAYS.”  A small manicule directed readers to the notice, but otherwise it was unadorned.  (The printing ornaments below the advertisement were part of the colophon that appeared in every issue rather decoration Barnhill selected for his advertisement.)  Barnhill seemingly relied on an established reputation for the stage wagon, emphasizing the speed of the journey.  In just “TWO DAYS” passengers and freight practically flew to New York like birds in the wonderous “FLYING MACHINE” that Barnhill maintained.

Aug 8 - 8:6:1770 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (August 6, 1770).

That same day, Mercereau placed a much more lavish advertisement in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy.  It featured a woodcut depicting a covered wagon drawn by two horses.  A driver wielded a whip encouraged even greater speed, enhancing the image of horses and wagon in motion.  The woodcut occupied one-third of the space of the advertisement.  Except for the masthead and an image of a ship in another advertisement, this was the only image in that issue of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy.  As a result, it likely attracted even greater attention to Mercereau’s advertisement.  (Absent other evidence, it would be tempting to assume that Mercereau made an additional investment to commission a unique woodcut to represent his business, but earlier in the year a competitor used a nearly identical image on the same page as Mercereau’s advertisement.  The presence of both suggests that they were lesser-used stock images that belonged to the printer, not unlike images of ships, houses, horses, and enslaved people.  See the July 23 and 30 editions.)

In the advertising copy, Mercereau acknowledged his partner “in Elm Street, in Philadelphia” and listed his sign, “the New Blazing-Star,” near New York as his address.  Like Barnhill, he conjured up impressions of speed, but with a blazing star or comet rather than a flying machine.  Mercereau provided a much more extensive overview of the schedule.  The stage wagons left both Philadelphia and Powles Hook Ferry across the river from New York at sunrise on Mondays and Thursdays.  They met at Princeton in the evening.  The following morning, the drivers exchanged passengers and freight before returning to their respective cities.  With that schedule in mind, Mercereau assured prospective clients that it was “very safe for any Person to send Goods” because with only two drivers “they may exchange their Goods without any Mistake” at the only stop along the route.  He also stressed that a round trip took only five days: two days to get to Philadelphia, then “two Nights and one Day to do their Business in” Philadelphia, and finally two days to return to New York.

Mercereau also promoted the “best of Waggons,” the “sober Drivers,” and “four Setts of fresh Horses” that made the journey comfortable, safe, and speedy for passengers and freight.  Furthermore, he promised that “this Road is much the shortest” between New York and Philadelphia.  He also listed the prices so prospective clients could determine the value for themselves.

Why did Barnhill and Mercereau take such different approaches to advertising their shared enterprise in Philadelphia’s newspapers and New York’s newspapers?  Perhaps Barnhill established a more robust clientele in Philadelphia than Mercereau had managed in New York.  No matter the reason, the advertisements placed in both cities provide greater detail for understanding the operations in each city.

December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:4:1769 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (December 4, 1769).

“Stage-Waggons.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers featured few visual images. Many had some sort of device in the masthead, but usually delivered the news unadorned. Advertisements sometimes included images, but those were the exception rather than the rule. Those that did have woodcuts relied on stock images that belonged to the printer, primarily ships for notices about vessels preparing to depart, horses for advertisements about breeding, houses for real estate notices, and men or women fleeing for advertisements about apprentices and indentured servants who ran away or enslaved people who escaped. Such woodcuts were used interchangeably for advertisements from the appropriate genre. Other images that accompanied advertisements usually appeared because advertisers commissioned a woodcut specific to their business, either replicating their shop signs or depicting their most notable products.

When Joseph Crane and Josiah F. Davenport turned to the pages of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy to advertise the stagecoach service they operated between New York and Philadelphia, they included a woodcut depicting a team of horses pulling a covered wagon. This was not one of the standard stock images, suggesting that Crane and Davenport had commissioned it for exclusive use in their advertisements. However, in their advertisements for “Stage-Waggons” that ran between New York and Philadelphia, John Mercereau and John Barnhill published what appeared to be the same image. This was not merely a case of using the woodcut in an advertisement that appeared on one page and then using it again in another advertisement on a page printed on the other side of the sheet. In the December 4, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, Crane and Davenport’s advertisement featuring the woodcut ran on the same page as Mercereau and Barnhill’s advertisement featuring the woodcut. They had to have been printed simultaneously, indicating that James Parker, the printer, possessed more than one woodcut depicting horses pulling wagons, just as he had multiple woodcuts of ships and houses. It seems unlikely that Crane and Davenport or Mercereau and Barnhill would have commissioned a woodcut that looked so nearly identical to one used by a competitor as to be indistinguishable. Apparently Parker’s collection of stock images was at least a little bit larger than the frequent reiteration of the most common woodcuts suggested. That did not, however, significantly alter the frequency of visual images accompanying either news or advertising in his newspaper. His publication, like other colonial newspapers, consisted almost exclusively of text and a limited number of stock images. That made any visual image, but especially those seen infrequently, all the more notable.

Dec 4 - 12:4:1769 Woodcuts New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (December 4, 1769).

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (June 20, 1768).

“The commodious Inn, in Princeton, long known by the name of the Hudibras.”

As spring turned to summer in 1768, the number of advertisements aimed at travelers and others seeking entertainment during moments of leisure increased compared to the frequency of their appearance throughout the winter. Josiah Davenport placed advertisements in newspapers published in both Philadelphia and New York when he opened the Bunch of Grapes inn and tavern in Philadelphia, extending an invitation to locals and travelers alike. The proprietors of Ranelagh Gardens advertised a series of fireworks exhibitions in newspapers printed in New York. Samuel Fraunces simultaneously promoted food, lodgings, and entertainment at Vauxhall Garden, an alternative destination on the outskirts of New York City. An advertisement in the June 20 supplement to the Boston Evening-Post announced that the “Waters of Jackson’s Spaw are now in a good Degree of Perfection,” the first notice concerning “Jackson’s Mineral Well” that appeared in Boston’s newspapers since the previous summer. On the same day, Jacob Hyer inserted an advertisement for the “commodious Inn” he recently opened in Princeton, New Jersey, in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Especially in northern colonies, readers encountered seasonal advertisements from an emerging hospitality and tourism industry in the late colonial period.

Hyer had a particular advantage working in his favor when it came to attracting guests to his tavern and inn, the Hudibras. Like many of his counterparts, he had “furnished the House with the best of Liquors” as well as “the best Provisions he can Procure.” Unlike his competitors, however, “the Stage-Waggons from New-York to Philadelphia and back, put up at his House.” This likely increased his clientele since passengers became guests, making it less necessary to advertise. On the other hand, Hyer may have believed that alerting residents of New York to the various amenities at the Hudibras could influence their decisions about taking a trip to Philadelphia. Even before commencing the journey they could plan for comfortable accommodations along the way rather than leave to chance any arrangements for food and lodging. Hyer’s desire “to entertain Travellers … in the best Manner” made the journey sound as appealing as the destination, encouraging readers to consider traveling between New York and Philadelphia for business or for pleasure.

April 24

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

Apr 24 - 4:24:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 24, 1766).

“The Stage Wagon … intends to perform the Journey from Philadelphia to New-York in two Days.”

Today it takes only a couple of hours or less to travel between Philadelphia and New York by planes, trains, or automobiles, but in the eighteenth century going from one of these urban ports to the other required much more time. John Barnhill and John Masherew offered a service intended to transport colonists between the two cities as quickly and efficiently as possible (and as comfortably as well: note that “the Waggon-Seats [were] to be set on Springs”).

This journey could be completed in the impressively short span of two days between April and November, but required three days in the winter months. To make this possible, Barnhill and Masherew pooled their resources. Each offered a service that extended into the hinterland around their respective cities, but neither sent their “Stage Waggon” between the two destinations. Instead, Barnhill operated between Philadelphia and Prince Town (now Princeton, New Jersey) and Masherew offered service from New York to Prince Town. At Prince Town, passengers switched from one “Stage Waggon” to the other. Each leg of the journey took a day (or a day and a half in the winter).

The advertisement indicates Barnhill and Masherew began advertising this service before it appeared in the April 24, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette: “commencing the 14th Day of April next.” The notation on the final line – “* 6 W.” – was likely a reminder to the printer to insert the advertisement in six consecutive issues over the course of six weeks.