What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“TO BE SOLD … the Sign, Counters, Shelves and Drawers, and all the Shop Utensils.”
For a while, Mrs. Willett kept the shop formerly operated by her deceased husband, Thomas Charles, open. An advertisement that listed an extensive assortment of merchandise ran in the February 22, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. It also included a note that “The business is carried on as usual,” implicitly acknowledging the death of Willett’s husband. Two months later, however, Willett closed down the entire enterprise and prepared to sail for Europe. She placed another advertisement in the New-York Journal in April, that one calling on “All Persons who have any Demands on the said Thomas C. Willett” to present them for payment and “those few Customers” who had not yet settled accounts to do so before she departed. She also warned that anyone who left “Rings, Buttons, Linen,” or other goods as collateral would forfeit them if they did not pay their debts.
In addition to settling accounts, Willett also announced an eighteenth-century version of a going out of business sale. She aimed to get rid of everything. In addition to selling her personal belongings, she also sold the remaining inventory of the shop “at first COST.” Consumers might have found bargains, but Willett likely hoped to attract a buyer with an entrepreneurial spirit who also wished to acquire “the Sign, Counters, Shelves and Drawers, and all the Shop Utensils” necessary to set up business. In the absence of many contemporary visual images of the interiors of shops in eighteenth-century America, Willett’s list conjures scenes of consumption.
It also reveals that visual images associated with particular merchants and shopkeepers could be transferred from one to another. Willett did not invoke the name of the shop sign in either advertisement she placed in the New-York Journal, but she did consider it important enough to include (and list first) among the various equipment associated with the business. In the April 19 edition, her advertisement appeared on the same page as one of Gerardus Duyckinck’s notices featuring an elaborate woodcut that incorporated a depiction of his “Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.” Over the course of several years, the Looking Glass and Druggist Pot most certainly became associated with Duyckinck’s business among residents of New York. It served as a logo of sorts that made for easy identification of his business. Even without a similar constant reiteration in the public prints, the sign marking the Willett shop most likely became similarly recognizable to colonists who traversed the streets of the busy port. Willett did not name the sign associated with her shop, but she considered it a valuable enough marketing tool to include among the fixtures available for purchase. The image would no longer be affiliated with the Willett family; instead, it would come to represent another enterprise in New York’s marketplace.