August 29

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

New-York Journal (August 29, 1771).

“HATS MANUFACTURED by … NESBITT DEANE.”

For many weeks in the summer of 1771, Nesbitt Deane took to the pages of the New-York Journal to advertise hats he made and sold “Aside the Coffee-House Bridge.”  His hats had several qualities he expected consumers would appreciate, including exceptional “Fineness, Cut, Colour and Cock.”  These were not ordinary hats that prospective customers could acquire in just any shop, Deane confided, but instead “MANUFACTURED … by a Method peculiar to himself, to turn rain, and prevent the Sweat of the Head damaging the crown.”  Such promises may have enticed some readers to visit his shop to examine his hats for themselves to see what distinguished them from others available in the bustling port city.  Deane also called on “Such Gentry and others, who have experienced his Ability” by purchasing and donning his hats to recommend them to others.

Eventually, the hatter determined that he might attract more attention and incite greater demand if an image accompanied his advertisement.  Without revising the copy, he doubled the length of his notice, beginning on August 29, with a woodcut depicting a tricorne hat.  A banner bearing Deane’s name, adorned with rococo flourishes completed the image.  Such finery likely prompted the “Gentry and others” among readers of the New-York Journal of the engraved images on trade cards and billheads that circulated in London and, to a lesser extent, the largest cities in the colonies.  Another advertiser, Gerardus Duyckinck, had been enclosing the copy of his advertisements within a baroque cartouche for several years.  His most recent advertisement, perhaps an inspiration for Deane, appeared once again in the August 29 edition.

The sophistication inherent in Deane’s image testified to the “Fineness” of his hats, but it also meant that he invested more in his marketing efforts.  In addition to commissioning a woodcut unique to his business, he also paid for twice as much space in the New-York Journal each time his advertisement appeared.  The compositor’s notation at the end, “95 –,” indicated that the notice with the woodcut first appeared in issue 1495 but Deane had not selected an end date.  Neither had he done so for his first advertisement composed entirely of text.  In both instances, the hatter committed to more than the standard four weeks that the printer set as a minimum.  Between the indefinite duration of his notices and enhancing them with a striking image, Deane demonstrated his belief that more and better advertising would produce results.