May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Mercury (May 30, 1768).

At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.”

To adorn many of the advertisements for his “UNIVERSAL STORE,” Gerardus Duyckinck commissioned perhaps the most impressive woodcut that accompanied any advertisements in newspapers published throughout the American colonies in the 1760s. In an advertisement that extended approximately two-thirds of a column, Duyckink promoted the “Medley of Goods” he sold “At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot” in New York, yet it was not the amount of space the notice occupied on the page that distinguished it from others. The intricately carved woodcut likely replicated his shop sign, depicting a looking glass in an ornate frame suspended below an urn. A larger rococo frame, equally ornate, enclosed most of the copy, including a nota bene that instructed potential customers how to read the list of merchandise contained in the notice: “The above advertisement, being only the Heads, which consists of a Variety of Articles, almost every particular in each Branch can be commanded at the above Store.” In other words, Duyckinck did not publish an exhaustive list of his wares. Instead, he used a series of headers to categorize the items among his inventory, truly a “Medley of Goods.”

Prospective customers first encountered Duyckinck’s elaborate woodcut in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal. It ran for several weeks before Duyckinck discontinued it. In the spring of 1768 it reappeared, with evidence of wear and significantly revised copy in the cartouche, but this time in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Mercury. While the printers of both newspapers had some standard woodcuts – images of horses, houses, ships, and slaves – among their type, specialized images belonged to the advertisers. Some advertisers, like clockmaker Burrows Dowdney, invested in multiple woodcuts in order to insert them in more than one newspaper simultaneously. Duyckinck may not have considered this an option; given the amount of detail evident in his woodcut, the cost for commissioning others may have been prohibitive. Instead, he rotated the image from newspaper to newspaper, placing it before the eyes of as many readers and prospective customers as possible. Doing so likely yielded the best possible return on his investment in an innovative means of making his newspaper advertisements distinctive from anything else that appeared in the public prints.

October 29

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

Oct 29 - 10:29:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 29, 1767).

“The Medley of Goods.”

Gerardus Duyckinck, a prolific advertiser in New York’s newspapers in the 1760s, introduced consumers to an innovative advertisement for his “UNIVERSAL STORE” in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal. His new advertisement enclosed most of the copy within an ornate rococo cartouche, a design suggestive of the frames for the “Pictures [and] Looking-Glasses” he sold. Visually, his advertisement was unique. Nothing else of the sort appeared in that issue of the New-York Journal, nor in any newspaper published in the colonies.

Several other advertisements included images, but all of them were comparatively crude woodcuts of ships, houses, slaves, and horses. These widely used yet generic images belonged to the printer, a standard part of the type acquired by anyone who printed a newspaper. They could be used to spruce up any relevant advertisement. Occasionally some merchants and shopkeepers commissioned woodcuts for their exclusive use, images often tied to the shop sign that marked their location. In such instances, the image appeared at the top of the advertisement before any copy, not enclosing the text, as was the case for Duyckinck’s notice.

That visual element also distinguished this advertisement from others. In general, eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements did not have borders that set them apart from other items on the same page. Printers usually inserted a line between advertisements to help readers identify where one ended and another began. Sometimes they used decorative ornaments to add some visual appeal, but borders surrounding entire advertisements were exceptionally rare. Jolley Allen experimented with rudimentary borders for his advertisements in Boston’s newspapers the previous year, but they looked primitive compared to the genteel frame that enclosed Duyckinck’s advertisement.

It would have been impossible for readers not to notice Duyckinck’s advertisement. Noticing likely led to reading and examining the advertisement in greater detail, taking in the novelty of a form both new and sophisticated. In addition, the use of an elaborate cartouche introduced a common feature of eighteenth-century trade cards, each printed on its own sheet, into colonial newspapers. The form of one influenced the other, perhaps to the delight of readers. Such an extraordinary advertisement might have also enflamed potential customers’ curiosity about the “Medley of Goods” that Duyckinck sold at his “UNIVERSAL STORE.”

August 16

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

Aug 16 - 8:13:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 13, 1767).

“At the corner store, opposite Mr. Duyckinck’s Universal Store, near the Old-slip.”

Note the final lines of this advertisement, marked by a manicule. To direct potential customers to his own workshop, the advertiser noted that it was located “opposite Mr. Duyckinck’s Universal Store.”

Gerardus Duyckinck’s “UNIVERSAL STORE; Or the MEDLEY of GOODS” was a landmark in New York in the late 1760s. Duyckinck worked carefully to brand his store with that name, frequently placing newspaper advertisements that ennumerated the “Variety of Assortments” of imported goods that he stocked and sold to consumers. His advertisement in the supplement to the August 13, 1767, issue of the New-York Journal proclaimed the name of his shop and listed everything from “Hatters Trimmings” to “Carpetting” to “Writing Paper.” Several times he invoked consumer choice and challenged potential customers to imagine the array of merchandise he carried: “a beautiful and fashionable Assortment” of some items, “Almost every Article in these Branches, too tedious to mention” for certain supplies used by artisans, and “a general Assortment” of patent medicines “as extensive” as local physicians and families needed. Some merchants and shopkeepers specialized in certain types of wares, but Duyckinck’s advertising suggested that he truly provided a “MEDLEY of GOODS” at his “UNIVERSAL STORE.”

With the exception of taverns, most eighteenth-century businesses did not have names. They were identified simply by the name of the proprietor or the device on the shop sign that marked their location. That Duyckinck’s shop had a name made it fairly unique. This name operated in addition to “the Sign of the Looking-Glass, and Druggist Pot” that decorated the exterior; text on the sign may have further identified the location as Duyckinck’s “UNIVERSAL STORE” or promoted the MEDLEY of GOODS” available inside.

This marketing strategy enjoyed some success. The “IVORY and HARD WOOD TURNER” across the street did not give directions relative to Duyckinck’s shop or the “Sign of the Looking-Galss, and Druggist Pot.” Instead, he used the name bestowed on the store by the proprietor and widely advertised in local newspapers: “Mr. Duyckinck’s Universal Store.” This name was not merely an affectation but instead a common way of identifying the business. In convincing other colonists, including potential customers, to refer to his shop as the “Universal Store,” Duyckinck successfully encouraged them to associate certain qualities with the imported goods he sold.