What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Gentlemen may have any sorts of Books Bound.”
William Appleton described his occupation as bookbinder, but his advertisement makes clear that he offered a variety of services at “his Shop in Queen Street, near the School House.”
“Gentlemen may have any sorts of Books Bound,” Appleton announced. In the eighteenth century, readers frequently purchased books that took a very different material form than what modern consumers expect today. Customers often purchased just the printed pages of the books (and the same went for magazines when they gained popularity after the Revolution) and then arranged for binding on their own, if they wished to have their books bound at all. Printers chose not to raise the production costs of books by having them bound, thus minimizing the risk for books that did not sell. Sometimes they did not even separate the leaves to create pages but instead passed along folded sheets to customers, leaving it to them or a bookbinder to do so. Sometimes printers and booksellers did sell bound books – or offered a choice for bound or unbound – but they marketed this as a convenience that added value. In other instances, however, Appleton and other bookbinders offered a service that allowed readers to customize their books through the various choices that went into selecting materials and appearance for bindings. In turn, bookbinders inserted their own binder’s labels into books to further advertise their services.
Appleton also bound blank books that customers would fill themselves with manuscript rather than print. The “Account Books” may have been lined to aid organizing entries for debiting and crediting accounts.
In addition, Appleton’s advertisement indicated that he supplemented his business by selling books and writing paper. He listed several kinds of reading material, but he likely did not stock as many volumes as contemporary booksellers who distributed catalogues that included hundreds of titles. Still, he gave the impression that potential customers could discover a variety of books when he truncated his list with “&c. &c.” (etc. etc.).
As a member of the book trades, Appleton worked with printers, booksellers, and publishers. Sometimes he took on some of the responsibilities of a bookseller, but likely did not do any printing. Printers and bookbinders provided complementary services that modern consumers usually consider part of the standard production of a commodity, a book, but the bound volume as a finished product was not necessarily what customers purchased in bookstores in the eighteenth century.