What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The following BOOKS.”
Compared to newspapers published in major port cities in the 1760s, Hartford’s Connecticut Courant included relatively little advertising. Even compared to other newspapers from smaller towns (such as Savannah’s Georgia Gazette, Portsmouth’s New-Hampshire Gazette, and the New-London Gazette) the amount of space the Connecticut Courant devoted to commercial notices and other sorts of paid advertisements was modest, usually limited to a few short items on the final page or scattered throughout an issue.
This aspect of Thomas Green’s newspaper made Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement particularly striking and unexpected. In addition to promoting the “large and universal Assortment of fresh genuine MEDICINE” they had just imported from London, the apothecaries also listed scores of books they sold. Their advertisement extended across the entire page, divided into four columns (rather than three columns throughout the rest of the newspaper) in order to squeeze in as many titles as possible.
In addition to its length, Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement dominated the front page of the Connecticut Courant; it hardly could have escaped the notice of subscribers and other readers. It also would have been readily visible to anyone who observed someone reading the newspaper, especially if it was held aloft while perusing the items in the center pages. Except for the masthead at the top and a snippet of news relayed from New York at the bottom, the apothecaries’ advertisement filled the entire first page.
Lathrop and Smith almost certainly were familiar with the standards and conventions of newspaper advertising in Hartford, yet they likely also read newspapers from Boston and New York, at least occasionally, since eighteenth-century newspapers tended to circulate far beyond their places of publication. Certain booksellers, especially John Mein in Boston and Garret Noel in New York, frequently placed lengthy advertisements listing the titles they stocked. With those notices and others as models of what was possible when it came to newspaper advertising, Lathrop and Smith devised their own marketing efforts accordingly. Their advertisement more closely replicated those placed by their counterparts in other cities than the usual notices for consumer goods and services in their local newspaper. They designed an advertisement considered appropriate and effective among others who pursued the same occupation.