What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“They will be presented to the Publick in a Catalogue.”
Garret Noel continued to stock “A Very extensive Assortment of Books” nearly a month after his advertisement concerning a shipment that just arrived on the Amelia first appeared in the July 20, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette. That the second line of his notice, proclaiming that he “Has this Day receiv’d” new inventory, was slightly outdated mattered little compared to two other aspects of the advertisement.
Noel, a prolific advertiser, informed potential customers that his “extensive Assortment of Books” covered a wide variety of topics, including “History, Divinity, Law, Physic, [and] Poetry.” In fact, he now carried so many new books that they were “too numerous” to list all the titles in newspaper advertisements. Instead, he resorted to another medium, a book catalog printed separately and often distributed free of charge as a means of inciting demand. Noel indicated that his catalog was “publishing with all the speed possible.” No extant copy exists, but that does not mean that Noel’s catalog never made it to press. According to the American Antiquarian Society’s online catalog, Noel previously published four other catalogs in 1754/55, 1755, 1759, and 1762. The partnership of Noel and Hazard later published a catalog in 1771. Perhaps Noel never printed the catalog promised in this advertisement but instead suggested that it existed as a means of luring potential customers to his shop, but the evidence suggests a fairly good chance that he did indeed publish this marketing tool to supplement his frequent newspaper advertisements. While fairly complete collections of many eighteenth-century newspapers have survived into the twenty-first century, other printed materials have not. Newspaper advertisements suggest that many more book catalogs likely circulated in the eighteenth century than can be found in archives today.
While awaiting publication of the catalog, Noel also informed existing customers who had placed orders that they could send for them. This announcement did matter more at the time the bookseller originally inserted the advertisement in the New-York Gazette. With a new shipment that had just arrived he likely had not yet had time to send notices to every customer awaiting an order. An announcement in the newspaper presented an opportunity for eager customers to obtain their purchases as quickly as possible (and potentially saved the bookseller time and energy in contacting customers individually). That this portion of Noel’s notice continued to run for so many weeks also served to inform potential customers that they could also submit special orders.
Garret Noel offered two forms of customer service intended to cater to consumers and convince them to purchase his merchandise. He distributed a catalog detailing his “Very extensive Assortment of Books,” introducing potential customers to titles they may not have previously considered. He also accepted orders and informed clients as soon as they arrived, exhibiting how eagerly he sought to serve his patrons.