September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 5, 1767).

“JUST PUBLISHED, And to be Sold by the Printers hereof …”

When Sarah Goddard and Company placed an advertisement for a recently published book, Letters of the Right Honorable Lady M–y W—–y M——e, in the Providence Gazette, they followed a course common among printers in early America. From New Hampshire to Georgia, printers who published both newspapers and books reserved space in the former for advertising the latter, one of the advantages of running the press. In some newspapers, notices placed by the printer disproportionately filled the advertising pages.

In such cases, the question of who wrote the copy – the printer or the advertiser – often becomes much more certain since they were often one and the same. There were some exceptions. Sometimes printers produced books on behalf of local authors, as was the situation with Lambertus de Ronde’s True Spiritual Religion printed by John Holt and advertised in his New-York Journal. The author, rather than the printer, generated the copy for the advertisement. In instances that printers also served as publishers, however, they assumed the responsibility for crafting the contents of the advertisements.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an English aristocrat who gained special prominence after the publication of letters she wrote while traveling to the Ottoman Empire with her husband, an ambassador, certainly was not a local author. Goddard and Company published their edition of the Letters of their own accord. This suggests that the partnership should have been responsible for composing the advertisement, yet the author (or perhaps the publisher of the first edition in England) exercised great influence. The second half of Goddard and Company’s advertisement repeats the book’s extended title nearly verbatim: “written, during her travels in Europe, Asia and Africa to persons of distinction, men of letters. &c. in different parts of Europe. Which contain, among other curious relations, accounts of the policy and manners of the Turks; drawn from sources that have been inaccessible to other travellers.”

Goddard and Company made their own contributions to promoting the book, asserting that Montagu’s Letters “will shew … the sprightliness of her WIT, the solidity of her JUDGMENT, the extent of her KNOWLEDGE, the elegance of her TASTE, and the excellence of her real CHARACTER.” Yet the firm did not find it necessary to generate additional copy when the title of the book itself provided a synopsis already designed to entice readers.

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