What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“London BOOK-STORE, North Side of KING-STREET, BOSTON.”
John Mein, prominent bookseller in Boston, placed an extraordinary advertisement in the September 25, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette. A regular advertiser in Boston’s newspapers, Mein previously experimented with a full-page advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette two months earlier. The length of his advertisement in the New-London Gazette, however, far exceeded that previous notice: it extended nearly two full pages and amounted to almost half of the entire issue. Mein’s advertisement for “A very GRAND ASSORTMENT of the most modern BOOKS, in every Branch of polite Literature, Arts and Sciences” filled the entire third page and all but the second half of the final column on the fourth page. It took up so much space that Timothy Green, the printer, inserted a notice at the bottom of the second page to assure readers (and advertisers whose notices had been squeezed out to make room for Mein) that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next.” Although not unknown, full-page newspaper advertisements were not common in the 1760s. When they did appear they merited special notice, yet they seemed restrained compared to Mein’s nearly-two-page advertisement.
Mein’s extensive advertisement qualified as exceptional for another reason: he operated the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” on King Street in Boston, yet he supplemented his marketing efforts in local newspapers with a newspaper notice in faraway New London, Connecticut. Retailers frequently acknowledged that they served customers in the hinterlands that surrounded their own cities and towns, but they rarely placed advertisements in newspapers published in other colonies if they had local alternatives. Retailers in Boston, for instance, expected that when they advertised in any of the city’s four newspapers that they would attract customers from other parts of Massachusetts beyond the busy port. They typically did not, however, insert advertisements in newspapers printed in other towns, each with their own hinterlands in other colonies. Mein deviated from standard practices related to newspaper advertising, apparently considering the opportunity to enter new markets worth the investment. He had previously published book catalogs that may have been distributed far beyond Boston. Any customers they generated may have encouraged him to consider advertising in newspapers in distant cities. He acknowledged customers who resided outside Boston in the final paragraph of his advertisement: “Gentlemen, Traders, &c. who send Orders, may depend on being served with the utmost Fidelity and Dispatch, and as cheap as if present.” In his efforts to gain customers from markets beyond Boston, Mein anticipated and addressed potential obstacles that might prevent them from patronizing his business.