What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“For the inspection of the CURIOUS … one of Mr. Benjamin Martin’s ROYAL PATENT PUMPS.”
Like many other colonial booksellers, Nicholas Langford stocked an array of other sorts of goods at his “BOOK and PRINT STORE” in Charleston. In an advertisement in the August 9, 1768 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Langford listed several titles from among the “Very neat and choice collection of BOOKS in polite literature, approved history and useful sciences” that he had recently imported, but he supplemented those wares with other sorts of merchandise, including “Woodstock wash leather gloves” and “neatest London made gentlemens shoes.” Langford’s inventory of clothing and housewares was not particularly extensive when compared to the items listed by many shopkeepers. However, the bookseller did stock sufficient additional goods to garner attention from prospective customers interested in more than just books, stationery, and prints.
That part of Langford’s advertisement was not all that unusual. Eighteenth-century booksellers frequently attempted to supplement the revenues generated by their primary occupation by selling other items on the side. A lengthy paragraph about “Mr. Benjamin Martin’s ROYAL PATENT PUMPS,” however, did distinguish Langford’s advertisement from others placed by booksellers. Langford announced that he displayed one of the pumps, which had never before been seen in South Carolina, “For the inspection of the CURIOUS.” He invited readers to examine the display model for themselves to see “its much superior effect produced by a continual stream” and observe how it “work[ed] without friction,” eliminating the “wear” and “choak” commonly associated with other pumps. Langford promoted several uses for this new brand of pumps, asserting that “they will be found to be extremely useful to this province, particularly for the draining of swamps, and filling the indico vats.” Interested parties could place their orders at the “BOOK and PRINT STORE” for Langford to transmit “to the manufactory in London.”
The final paragraph of Langford’s advertisement deviated significantly from the standard marketing efforts deployed by eighteenth-century booksellers. He offered readers a curiosity that they were invited to contemplate in the moment as well as examine on their own during a visit to his shop. In making “Mr. Benjamin Martin’s ROYAL PATENT PUMPS” available for purchase, he enhanced his reputation as an entrepreneur who tended to the improvement of the entire colony rather than merely advancing his own business. Yet he did stand to reap benefits of his own if displaying the pump and taking orders also happened to create additional foot traffic in his shop and if curious onlookers also happened to buy books or other wares. Langford hoped to transform the “CURIOUS” into consumers.