What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Those Gentlemen who incline to take Copies, will leave their Names with THOMAS FOXCROFT.”
Alexander Purdie and John Dixon, the printers of the Virginia Gazette, regularly inserted notices in their own newspaper, yet they also understood the colonial book trade well enough that they did not limit their advertisements to their own publication, especially not when attempting to incite interest in a major new project from their press. During the summer of 1768 Purdie and Dixon set about publishing “A COMPLETE Revisal of all the VIRGINIA ACTS OF ASSEMBLY now in Force and Use.”
To aid in generating sufficient revenues to make this book a viable venture, Purdie and Dixon inserted a short subscription notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette, counting on learned men in the largest port city in the colonies to purchase copies for their libraries. They likely also calculated that the extensive distribution of the Pennsylvania Gazette would set their announcement before the eyes of many more potential customers throughout the mid-Atlantic revion and beyond. The placement of their subscription notice – among the many other advertisements in the August 25 issue rather than as an announcement adjacent to the news items – suggests that the printers or their local agent paid for its insertion; its appearance was not an in-kind courtesy by the printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.
That being the case, Purdie and Dixon’s subscription notice occupied significantly less space than they could have allotted for themselves in their own publication. They briefly outlined the publication scheme, including the material aspects of the book: “a large Folio Volume, of about 600 Pages, neatly bound in Calf, and lettered, printed upon a new Type, and fine Paper.” In addition, they also indicated the cost: “the Price to Subscribers Forty Shillings Virginia Currency.” The publishers then invited “those Gentlemen who incline to take Copies” to contact their local agent in Philadelphia, “THOMAS FOXCROFT, at the Post-Office.” At some later time Foxcroft would send a list of subscribers to Purdie and Dixon at their printing office in Williamsburg.
Like many other printers and publishers in eighteenth-century America, Purdie and Dixon did not rely solely on local markets to support their major initiatives, not even when the publication under consideration seemed of interest primarily to residents of their own colony. Purdie and Dixon realized that lawyers, legislators, and a variety of other consumers would be interested in a new edition of the laws currently enacted in the Virginia colony. A small investment in advertising to them could significantly improve the prospects of a successful venture for the book.