What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“BOOKS to be sold at the Printing-Office.”
Like other printers throughout colonial America, James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, often used his own publication to promote books, pamphlets, and other printed materials that he sold. Although printers sought to generate additional revenues as a result of running their own advertisements in their newspapers, Johnston frequently had an additional motive. Short advertisements for books or advertisements also served as filler to complete an otherwise short column in the Georgia Gazette. Such was the case for a two-line advertisement at the bottom of the first column on the third page of the September 28, 1768, edition of that newspaper. The notice, which Johnston inserted frequently, read in its entirety: “A FEW COPIES of the ACTS of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY passed last session to be sold by the printer of this paper.” Johnston had another slightly longer advertisement, that one for printed blanks (or forms), which he also inserted regularly. It appears that the type for both remained set so the compositor could simply insert them as necessary when an issue ran short of other content.
Given those circumstances, a lengthier advertisement for “BOOKS to be sold at the Printing-Office” that filled half a column (or one-quarter of a page) departed from the usual format for advertisements placed by the printer of the Georgia Gazette. The advertisement divided the column, creating two narrower columns that listed dozens of books by title. A price, neatly justified to the right, accompanied each title. For instance, “Revolutions in Portugal” sold for three shillings and six pence. “Gullivers travels, 2 vols.” sold for eight shillings. In that regard Johnston’s advertisement differed from those placed by other printers and booksellers. Most merely listed titles; very few informed prospective customers in advance what they could expect to pay. Although Johnston rarely published such an extensive catalog of books he sold, when he chose to do so he made a significant innovation to the standard method deployed by printers and booksellers who advertised in other newspapers published in other colonies. If he had sought only to fill remaining space in an issue that lacked sufficient content, a list of “BOOKS to be sold” would have served the purpose. Including the prices, as well as the format for doing so, required additional time, effort, and creative energy in writing the copy and setting the type.