January 31

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

Essex Gazette (January 31, 1769).

“Esteemed by Judges equal in Quality to the best imported from England.”

When Henry Lloyd of Boston placed his advertisement for “CHOICE American manufactured COD and MACKAREL LINES” in the January 31, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette he participated in the development of the first generation of “Buy American” advertisements. Although brief, his notice favorably compared his product to imported counterparts, asserting that they had been “esteemed by Judges equal in Quality to the best imported from England.” In addition, he sold them “At a reasonable Price.” After taking quality and price into consideration, there was no reason for colonists in the market for these items not to purchase the “American manufactured” version. Implicitly, Lloyd invoked the ongoing dispute between the colonies and Parliament over the Townshend Act and other attempts to regulate colonial commerce and raises revenues through taxes on imported goods. In response to such abuses, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others in Boston and beyond had pledged to encourage “domestic manufactures” over imported goods. In turn, they both the press and purveyors of goods stressed the virtues of supporting the local economy. Doing so, they argued, was an inherently political act.

Lloyd did not need to rehearse this recent history in his advertisement. He could depend on readers and prospective customers already being aware of the political meaning associated with acts of purchasing “American manufactured” goods of any sort. The placement of his advertisement on the page only enhanced the connections between politics and commerce. Lloyd’s notice appeared in a column to the right of one that featured news content. That column had a header that proclaimed it contained “Extraordinary Intelligence,” including an “Extract of a letter from London, November 19th, 1768.” The portion of that letter immediately to the left of Lloyd’s advertisement read, in part, “We do not imagine that the parliament will enter into a refutation of all your letters and petitions … but will give the several agents and some of the principal men of your province, and opportunity of explaining and defending their rights.” From there, it continued with rumors “that your town meetings will be abolished,” depriving colonists in Massachusetts of their traditional means of participating in their own governance. Oversight from England looked like it might veer beyond just commerce. It was amid such conversations that Lloyd placed his advertisement. Deceptively simple, it invoked a much more extensive conversation about imperial politics in service of selling “American manufactured COD and MACKAREL LINES.”

Slavery Advertisements Published January 31, 1769

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Essex Gazette (January 31, 1769).

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 30 (January 19 Old Style) in 1749.  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

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Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831). American Antiquarian Society.

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

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Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

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Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 270th birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

January 30

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 30, 1769).

“We can turn it out in our hands better than any person that ever attempted it in America.”

Of the various appeals that artisans advanced in eighteenth-century newspapers, promoting their skill was perhaps the most significant. Skill testified to quality. Price hardly mattered if their work was not undertaken with skill. Neither did dispatch, the speed of serving customers. Skill was a necessary part of producing the goods and providing the services that colonial consumers desired from artisans.

Casey and Mathies, “SILK-dyers and scowerers, from London,” certainly considered that to be the case in the advertisement they inserted in the supplement to the January 30, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Skill was the centerpiece of their notice. They informed prospective clients that they could “scour, dye, and dress” silks and satins as well as clean brocades so skillfully that the colors would “look as well as when new.” Similarly, they cared for men’s garment “in the neatest manner … without any detriment to the cloth.” Furthermore, they also worked on cloaks of all sizes and colors, cleaning and dyeing them “to the utmost perfection.” This was a tricky business that demanded skill to undertake successfully.

So confident were Casey and Mathies in their skill that they made a bold pronouncement near the conclusion of their advertisement. They invited merchants with “any pieces of cloths to dye any colour” to bring them to their shop “at the sign of the Blue-Hand and Brush.” There they would “turn it out of our hands better than any person that ever attempted it in America, or as well as in London.” Casey and Mathies did not merely make a claim about their own skill; they ranked it relative to their competitors in New York, throughout the region, and the throughout the colonies. They asserted that prospective clients could not find silk dyers and scourers with greater skill on that side of the Atlantic. In addition, their work equaled any done in London, the center of the empire where the most skilled artisans of all sorts plied their trades.

For Casey and Mathies, nothing mattered more than skill, but their advertisement suggests that colonial consumers shared that view when it came to silk dyers and scourers. Casey and Mathies expected that message would resonate with prospective clients; otherwise, they would not have built their entire advertisement around it.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 30, 1769

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements for slaves – for sale, wanted to purchase, runaways, captured fugitives – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonists encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonists who did not own slaves were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing slaves or assisting in the capture of runaways. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by slaveholders rather than the slaves themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Boston Evening-Post (January 30, 1769).

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Boston Post-Boy (January 30, 1769).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 30, 1769).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 30, 1769).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 30, 1769).

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New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1769).

January 29

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

Boston Weekly News-Letter (January 26, 1769).

“Sundry stolen Goods.”

News did not appear solely among the news items in eighteenth-century newspapers. Instead, several sorts of advertisements, including legal notices and estate notices, frequently covered the news, making readers aware of recent events in their communities and beyond. Advertisements concerning stolen goods also relayed news to readers. The last two advertisements in the January 26, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter did just that.

The first reported that on January 6 “sundry stolen Goods, the Property of Joshua Winslow & Son and John Rowe,” had been found concealed in the home of Thomas Vickers. In the wake of that discovery, Vickers had fled. The remainder of the advertisement, placed by Rowe, offered a description of his physical appearance and clothing. Rowe suggested that Vickers might try to escape Boston “on board some foreign bound Vessel,” alerting mariners and others to keep their eyes open for him on the docks. Rowe offered a reward to anyone who apprehended Vickers and presented him to Edmund Quincy, “Justice of Peace in Boston.”

The second advertisement also told the story of a theft, but this one perpetrated “by some evil-minded Person or Persons yet unknown.” Rather than a description of the thief, it provided descriptions of the items stolen from onboard the sloop “Wilkes, William Campbell, Master,” on January 9. The stolen goods included “One Piece check Linnen narrow strip’d, 32 Yards,” “Three Dozen Pair dark speckled Hose,” and “A Suit blue Broad-Cloth Cloaths, Waistcoast and Breeches.” Campbell hoped that descriptions of the goods would aid in capturing the thief as well as recovering the property he had lost.

These two advertisements appeared immediately below others placed by John Gerrish, Richard Smith, and William Jackson. Gerrish advertised an auction scheduled to take place the following day. Smith and Jackson both listed merchandise available at their stores. All three named wares that corresponded closely to the kinds of items stolen from aboard the Wilkes and presumably those discovered in Vickers’s house. In their efforts to participate in the consumer revolution, not all colonists acquired goods from merchants, shopkeepers, and auctioneers. Some stole them and other purchased items either knowing that they had been pilfered or not inquiring too carefully about their origins. A single column of advertisements in the Boston Weekly-Mercury reveals the spectrum of choices available to colonists when it came to acquiring consumer goods.

Happy Birthday, Mathew Carey!

Though Benjamin Franklin is often considered the patron saint of American advertising in the popular press, I believe that his efforts pale in comparison to the contributions made by Mathew Carey (1760-1839) in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Franklin is rightly credited with experimenting with the appearance of newspaper advertising, mixing font styles and sizes in the advertisements that helped to make him a prosperous printer, but Mathew Carey introduced and popularized an even broader assortment of advertising innovations, ranging from inventive appeals that targeted potential consumers to a variety of new media to networks for effectively distributing advertising materials. In the process, his efforts played an important role in the development of American capitalism by enlarging markets for the materials sold by printers, booksellers, and publishers as well as a host of other goods marketed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who eventually adopted many of Carey’s innovative advertising methods. Mathew Carey will probably never displace Benjamin Franklin as the founder of American advertising in the popular imagination, but scholars of early American history and culture should recognize his role as the most important leader in eighteenth-century advertising among the many other activities and accomplishments of his long career in business and public life.

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Mathew Carey (January 28, 1760 – September 16, 1839). Portrait by John Neagle, 1825. Library Company of Philadelphia.

Carey’s efforts as an advertiser were enmeshed within transatlantic networks of print and commerce. Though he did not invent the advertising wrapper printed on blue paper that accompanied magazines in the eighteenth century, he effectively utilized this medium to an extent not previously seen in America, Ireland, or the English provinces outside of London. The wrappers distributed with his American Museum (1787-1792) comprised the most extensive collection of advertising associated with any magazine published in North America in the eighteenth century, both in terms of the numbers of advertisements and the diversity of occupations represented in those advertisements. In Carey’s hands, the American Museum became a vehicle for distributing advertising media: inserts that included trade cards, subscription notices, testimonials, and book catalogues in addition to the wrappers themselves.

Located at the hub of a network of printers and booksellers, Carey advocated the use of a variety of advertising materials, some for consumption by the general public and others for use exclusively within the book trade. Subscription notices and book catalogues, for instance, could stimulate demand among potential customers, but exchange catalogues were intended for printers and booksellers to manage their inventory and enlarge their markets by trading surplus copies of books, pamphlets, and other printed goods. Working with members of this network also facilitated placing advertisements for new publications in the most popular newspapers published in distant towns and cities.

Carey also participated in the development of advertising appeals designed to stimulate demand among consumers in eighteenth-century America. He targeted specific readers by stressing the refinement associated with some of his publications, while simultaneously speaking to general audiences by emphasizing the patriotism and virtue associated with purchasing either books about American history, especially the events of the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, or books published in America. In his advertising, Carey invoked a patriotic politics of consumption that suggested that the success of the republican experiment depended not only on virtuous activity in the realm of politics but also on the decisions consumers made in the marketplace.

For my money, Carey is indeed the father of American advertising.  Happy 259th birthday, Mathew Carey!

January 28

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

Providence Gazette (January 28, 1769).

“He determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.”

Thomas Greene’s advertisement for “A fresh Assortment of DRY-GOODS” ran in the Providence Gazette for the first time on January 28, 1769. In it, he listed twenty different kinds of textiles, including “kerseys, serges, cotton velvets, Scotch plaid, Irish linens, garlix, dowlas and checks.” He also carried stockings, handkerchiefs, and shoes as well as “a great number of other articles in the dry-good way.” Greene supplemented this merchandise with imported grocery items, including “tea, chocolate, raisins, … rum, sugar and melasses.” While not as extensive as other advertisements that sometimes appeared in the Providence Gazette, Greene’s notice enumerated sufficient items to suggest to customers that they could choose from among an array of merchandise at his store “just below the Great Bridge.”

In addition to consumer choice, Greene also made an appeal to price. When he concluded his list of wares, he proclaimed that “he determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.” In so doing, he indicated his willingness to participate in a price war with other purveyors of dry goods located in the city. Although not unknown, such forceful language was not as common as more general invocations of low prices. Samuel Chace’s advertisement for “A NEW and general Assortment of English and Indi GOODS” in the same issue, for instance, stated that he would “sell cheap,” but did not make any implicit comparisons to the prices charged by any of his competitors. Samuel Chace’s advertisement had been running in the Providence Gazette for three months; William Chace, on the other hand, had inserted a new advertisement the previous week. In it, he declared that “he is determined to sell” his “good Assortment of DRY GOODS” for prices “as cheap, if not cheaper, than any of their Kind are to be sold in Providence.” Furthermore, he assured prospective customers that he “doubts not but they may lay out their Money to their Satisfaction” as his shop, also located “Just below the Great Bridge.”

Greene and Chace were nearby neighbors and competitors. Only a week after Chace launched an advertisement that made exceptional claims about the prices he charged, Greene published his own advertisement to inform prospective customers that they were just as likely to enjoy the same bargains at his store. Their notices appeared in the same column, with two short advertisements appearing between them, making it easy for readers to compare their appeals and place them in conversation with each other. Savvy consumers already sought out the best prices, but these competing advertisements further encouraged comparison shopping.

January 27

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

New-London Gazette (January 27, 1769).

“At the Shop in Beach-Street, (lately improved by Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall.)”

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies, Winthrop Saltonstall made an appeal to consumer choice when he composed an advertisement for a “General Assortment of Ship Chandlery and Iron Monger’s Ware.” He did not merely state that he had an extensive inventory, but instead supplied a list that enumerated dozens of items. Among his wares, customers could purchase “Nails of all Sizes,” “Carpenter’s and Cooper’s Compasses,” and “long and short handled Frying Pans and Iron Tea Kettles.” For some categories of merchandise, he further underscored the range of choice: “Variety of Time and other Glasses,” “Augers various Sizes,” and “Variety Chest, Door, Cupboards and Padlocks.” He concluded with both “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century rendition of “etc. etc. etc.) and “With a Variety of Goods,” combining two standard turns of phrase that customarily appeared separately in newspaper advertisements. Saltonstall encouraged prospective customers to image a vast array of goods available ay his shop; in so doing, he suggested that he could cater to their specific needs and tastes.

Yet consumer choice was not the only marketing strategy that Saltonstall deployed. He also made appeals to price and location, though more briefly. He asserted that he sold his wares “on the most reasonable Terms.” He also informed readers of the New-London Gazette that his “Shop in Beach-Street” had been “lately improved by Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall.” He did not elaborate on what kinds of upgrades he and a partner had undertaken, but merely mentioning that they had made changes to the venue served multiple purposes. It alerted prospective customers that Saltonstall attended to their comfort and convenience while shopping. It also enticed readers, especially former customers, to visit the store out of curiosity, to see the improvements even if they did not intend to make any purchases. Such excursions could yield unanticipated sales or prime future purchases. Although Saltonstall’s comments about his venue were brief, they demonstrated a rudimentary understanding of shopping as an experience rather than a chore and the significance customers placed on location.

January 26

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 26, 1769).

“Catalogues may be had of what Books will be sold this Night.”

An advertisement in the January 26, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal announced an “Auction of BOOKS” that would commence “THIS Evening at FIVE o’Clock … at the City Vendue-store” and continue the following Tuesday. This advertisement also promoted another piece of marketing ephemera intended to encourage sales, “Catalogues … of what Books will be sold.” Printers, booksellers, and auctioneers frequently distributed book catalogs in the eighteenth century, probably more often than the number of surviving catalogs indicates. On the other hand, historians of the book also note that some reference to book catalogs in advertisements and other sources may be ghosts for catalogs that never went to press. Whatever the case with the catalog mentioned in this notice, colonial readers would not have considered it out of the ordinary for auctioneers to print catalogs.

In his Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America, 1693-1800, Robert B. Winans identifies only one surviving catalog that may have been related to the January 26 auction, even if it was not the catalog mentioned in this advertisement: Catalogue of books, to be sold, by public auction, at the City Vendue-Store, in Front-Street: notice of time of the sale will be given in the public papers. Divided into four columns, this broadside (or poster) listed 350 short author entries in no particular order, except for a group of law books at beginning. It lacks an imprint, but Winans attributes it to William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal. Based on the titles, he asserts that the catalog could not have been published before 1768 and probably no later than 1769.

The catalog identified by Winans may have been a precursor to the one mentioned in the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal. It could have been posted around town or otherwise circulated to prospective customers. It could even have been the same catalog if some copies had been held in reserve to distribute on the day of the auction. The ephemeral nature of this advertising medium makes it difficult to know with any certainty. What is more certain is that book catalogs were a familiar form of advertising in colonial America’s largest urban ports by the 1760s. They only became more common as the century progressed.