What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A very large and compleat Assortment of BOOKS.”
Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, experienced a disruption in their paper supply for two months in the late spring and early summer of 1769. As a result, they temporarily published the newspaper on slightly larger broadsheets, expanding the number of columns to four rather than three while reducing the length of most issues to two pages instead of four. This meant that overall they published eight columns of content in each issue (compared to the usual twelve) during the time they resorted to larger sheets. On June 9, however, the Fowles distributed a four-page edition that consisted of sixteen columns, one-third more content than a standard issue printed on slightly smaller broadsheets.
William Appleton’s advertisement for “a very large and compleat Assortment of BOOKS” accounted for three of those columns. In the headline, Appleton identified several genres to entice prospective customers: “Law, Physic, History, Anatomy, Novelty, Surgery, Navigation, Divinity, Husbandry, and Mathematicks.” He then listed more than two hundred titles available at his store in Portsmouth. As many booksellers did in their notices, he concluded with a short list of stationery and writing supplies. Had it appeared on a broadside rather than in a newspaper, this advertisement would have been considered a book catalog in its own right. Indeed, many newspaper advertisements placed by booksellers in eighteenth-century America amounted to book catalogs that were not published separately but instead integrated into other media.
The amount of space that Appleton’s advertisement occupied in the New-Hampshire Gazette was impressive. Had it been included in an issue printed on a broadsheet of the usual size, it would have filled an entire page on its own. Although rare, full-page advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century newspapers. John Mein, bookseller and printer of the Boston Chronicle, regularly inserted full-page advertisements (and some that even overflowed onto a second page) in his newspaper in the late 1760s. Other booksellers who were not printers as well as merchants and shopkeepers also published full-page advertisements, though not nearly as often as Mein since they did not have immediate access to the press or need to generate content for publication.
While not technically a full-page advertisement, Appleton’s catalog of books in the June 9, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been if it had been published during almost any other month that year. Still, it dominated the page and demonstrated that advertisers recognized the value in purchasing significant amount of space in newspapers as part of their efforts to attract customers.