What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JUST PUBLISHED … TWO SERMONS.”
John Carter exercised his privilege as printer to have his own advertisement appear first among the advertisements in the July 1, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Carter announced that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” two sermons delivered by Thomas Story to “Public Assemblies of the People called QUAKERS.” Story (1662-1742) became a Quaker convert in 1689. He became friends with William Penn, the founder of the sect. Story spent sixteen years in colonial America, lecturing to Quakers and held several offices in Pennsylvania, before returning to England.
Although Carter called the pamphlet “TWO SERMONS” in the advertisement, he referred to Two Discourses, Delivered in the Public Assemblies of the People Called Quakers. Much of the advertisement seems to have been a transcription directly from the title page (“Taken in Short-Hand; and, after being transcribed at Length, examined by the said T. STORY, and published by his Permission”), but Carter did add a short description of Story (“that eminent and faithful Servant of CHRIST”) as a means of better promoting the book. According to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, the discourses included “The Nature and Necessity of Knowing One’s-Self” and “The Insufficiency of Natural Knowledge and the Benefits Arising from that which Is Spiritual.”
The transcription of the title page available via the Evans Early American Imprint Collection’s Text Creation Partnership lists this imprint: “LONDON, Printed. PROVIDENCE, Re-printed and Sold by JOHN CARTER, at Shakespear’s Head. M,DCC,LXIX.” Only one London edition, published in 1738, had appeared during Story’s lifetime, but two others were published in 1744 and 1764. Carter most likely consulted the 1764 edition when reprinting the book in Providence, inspired that a relatively new London edition signaled that there might also be demand for the pamphlet on his side of the Atlantic.
In addition to offering copies for sale, the advertisement also called on subscribers who had pre-ordered the pamphlet to collect their copies. Carter had not simply assumed the risk for printing a collection of lectures originally delivered more then three decades earlier. He first determined that a market existed to make it a worthwhile venture. Like other colonial printers, he did not print the proposed title until after he secured a sufficient number of subscribers who pledged to purchase the pamphlet (and perhaps even made deposits to reserve their copies). Any subsequent sales amounted to an even better return on his investment.