What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Subscribers are desired to send for their Books.”
The day after a notice concerning the publication of “A COLLECTION of Original PAPERS, which are intended to support and elucidate the principal Facts related to the first Part of the HISTORY of MASSACHUSETTS BAY” ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, a nearly identical advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette. Some spelling and punctuation varied, as did the typography throughout the notice, but for all intents and purposes the two newspapers published the same advertisement. The notice in the Providence Gazette, like the one in the New-Hampshire Gazette, provided instructions for customers who had pre-ordered a copy of the “Collection of original Papers” to “send for their Books.” Those customers were known as subscribers because they had responded to subscription notices distributed to incite demand and gauge interest in the book before T. and J. Fleet committed to publishing it. The Fleets obtained enough subscribers to make the venture viable and now called on those customers to collect their books.
The advertisement occupied a privileged place in the October 14, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Of the several advertisements in that issue, it appeared first, immediately below local news. John Carter, the printer and proprietor of the Providence Gazette, may have instructed the compositor to place it there when setting the type for the issue. This courtesy extended to fellow printers could have enhanced the visibility of the advertisement, increasing the likelihood that subscribers would take note. The compositor also included a manicule to draw attention, deploying a device that did not often appear in the Providence Gazette. Carter may not have charged the Fleets for inserting the advertisement, running it as an in-kind service for fellow printers in another city who did not directly compete the work he did at the printing office in Providence. Although this advertisement did not explicitly state that was the case, others published in connection to subscription notices sometimes called on fellow printers to give notices space gratis.