What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this weel?
Nicholas Langford, “Bookseller, on the Bay,” inserted an advertisement for the London Magazine in the December 7, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. At a time when many colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest taxes that Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea, most continued to seek redress of grievances rather than political separation from the most powerful empire in the world. Even as they came to think of themselves as Americans with unique concerns within that empire, most still embraced their British identity, not just politically but also culturally. Langford had a reasonable expectation that he would find subscribers for the London Magazine on the eve of the 1770s.
Commencing publication in 1731, the London Magazine had a long history and a notable reputation. According to Langford, the “present Proprietors … are resolved to spare no Cost to continue its Pre-eminence” by “collecting from their extensive Correspondence, such Pieces of Literary Knowledge and Amusement, as may best deserve the Public’s Notice.” They also composed original pieces, “each taking upon him that Department which best suits his Genius.” This sort of cultural production did not have a counterpart or competitor in the colonies. Lewis Nicola had recently tried to launch the American General Magazine, placing subscription notices in several newspapers throughout the colonies, but the magazine quickly folded. Like most other American magazine published before the Revolution, it lasted less than a year. The first issue appeared in January 1769 and the last in September. Nicola modeled the magazine after successful publications produced on the other side of the Atlantic, but did not manage to cultivate a roster of subscribers extensive enough to make the American General Magazine a viable venture. Consumers with the resources to afford magazines and the leisure time to read them had well-established alternatives, including the London Magazine with its “Copper-Plate Embellishments.” Langford also offered The Critical Review “for any Gentleman who may be desirous of having it with the Magazine.”
As colonists expressed their disdain for Parliament and its various abuses, many also continued to embrace their British identity. The politics of the period did not prevent them from marketing or consuming cultural productions that emanated from the center of the empire. For some, staying informed by reading the London Magazine did not seem incongruous with participating in acts of political resistance that included boycotting a vast array of consumer goods imported from Britain.