What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Printed Catalogue will be timely delivered.”
In advance of an auction of a “A Collection of BOOKS,” Nicholas Langford placed an advertisement in the April 24, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He provided a preview of some of the items for sale, including “Johnson’s Dictionary” in two volumes and thirty-two volumes of the London Magazine “from the Beginning.” Langford could have inserted a more extensive account of the “Collection of “BOOKS.” Instead, he declared that “A Printed Catalogue will be timely delivered.” He used his newspaper advertisement to promote another form of marketing ephemera that prospective customers could consult and find useful prior to and during the auction.
Indeed, book catalogs and auction catalogs (and catalogs for book auctions) were ephemeral. Little or no evidence exists concerning the production and distribution of many catalogs except for mentions of them in newspaper advertisements. Some may never have existed except in those advertisements; bibliographers and historians of print culture suspect that advertisers like Langford sometimes promised catalogs that never went to press. While some catalogs mentioned in newspaper notices may very well have turned out to be bibliographic ghosts, enough eighteenth-century catalogs have survived to demonstrate that medium did circulate in early America.
It would not have served Langford well to allude to a catalog that would not be “timely delivered” or even delivered at all. As an entrepreneur seeking to attract as many bidders to his auction as possible, it served his interests to distribute the catalog. In addition, it would have damaged his reputation if prospective buyers sent for a catalog and he had to confess that he had not managed to follow through on the intention that he had announced to the public in a newspaper advertisement. Even if something prevented Langford or others from publishing some of the catalogs mentioned in newspaper advertisements, that they were referenced at all suggests that they were a form of marketing media that colonists expected to encounter.