What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“WATT’S PSALMS … with a PREFACE of twenty four pages.”
John Mein and John Fleeming, printers of the Boston Chronicle, also printed and sold “WATT’S PSALMS WITH HIS HYMNS AND SPIRITUAL SONGS.” Given the popularity of Isaac Watt’s Psalms, American printers produced several editions in the eighteenth century and booksellers imported others from London. To incite demand for their edition, Mein and Fleeming sought to distinguish it from others.
They began by supplementing the title of the book with additional notes. In writing the copy for advertisements for books, printers and booksellers often simply listed the title and extensive subtitle that doubled as a table of contents. That preview gave prospective customers a glimpse of what they would encounter when they purchased and read books themselves. In this case, however, Mein and Fleeming further embellished the subtitle of Watt’s Psalms: “IMITATED in the language of the NEW-TESTAMENT, and applied to the Christian state and worship, with a PREFACE of twenty four pages, being a Discourse on the right way of fitting the PSALMS of DAVID for Christian Worship.” The underlined portion identifies deviations from the title page, which instead reads: “with the preface, or an enquiry in to the right way.” Mein and Fleeming then described the contents of those twenty-four pages in greater detail before giving the same treatment to the “NOTES at the end of the PSALMS.”
The printers had good reason to be so particular. They concluded their advertisement by proclaiming, “This is the only Edition of Dr. WATTS’s PSALMS and HYMNS printed in AMERICA, with the large Preface and Notes.” They sought to underscore the value of their edition compared to others produced by local printers, drawing attention to the twenty-four pages in the preface as well as the notes and “proper directions for SINGING” that followed the hymns. Although infamous loyalists, they appropriated the “Buy American” strategy deployed by supporters of the patriot cause in service of selling their edition of Watts’s Psalms.