What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”
At first glance the advertisement did not look much different than others that offered books and pamphlets for sale: “Very lately published in the City of Philadelphia, and to be sold by the Printer hereof, two Discourses by a Layman of the Church of England.” Hugh Gaine inserted that notice in the May 28, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. He offered further description of the “Discourses,” stating that they contemplated “the two following Texts; Matt. xv. 15. 25, Then came she and worshipped him saying, Lord help me; Isaiah xlv. 15. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel the Saviour.” Gaine likely drew directly from the title page in composing that portion of the advertisement.
That part of the advertisement could have stood alone. It provided the same amount of information as others placed by printers and booksellers in colonial American newspapers. It was in the second portion that the printer made a sales pitch that distinguished this particular advertisement from others for books and pamphlets that ran in the same issue and in other newspapers. Gaine informed prospective readers that “THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].” Purchasing it, he suggested, was an act of charity and an expression of concern for the public good. If that was not enough to influence readers to buy the pamphlet, then they could consider it an opportunity to practice philanthropy at a bargain. Gaine asserted that even though the pamphlet sold for eight pence in Philadelphia, he charged only “the small Sum” of four pence for each copy. He ran a half-price sale.
Though brief, Gaine’s advertisement contained two marketing strategies that the printer expected would resonate with prospective customers: a bargain price and an opportunity to aid the less fortunate. That he sold the pamphlet also enhanced Gaine’s own reputation, demonstrating that he supported efforts to benefit the prisoners in Philadelphia. Eighteenth-century advertisements should not be dismissed as simple because they were short or lacked striking visual elements. In a few short sentences, Gaine made a powerful case for purchasing the pamphlet.