What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The following BOOKS.”
Lathrop and Smith made a significant investment in their advertisement that ran in the June 4, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant. Divided into four narrow columns, it filled the space usually devoted to two of the three columns on the final page of the newspaper. Overall, it comprised one-sixth of the content (two out of twelve columns) delivered to readers. Listing just over 250 individual titles, it was a book catalog distribute via alternate means. Lathrop and Smith could have just as easily arranged for handbills or broadsides to inform prospective customers of the assortment of books they sold at their store in Hartford.
That they stocked these books in a relatively small town did not mean, however, that their customers should expect to pay higher prices. Lathrop and Smith proclaimed that they sold their books “at as low a rate as they are usually sold inBoston or New-York,” the major urban ports in the region. Furthermore, they encouraged readers to spot special bargains, asking them to take note that “Those articles marked thus [*] are to be Sold for very little more than the Prime Cost.” In other words, the local booksellers charged only a small markup on several volumes, including Van Swieten’s Commentaries on Boerhaave’s Aphorisms, Winslow’s Anatomy, Moral Tales, and Vicar of Wakefield.
Lathrop and Smith also aided prospective customers in finding titles of interest by separating them according to genre and inserting headers, such as “DIVINITY,” “LAW,” “PHYSIC, SURGERY, &c.,” “SCHOOL BOOKS,” “HISTORY,” and ‘MISCELLANY.” Within each category, the books were alphabetized by author or title, with the exception of four titles appended to the books on divinity (though they were also alphabetized). When it came to writing copy, Lathrop and Smith attempted to make their catalog accessible and easy to navigate.
In general, their advertisement was just as sophisticated as those published by their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The Connecticut Courant ran much less advertising than newspapers in those port cities, but that did not necessarily mean that advertisers did not adopt the same methods and strategies for appealing to consumers.