What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Requested the Favour of the following Gentlemen to take in Subscriptions.”
When Charles Leonard of Alexandria, Virginia, wished to publish “Six elegant Pieces of Musick” that he composed, he distributed a subscription notice that included the terms and listed local agents who accepted subscriptions on his behalf. In an advertisement that ran in the November 29, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette, Leonard enumerated only two terms of publication. In the first, he stated, “This Work is to be neatly engraved in the Copper-Plate Method, or in Manuscript; and ready to be delivered to Subscribers in Eighteen Months from this Date.” The second term outlined the pricing structure. Each copy cost two dollars, one paid at the time of subscribing and the other on delivery. Publishing by subscription allowed Leonard to assess interest to determine whether moving forward with the venture was viable. The advance payments defrayed expenses while keeping subscribers committed to the project.
Leonard devoted as much space in his advertisement to listing local agents who accepted subscriptions as he did to outlining the terms. In Virginia, he identified four in Alexandria, two in Dunfries, one in Georgetown, and three in Bladensburg. Another five represented him in Maryland, including two in Upper Marlborough and one each in Piscataway, Port Tobacco, and Annapolis. Leonard also had two local agents who accepted subscriptions in Philadelphia. In total, eighteen “Gentlemen … take in Subscriptions” in three colonies. Leonard created an extensive network, hoping that this would garner success in attracting sufficient subscribers for publishing his book of music.
In addition to newspaper advertisements, Leonard may have also had subscription papers printed and distributed to his local agents. Subscription papers included both the terms of publication and space for subscribers to sign their names and indicate the number of copies they wished to order. Local agents sometimes displayed subscription papers, allowing prospective subscribers to see who else had already committed to the project. No matter the means of keeping records of subscribers, local agents eventually sent their lists to Leonard to collate and determine how many copies to publish. His newspaper advertisement was only one part of a larger coordinated campaign designed to generate interest in publishing his “Six elegant Pieces of Musick.”