What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“All Persons that now choose to encourage American Manufactures.”
On January 24, 1771, Robert Bell continued marketing an American edition of “Robertson’s History of Charles the Fifth” with advertisements in both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Gazette. In the latter, the flamboyant printer, publisher, bookseller, and auctioneer announced publication of the second volume and promised that the “THIRD VOLUME of this celebrated History is now in the Press, and will soon be finished.” Bell noted that the second volume was “now ready to be delivered to the Subscribers,” purchasers who reserved copies in advance. In a nota bene, he advised “SUBSCRIBERS in the Jerseys” to visit Isaac Collins in Burlington or Dunlap Adams in Trenton to retrieve their copies.
Bell also invited those who had not yet subscribed to join the fellowship of their peers who “choose to encourage American Manufactures.” Both before and, especially, after the American Revolution, Bell was one of the eighteenth-century’s leading proponents of creating a distinctly American literary market in terms of the production of books. Printers and booksellers imported most of the books they offered for sale, a situation that Bell sought to modify. In deploying the language of “American Manufactures,” he made this into a political project familiar to both producers and consumers as a result of nonimportation agreements enacted in opposition to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts. Yet prospective customers had another reason to choose Bell’s American edition over an imported alternative: price. Bell charged one dollar for each volume of Robertson’s history. In comparison, “the British Edition cannot be imported for less than Four Dollars each Volume.” Bell’s customers enjoyed significant savings, acquiring the entire set of the American edition for less than a single volume of the British edition.
Bell concluded his advertisement with some of the verbose language that became a hallmark of his marketing efforts over the course of several decades. Those who wished to become subscribers by sending their names to Bell or other booksellers “may depend upon Ebullitions of Gratitude.” Bell’s advertisement incorporated several marketing strategies, including the politics of “American Manufactures,” the financial advantages for customers, and his colorful language and personality.