What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING.”
Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal in New Haven, planned to publish “A careful and strict Examination of the external Covenant, and of the Principles by which it is supported. A REPLY To the Rev. Mr. Moses Mather’s Piece, intitled, The Visible Church on Covenant with God, further illustrated” in the spring of 1771. Before taking the book to press, however, they sought to gauge demand in order to determine how many copies to print. To that end, they distributed subscription notices, including “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING” in the March 15, 1771, edition of the New-London Gazette. The Greens requested that those interested in reserving copies become “Subscribers” by submitting their names by May 1. In turn, the Greens guaranteed the price of the book to those who ordered copies in advance. Other customers who purchased surplus copies risked paying higher prices.
In addition to seeking subscribers in New Haven, the Greens attempted to incite demand in other towns. Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette, not only inserted the “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING” in his newspaper but likely also served as a local agent who collected subscriptions and sent the list to the printing office in New Haven. The Greens devoted most of subscription notice to the lengthy title of the book and a list of its contents, demonstrating to prospective subscribers the various theological arguments presented by Joseph Bellamy. They also listed the price, one shilling and four pence, contingent on how many pages were in the book. They anticipated printing on twelve sheets, but would adjust the price higher or lower if they used more or less paper. The Greens also established a timeline for receiving subscriptions and printing the book, stating that subscribers and local agents should contact them by May 1 so “it may be known how many Books shall be ready for the Subscribers at the next Commencement in New-Haven.” The Greens planned to distribute the book at the same time as graduates of Yale College gathered.
Colonial printers often relied on networks of booksellers, local agents, and fellow printers in the marketing and distribution of books they printed. Two other notices in the same edition of the New-London Gazette concluded with such lists. One, another subscription notice, listed seven local agents in seven towns in Connecticut. The other, an advertisement for a book already published, named eleven local agents in seven towns as well as a postrider who served several of those places. Subscription notices and local agents played a vital role in determining the viability of proposed books in eighteenth-century America.