What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“In a few days will be published by said SPARHAWK, a handsome edition of Dimsdale on the small-pox.”
John Sparhawk cultivated a reputation as a bookseller with a particular interest in medicine. He did so in his advertisements and in choices he made in running “the London Book-store, and Unicorn and Mortar.” The dual name for his location on Second Street in Philadelphia testified to his overlapping business interests. Many booksellers sold patent medicines, but Sparhawk did more than just carry “Drugs and medicines of all kinds.” He also published American editions of medical treatises.
In March 1771, Sparhawk advertised the publication of Samuel-Auguste Tissot’s Advice to the People in General, with Regard to their Health. He continued advertising that volume for sale at his shop into the summer, but he and John Dunlap, the printer, also distributed copies to printers and booksellers in other cities. Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, advertised that they sold the book in the July 8 edition of their newspaper. Their notice reiterated a portion of the advertisement Sparhawk ran in the Pennsylvania Journal, asserting that “This Book has been generally approved by People of all Ranks, into whose Hands it has fell, and it’s Character is so well known that it is esteemed needless to add more in its Favor.” As the publisher whose name appeared on the title page of the American edition, Sparhawk aimed to associate himself with that esteem.
Within a few months, the bookseller-apothecary pursued the publication of another medical treatise. In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he announced that “In a few days will be published by said SPARHAWK, a handsome edition of Dimsdale on the small-pox.” Like Tissot’s Advice to the People, Thomas Dimsdale’s Present Method of Inoculating for the Small-Pox (1767) was a popular book that quickly went into several editions in England. Its success likely made an American edition seem like a safe investment for Sparhawk, but he derived more than just revenues from its publication and sale. He demonstrated a commitment to medicine and public health that distinguished him from other booksellers who merely stocked patent medicines and sold imported medical treatises.