January 10

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Journal (January 10, 1772).

“ROYAL SPIRITUAL MAGAZINE.”

Among the advertisements placed by local merchants and shopkeepers in the January 10, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, readers encountered a subscription notice for “The ROYAL SPIRITUAL MAGAZINE: OR, THE CHRISTIAN’s GRAND TREASURE,” a magazine published in Philadelphia.  Joseph Crukshank printed the magazine for John McGibbons, who also invited readers to subscribe to “The WORKS of Flavius Josephus, In Four Volumes.”  McGibbons instructed “GENTLEMEN who are pleased to exemplify and encourage” the Royal Spiritual Magazine to submit their names to the printers of the Connecticut Journal or one of several other local agents.  McGibbons also noted he published one issue a month, with the “Fourth Number … already published, and the Fifth in the Press.”  The promise of forthcoming issues did not meet with the success that the publisher hoped.  The Royal Spiritual Magazine soon folded.  Rather than publish magazines in the colonies, printers and booksellers imported magazines from London, often listing them among the various titles available at their shops.

According to Frank Luther Mott’s “Chronological List of Magazines,” the Royal Spiritual Magazine was only the fourteenth magazine attempted in the colonies.[1]  Most previous efforts lasted less than a year, some only a few issues.  The most successful, the American Magazine and Historical Chronicle published by Rogers and Fowle in Boston, ran for just over three years from September 1743 to December 1746.  Mott mentions the Royal Spiritual Magazine only twice in A History of American Magazine, 1741-1850.  In addition to including it in the “Chronological List,” he states that “from 1760 to 1774 there were only three magazines started, the least unsuccessful of which was a nine months’ wonder.”[2]  A footnote indicates that the Royal Spiritual Magazine was one of them.

McGibbons did not effectively deploy advertising to promote the Royal Spiritual Magazine and attract subscribers.  Even though he advertised in the Connecticut Journal and established a network of local agents to receive subscriptions, he did not place similar advertisements for the magazine in other newspapers simultaneously.  He did not target prospective subscribers in the largest cities, Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Given the lackluster performance of magazines published in the colonies, a more robust advertising campaign would not necessarily have yielded greater success for the Royal Spiritual Magazine.  Yet McGibbons did seem to appreciate the value of advertising widely when it came to his other project.  The January 9 edition of the New-York Journal featured an extensive subscription notice for “The Works of FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS” that included local agents in six cities and towns in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.  Why did he settle on the Connecticut Journal as the only newspaper for promoting the Royal Spiritual Magazine, especially when other printers and publishers placed subscription notices for other works in multiple newspapers simultaneously and cultivated networks of local agents throughout the colonies?

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[1] Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1939), 787.

[2] Mott, History of American Magazines, 26.

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