What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Names of the Subscribers to any of the above will be printed.”
Robert Bell, one of the most influential booksellers of the eighteenth century, worked to create an American literary market both before and after the American Revolution. In the early 1770s, he published an American edition of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. He promoted this project to supporters of “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies.
In an advertisement in the January 11, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, he addressed the “Gentlemen of Rhode-Island, and all those who are animated by the Wish of seeing NATIVE FABRICATIONS flourish in AMERICA.” Such “FABRICATIONS” included not only printing an American edition but doing so “on American Paper.” That eliminated two kinds of imported goods, “the last British Edition” that Bell consulted in producing his American edition and paper produced in England. In turn, this provided employment for papermakers and printers in the colonies. In addition, those who purchased the American edition acquired it for a bargain price. Bell indicated that the first volume of the British Edition “is sold for above Six Dollars,” but he charged “the small Price of Two Dollars” for the American edition. The enterprising bookseller also hawked an “American Edition of ROBERTSON’s History of Charles the Fifth” and accepted subscriptions for another proposed project, “HUME’s History of ENGLAND.” Colonizers could support the local economy by stocking their libraries with a significant number of American editions.
In the process, they could also receive recognition for their support of “NATIVE FABRICATIONS.” Bell concluded his advertisement with a note that the “Names of the Subscribers to any of the above will be printed.” Buyers had the chance to see their names in print in good company with others who had the good taste and intellectual acumen to read (or at least purchase) these works by Blackstone, Robertson, and Hume. While relatively few friends and acquaintances might see any of these volumes in subscribers’ homes or offices, anyone who perused the lists, often bound into the books, would see who purchased copies of their own. Bell hoped that a desire to support domestic manufactures would convince colonizers to buy his American editions, but he hedged his bets by also offering the opportunity to have such support publicly acknowledged.