What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The Magazines from January, 1771, to October, inclusive,” Rivington stated, “are likewise come to Hand.”
James Rivington and other American booksellers sold some books printed in the colonies, but imported most of their inventory. In January 1772, Rivington ran an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to advise prospective that he had recently imported “Lilly’s Modern Entries, a new and correct Edition; Hawkins’s Pleas of the Crown, a new and improved Edition; Wood’s Conveyancer, a new Edition; … [and] a great Variety of other Books in Law, Physick, Divinity, Mathematicks.” Rivington noted that “the Particulars will be given in a few Days,” signaling to readers that he intended to insert a lengthier advertisement that listed even more titles or perhaps even distribute a book catalog printed separately.
A manicule drew attention to a final note. “The Magazines from January, 1771, to October, inclusive,” Rivington stated, “are likewise come to Hand.” American printers published even fewer magazines than books prior to the American Revolution. They attempted less than fifteen titles before 1775. Most of those magazines folded in a year or less, though a couple did run for two or three years. Some printers distributed subscription notices to incite interest, but ultimately had difficulty attracting sufficient subscribers (or advertisers) to make publishing their magazines viable ventures.
When American readers perused magazines prior to declaring independence, they read imported publications printed in London. Given the time necessary to transport those magazines across the Atlantic, that meant that colonizers read magazines several months after they were published. That being the case, Rivington’s advertisement for magazines published a year earlier in January 1771 did not offer outdated material. In fact, the October editions were about as current as any magazines that American consumers purchased. In addition, Rivington also understood what some customers did with magazines when they acquired them. Magazines were not just for reading; they were also for display. Some readers collected a “volume” of magazines, usually editions spanning six months or a year, and had them bound together to resemble books. Advertising magazines “from January, 1771, to October, inclusive,” let customers interested in collecting and displaying a complete run of a magazine that Rivington could supply them with all the issues they needed. While it may seem strange to modern readers that Rivington advertised magazines published a year earlier, doing so made good sense in 1772 because it resonated with how consumers read and otherwise engaged with those monthly publications.