February 5

What was advertised in colonial America 250 years ago today?

Henry Knox, trade card, engraved by Nathaniel Hurd, Boston, ca. 1771-1774. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

“London Book Store.”

Earlier this week, the Adverts 250 Project featured an advertisement that bookseller Henry Knox placed in the Boston Evening-Post.  In addition to listing various genres of books available at the “LONDON BOOK-STORE, Opposite Williams’s Court, A little Southward of the Town-House in Cornhill,” the advertisement also informed readers that “A Catalogue … may be seen at said Store.”  Like many eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, Knox supplemented his newspaper advertisements with other marketing media.  He distributed at least three book catalogs in the early 1770s.  He also disseminated a trade card to capture the attention of prospective customers.

Measuring approximately four inches by five inches, the trade card gave Knox’s address, “London Book Store Cornhill, Boston” and announced that the bookseller “Makes & binds Waste Books, Journals Ledgers, and all other Sorts of Blank Books at the Shortest Notice.”  Knox offered those services in his newspaper advertisements as well, though he usually mentioned them at the end of his notice.  He reversed the order on his trade card, advising colonizers that he “ALSO Sells Books in all Languages, Arts, and Sciences, Stationary, &c. &c.”  Ending with “&c.” (a common abbreviation for et cetera) signaled that he stocked a variety of other writing supplies.  His newspaper advertisements mentioned “Quills, Sealing Wax, Wafers, very neat gilt and border’d Message Cards, [and] fine black Writing Ink.”

An ornate border surrounded the advertising copy on Knox’s trade card.  As a result, it resembled trade cards produced and distributed in London, but it bore the initials “NH.”  Nathaniel Hurd, an American artisan, did the engraving for Knox’s trade card and others.  For instance, he engraved a trade card that promoted “Sperma-ceti Candles Made by Joseph Palmer & Co. at Germantown Near Boston, & Sold at their Store in Boston New-England.”  He also engraved a trade card for Philip Godfrid Kast, an apothecary who “Hath Lately Imported from London, a Large Assortment of Drugs & Medicines.”  Hurd likely lent his skills to the production of other trade cards, contributing to a culture of advertising in early America that extended beyond newspaper notices.

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