What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The Gentlemen who subscribed … for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries … are desired to apply for the second Volume.”
Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, inserted a brief notice at the bottom of the final column of the June 29, 1772, edition. “The Gentlemen who subscribed with Edes and Gill for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries on the Laws of England,” they announced, are desired to apply for the second Volume.” In addition, “A few of the First Volume may be had by applying as above.” Edes and Gill did not publish this “American Edition.” Instead, they served as local agents for Robert Bell, a printer and bookseller based in Philadelphia.
Over the course of many months, Bell inserted subscription notices for an American edition of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in newspapers from New England to South Carolina. He also distributed handbills to promote the project. Bell sought to cultivate an American literary market that supplied American readers with American editions instead of books imported from London. In addition to Blackstone’s Commentaries, he advertised an American edition of David Hume’s History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688. Bell suggested that consumers had a civic obligation to purchase these volumes, addressing his subscription notices to “all those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications in AMERICA.”
Bell also stated that those who assisted him in this venture engaged in “peaceable, yet active Patriotism.” In case that was not enough to recruit local agents like Edes and Gill in Boston, he also pledged that “All Persons who collect the Names and Residence, and deliver the Books to twelve Subscribers, have a Claim of Right, and are allowed fourteen to the Dozen for their Assiduity.” In other words, local agents received two copies gratis for each dozen they sold to subscribers. The copies of the first volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries that Edes and Gill offered for sale when they announced that subscribers could pick up the second volume may have been copies they received for gathering subscriptions in Boston. Bell devised marketing strategies to entice both reader-consumers and local agents.