July 28

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

Connecticut Courant (July 28, 1772).

“BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON.”

Booksellers Smith and Coit took out a full-page advertisement in the July 28, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Or did they?

A headline that extended four lines ran across the top of the final page, advising readers that “The following BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON, are to be sold cheap for Cash, by SMITH and COIT, At their Store in HARTFORD.”  The booksellers provided a list of authors and titles, arranged in four columns with one item per line.  They further aided prospective customers in navigating the list by organizing it according to genre, providing headings for each category, and alphabetizing the entries under Divinity; Law; Physic, Surgery, &c.; Schoolbooks; History; and Miscellany.  This design allowed Smith and Coit to distribute the advertisement separately as a broadside book catalog, if they placed an order for job printing with Ebenezer Watson, the printer of the Connecticut Courant.

Smith and Coit may have intended to run a full-page advertisement, but another notice also appeared on the final page, that one printed in the right margin on the final page.  To make the advertisement that William Jepson placed in the previous issue fit in the margin, either Watson or a compositor in his printing office rotated the type perpendicular to the other contents of the page and divided the notice into five columns of five or six lines each.  A common strategy for squeezing content into the margins, that saved the time and energy of completely resetting the type.

Jepson’s advertisement could be easily removed.  Indeed, it did not appear on the same page as Smith and Coit’s advertisement in the next edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Instead, the booksellers had the entire page to themselves, a true full-page advertisement.  Did Watson make the adjustment of his own volition?  Or had Smith and Coit complained that Jepson’s notice intruded into their advertisement, its unusual format distracting from the impression they hoped to make with a full-page advertisement?

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