February 25

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

Maryland Gazette (February 25, 1773).

“Every Subscriber shall have his Name and Title printed in the Title Page.”

As spring approached in 1773, the printers Anne Catharine Green and Son prepared to take The Deputy Commissary’s Guide within the Province of Maryland to press.  The first advertisement for the work appeared in the February 25 edition of the Maryland Gazette.  Extending an entire column, it included several features intended to entice subscribers to reserve their copies by May 1.

Like many proposals, the advertisement explained the purpose of the book and provided a list of the contents.  In this instance, that meant publishing an excerpt from the book.  In the “PREFACE,” Elie Vallette, the author, explained that he wrote the Guide to establish “a general Uniformity in the Proceedings of Deputy Commissaries, and of assisting Executors and Administrators in the Performance of their Duties.”  He asserted that he gained valuable experience in “my Office of Register, which I have executed for Eight Years past with Application and Diligence,” and, as a result, could provide valuable advice to anyone “concerned in the Management of the Estates of deceased Persons, as Creditors, Executors, Administrators, Legatees, Relations, or in what they have to leave, as well as to claim.”  Vallette’s preface also devoted a paragraph to outlining the nine chapters and promised “a general Index to the Whole” for easy reference.

To facilitate reserving copies of the Guide, Vallette and the printers enlisted the assistance of several local agents.  According to the advertisement, “the several Deputy Commissaries in each respective County of this Province” took orders and accepted payments.  In addition, local agents in seven towns and four more in Annapolis also received subscriptions.  Customers could also contact the printing office directly.

The proposal also described the material aspects of the book and gave prices.  The printers planned to issue “one large Octavo Volume, containing about Three Hundred Folios” for ten shillings.  They also hoped to procure a bookbinder.  If they managed to do so, “the Volume will be neatly bound in Calf, gilt, and lettered.”  That would increase the price by “an additional half Crown.”

Vallette and the printers also promoted a special feature: subscribers would receive personalized copies “provided their Signature comes timely to Hand.”  Each customer who subscribed early enough “shall have his Name and Title printed in the Title Page, in a Label adapted for that Purpose.” The advertisement included an image of that label.  It featured a decorative border made of printing ornaments enclosing the words “FOR MR.” with space to fill in the name and title of the subscriber and the word “County” to appear after the subscriber’s location.  The image of the label likely helped to draw attention to the advertisement.  Readers then discovered the value added by personalizing copies they ordered in advance.

This lengthy advertisement deployed a variety of marketing strategies to convince consumers to reserve copies of the Deputy Commissary’s Guide.  An excerpt from the book explained the author’s purpose and credentials and provided an overview of the contents.  That included describing the chapters and drawing attention to the index.  A list of local agents directed customers where to place their orders.  The printers described the size of the book and the number of pages.  They also indicated that they hoped to hire a bookbinder and gave prices for unbound and bound copies.  Finally, the advertisement offered the option of personalizing the title page, including an image of the label, but only if prospective customers acted quickly to reserve their copies.  Vallette and the Greens ran a sophisticated campaign to promote this book.

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