March 17

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

Pennsylvania Journal (March 17, 1773).


Nicholas Brooks frequently promoted maps, prints, and other products in the pages of Philadelphia’s newspapers in the early 1770s.  In an advertisement in the March 17, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, he peddled “NOVELTIES” for the amusement of consumers.  Today, a headline for the same items might instead say “CARDS and GAMES” to attract the attention of prospective customers seeking leisure activities.

Brooks listed three games his notice, one board game and two card games.  In “THE Royal Geographical Amusement, or the European Traveller, designed for the Grand Tour,” players learned about geography as they moved their tokens around a map of Europe.  Brooks indicated that he sold the version of the game “by Doctor Nugent,” suggesting that he stocked a copy produced in 1770 by Carington Bowles in London rather than the original published by Thomas Jefferys in London in 1768.  This board game became the first known case involving maps and copyright infringement.  Copyright and Cartography provides an overview of the case as well as images of both maps/gameboards.  Robert Sayer produced another version, attributed to “Dr. Journey,” in 1774.  The game became popular enough that R.H. Laurie continued to produce it in 1823.  The Victoria and Albert Museum provides both the rules and an image of the map/gameboard. Players apparently read descriptions of each location as they moved their tokens around Europe.

In addition, Brooks sold “Geographical Cards, or a View of the principal Cities of the known World, designed for the recreation of young Gentlemen and Ladies” and “Cards of Antient History.”  John Ryland, who ran a boarding school in Northampton, created both games.  In the full title for the “Geographical Cards,” Ryland recommended their use in boarding schools.  Bowles printed the fifty-two “Geographical Cards” in 1770.  He presumably supplied Brooks with the “Cards of Antient History” as well, sending him several “NOVELTIES” to sell to colonizers in Pennsylvania.

Shopkeepers often included playing cards among the merchandise they listed in their advertisements.  Brooks attempted to distinguish these games from “the depredations daily committed upon all the finest feelings of humanity by the common gambling Cards.”  He presented the history and geography games as an “elegant and chaste invention” that would preserve the “innocence” of those who played them.  As an added bonus, these games educated players as they entertained them.  Given the critiques of luxury and leisure aimed at those who too enthusiastically participated in the transatlantic consumer revolution, Brooks sought to help prospective customers justify purchasing and playing these games.

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