March 27

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

Providence Gazette (March 27, 1773).

“Very few will be printed that are not subscribed for.”

For several months John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, disseminated subscription proposals for “reprinting ENGLISH LIBERTIES, or THE FREE-BORN SUBJECT’S INHERITANCE” in his own newspaper and in other newspapers published in New England.  He recruited local agents in Providence and other towns to collect the names of subscribers who reserved copies in advance, a rudimentary form of market research that allowed him to assess demand and the number of copies he needed to print.  In an advertisement that ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette in December 1772, for instance, he indicated that “Subscriptions are received by JOHN CARTER, the Publisher, and by T. and J. FLEET, at the Heart and Crown, in Boston” as well as “by a Number of Gentlemen in the neighbouring Towns and Governments, to whom Subscription Papers are sent.”

On March 27, 1773, Carter inserted a new notice in the Providence Gazette, one that called on “[t]hose Gentlemen who have favoured the Printer in promoting Subscriptions” to return their subscription papers, those broadsides, handbills, or pamphlets that described the proposed volume and had space for subscribers to add their names and the number of copies they wished to reserve.  He also issued another call for those who had not yet subscribed to do so quickly, noting that they would have their “Names prefixed, as Patrons of a Work that contains … a full and compleat View of our Rights as Freemen and British Subjects.”  Books published by subscription often included a list of subscribers, a means of giving credit to those who supported the project and made publication possible.  Such lists also testified to membership in a community that shared common ideals, in this instance a desire to understand and to protect their “Rights as Freemen and British Subjects.”  Carter anticipated that political sympathies and current events might convince some prospective customers that they did indeed want their names among the subscribers to the project, visible to the rest of the subscribers and anyone else who read the book.  The copy in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society includes a six-page list of subscribers at the end.  The placement may have been a decision made by the purchaser or the bookbinder rather than the order intended by the publisher.

Carter made other pitches as he prepared to take the book to press.  He cautioned, “Very few will be printed that are not subscribed for,” so anyone interested needed to reserve their copies in advance or risk the publisher running out.  In addition, the limited number of surplus copies “will be sold at an advanced Price.”  In other words, Carter planned to charge more for those books than the “One Dollar” subscribers paid.  Finally, the printer offered bonus content, declaring that he planned to insert “some valuable Remarks and Additions … by a Gentleman learned in the Law.”  That, Carter confidently stated, would “render the Work still more worthy of the public Attention.”  In his efforts to market an American edition of English Liberties, Carter incorporated several strategies commonly deployed by printers, publishers, and booksellers in eighteenth-century America.

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