What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Catalogues both of the library and the books he has for sale to be had at his shop.”
On July 15, 1773, William Aikman once again took to the pages of the Maryland Gazette to promote the circulating library that the bookseller and stationer recently opened in Annapolis. He inserted the same advertisement that appeared in the previous issue, seeking subscribers for the library and hawking books, stationery, and writing supplies. In addition to deploying the newspaper notice, Aikman used other forms of advertising.
For instance, he concluded his notice with a nota bene that advised, “Catalogues both of the library and the books he has for sale to be had at his shop.” According to Robert Winans in A Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America, 1639-1800, the Maryland Historical Society has the only known copy of a book catalog that may have been the one that Aikman mentioned in his newspaper advertisement. It contains “854 consecutively numbered medium and full author and title entries, arranged alphabetically,” falling short of the “1200 volumes” that Aikman tallied in his newspaper advertisement. However, that sole copy lacks a title page and other evidence suggests that additional pages may have been lost as well.
In addition to publishing at least one book catalog, Aikman also distributed an item that may have served as a trade card, a bookplate, or membership card. The copperplate engraving features an ornate border that encloses the words “W. AIKMAN’S Circulating Library” in the upper portion of the cartouche and an advertisement for his book and stationery shop in the lower portion: “All kinds of Books, Letter Cases, Message Cards, Gilt &Plain Paper, Wax, &c. Sold at his Shop, Annapolis, at the British Prices, for Cash Only. Paper rul’d, Books bound in the neatest manner.” The final portion of that advertisement echoed the services that Aikman listed in his newspaper advertisement. Images of a globe and a pen and inkpot resting on two books outside the border testified to both the world of knowledge and the products available at Aikman’s circulating library and bookshop. The upper portion of the cartouche also included “No” with space to write in a number. The number “474” appears in manuscript on the copy in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society. That number may have been associated with a book in the numbered catalog or a subscriber to the circulating library, depending on whether Aikman used the engraved card as a bookplate or a membership card.
Aikman’s marketing efforts extended beyond newspaper advertisements. He also distributed book catalogs and engraved cards to draw attention to his bookshop and circulating library, joining other entrepreneurs who diversified the kinds of advertisements that circulated in the colonies during the era of the American Revolution.