What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Every possessor of a copy may himself enter the proper alteration or addition, agreeable to the advertisements I shall from time to time insert in the Gazette.”
In the summer of 1773, Elie Valette placed an advertisement in the Maryland Gazette to provide an update on The Deputy Commissary’s Guide. Intending to publish the book by subscription, he commenced a marketing campaign several months earlier. He successfully attracted subscribers to the project, a sufficient number that the book “Is now in the Press, and will be speedily published.” Still, Vallette continued to promote the book, hoping to gain additional subscribers to defray the costs and generate more revenue. To that end, he once again declared that those who subscribed in advance would have their names printed on a personalized title page, but they needed “to be speedy in their application, as none but such can have their names printed in the title page.” In the end, that particular enticement worked out a bit differently than Vallette originally described it.
The author also presented an endorsement from several prominent colonizers, all of them “gentlemen of the law” in Maryland, publishing it with their permission. “WE have perused your manuscript, entitled ‘The deputy Commissary’s Guide,’” the lawyers wrote, “and do much approve of it; we apprehend that performance will be of general utility, and that it well deserves the encouragement of the publick.” Even before this endorsement, the number of subscribers “increased far beyond what was conjectured” … and Vallette still had not received lists of subscribers from all of the “gentlemen who have been so obliging to take in subscriptions” throughout the colony. Perhaps an unexpected number of subscribers played a role in Vallette ultimately altering his plans for the title page. In this advertisement, he confided that the subscribers exceeded his original “provision.”
Valette balanced the popularity and demand for the book with the opportunity to become a subscriber. It was not too late! To help convince any prospective subscribers who might have been wavering, the author revealed another feature of the book. He planned to include “a number of blank leaves” for manuscript additions to reflect changes in the laws. “In some few instances,” Vallette acknowledged, “the testamentary laws now existing, may, and probably will, soon undergo the revival of the legislature.” In such instances, “every possessor of a copy [of The Deputy Commissary’s Guide] may himself enter the proper alteration or addition.” To aid in that endeavor, the author pledged that he would place advertisements in the Maryland Gazette to guide subscribers in updating their books “whenever any such alteration shall take place.” Vallette’s relationship with subscribers extended beyond a single transaction. He continued to offer services after buyers received their books.
Vallette intended for each of these marketing strategies – personalized title pages, an endorsement from six prominent lawyers, and blank pages to enter alterations to current laws – to entice even more subscribers for The Deputy Commissary’s Guide. Other authors, booksellers, printers, and publishers sometimes included recommendations from well-known figures in their advertisements for books. The title pages and blank pages, however, represented innovative and novel techniques for encouraging prospective subscribers to reserve their own copies of the book.