What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Any orders for books … will be regularly forwarded by a packet that goes weekly between Baltimore and Annapolis.”
When William Aikman opened a circulating library in Annapolis in the summer of 1773, he hoped to gain subscribers in Baltimore and other towns. Unlike modern public libraries open to all patrons, eighteenth-century circulating libraries lent books and other reading material only to subscribers who paid fees to access them. To make the venture viable, Aikman needed to recruit as many subscribers as possible. According to the advertisement he placed in the October 30 edition of the Maryland Journal, the newspaper only recently established in Baltimore, Aikman stated that he had learned that a “number of the friends of literature” in that city expressed interest in subscribing to his library yet refrained solely due to the “trouble and risk they run of procuring and returning the books” at such a distance. His library catalog revealed which books subscribers could borrow, but the logistics of checking them out and returning them to the library presented remained an obstacle.
Aikman proposed a solution to that problem. He instructed that “any orders for books left with Mr. Christopher Johnston,” a merchant in Baltimore, “will be regularly forwarded by a packet that goes weekly between Baltimore and Annapolis.” Aikman charged an additional fee for this service, a dollar a year. He also advised that it would go into effect “provided a proper number of subscribers can be got.” In other words, prospective subscribers needed to consider not only the benefits that would accrue to them but also their duty to make the library more accessible to the “friends of literature” in their town. Aikman promised “above two hundred volumes of all the new publications of merit” that subscribers could borrow rather than buy.
The bookseller and stationer in Annapolis may not have been aware that he faced a competitor. Elsewhere in the October 30 edition of the Maryland Journal, Joseph Rathell published “PROPOSALS FOR ESTABLISHING A CIRCULATING LIBRARY IN BALTIMORE-TOWN,” offering residents a local alternative to the library in Annapolis. The Adverts 250 Project will examine that advertisement, including Rathell’s dismissive reference to Aikman’s fees for delivering books to Baltimore, in another entry.