What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“HAVING perused all the most material parts of Mr. Gale’s manuscript copy of the complete surveyor, I beg leave to recommend it.”
Samuel Gale, the deputy surveyor general of New York, tried once again. He had written a manual, “the COMPLEAT SURVEYOR,” that he wished to publish, but first he needed to find a sufficient number of subscribers to make it a viable venture for both the author and the printer, presumably Hugh Gaine in New York. Gale had previously advertised in Gaine’s newspaper, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, in June 1773. In November, he placed an advertisement with identical copy in the New-London Gazette. It filled nearly an entire column, starting in one and overflowing into another.
Approximately half of the lengthy advertisement consisted of five “RECOMMENDATIONS” for the proposed book. William Alexander, the Earl of Stirling, a member of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, stated that the manual “will be a very useful work to most of the surveyors in North-America, as well as others who are desirous of making themselves acquainted with both the theory and part of that art.” Alexander Colden, the Surveyor General of New York, testified that he “perused such parts of Mr. Gale’s manuscript copy, as relates to practical surveying in America (which has been omitted in the former authors) and I find it well handled, and worthy of the encouragement of the public. Similarly, David Rittenhouse, a prominent astronomer, mathematician, and surveyor in Philadelphia, reported that he read the manuscript and “recommend it as a work, in my opinion, well deserving the encouragement of the public.” John Lukens, the Surveyor General of Pennsylvania, asserted that the work “deserves public encouragement” because “the rules therein laid down in practical surveying, … especially that part relating to surveying our rough lands in America, may be of great advantage to those concerned in surveying, as well as others.” John A. De Normandie, a prominent physician and scientist, proclaimed that Gales’s “rules are extremely good, and his demonstrations easier and better adapted to the understanding of mankind, than any I have ever met with.” The first four of those testimonials also appeared on a handbill that Gale distributed the previous year.
In addition to these endorsements, Gale recruited printers and other local agents to collect subscriptions in more than a dozen cities and towns from Boston to Savannah. Those included Timothy Green, the printer of the newspaper carrying the surveyor’s subscription proposal. Gale also indicated that “all the Booksellers and Printers in America and the West-India Islands” accepted and forwarded subscriptions. Anyone who wished to contact Gale directly could do so “by applying to Hugh Gaine, at New York.”
Gale managed to enlist some subscribers but still needed to entice more. His advertisement served as an update for “the PUBLIC in general, and to the SUBSCRIBERS in particular,” alerting them that he had “not yet been favoured with a sufficiency of the subscribers to enable me to carry it into immediate execution, without running too great a hazard.” He needed to entice more subscribers among the “well-wishers to mathematical learning among the public.” Apparently, Gale did not manage to do so, despite his advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-London Gazette, his handbill, the endorsements for his manual, and the network of local agents collecting subscriptions. The surveyor deployed a variety of marketing strategies, but that did not guarantee success.