What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Humbly requesting the Favour of their LUCUBRATIONS, which he promises to convey to the World with the greatest Care and Attention.”
Isaiah Thomas, printer of the Massachusetts Spy, advertised widely in his efforts to launch the Royal American Magazine. On November 18, 1773, he once again published a notice calling on “gentlemen, in this and the other provinces, who have subscription papers in their hands … to return them as soon as possible.” As readers very well knew, taking the magazine to press depended on generating a sufficient number of subscribers in advance to make it a viable endeavor. Fortunately for both the printer and the “generous Patrons and Promoters of useful KNOWLEDGE, throughout AMERICA” who supported the project, that critical number of subscribers did present themselves by the middle of November.
Thomas inserted an update to inform subscribers and the public “that the first Number will undoubtedly appear on the first of January next.” Now he needed another sort of assistance, “the Favour of their LUCUBRATIONS” or essays to publish in the magazine. An American magazine needed content contributed by Americans. In the proposals, Thomas acknowledged that he would select some pieces “from the labours of our European brethren,” but “shall not fail of making the strictest searches after curious anecdotes, and interesting events in British America.” He requested “the assistance of the learned, the witty, the curious, and the candid, of both sexes, throughout this extensive continent” in sending their correspondence “for the public benefit.” In his latest update, Thomas solicited those “LUCUBRATIONS” and “promises to convey [them] to the World with the greatest Care and Attention” after submitting them to a “Society of Gentlemen, for their Inspection and Approbation.” In other words, Thomas would not publish every essay he received, but did intend to print those that earned the approval of an informal editorial board.
The printer also took the opportunity to make another appeal to “Gentlemen and Ladies who incline to encourage theRoyal American Magazine” who had not yet subscribed to submit their names as soon as possible. If they did not do so, they ran the risk of “be[ing] disappointed of the first Number” when Thomas distributed the inaugural issue to subscribers. He also inserted a note to “PRINTERS of all the Public Papers in America,” knowing that they perused newspapers for material to reprint and that many already served as local agents for the magazine so updates that appeared in the Massachusetts Spy would catch their attention. Thomas requested that printers of other newspapers “insert this Advertisement as soon as may be, for which they shall be fully satisfied by their humble servant.” Rather than expecting fellow printers to run his advertisement as an in-kind favor, Thomas indicated that he would send payment. From recruiting subscribers to soliciting essays to publish to coordinating a marketing campaign, Thomas’s advertisements revealed several aspects of establishing the Royal American Magazine.