October 28

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 year ago today?

Pennsylvania Gazette (October 28, 1772).

“A catalogue of new and old books … is given away gratis.”

William Woodhouse, a bookseller, stationer, and bookbinder in Philadelphia, regularly advertised in the public prints in the early 1770s.  For instance, he ran an advertisement in the October 28, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, advising consumers that he had recently received a shipment of new inventory from London.  Woodhouse provided some examples to entice prospective customer, starting with stationery items.  He stocked everything from “a large assortment of the best writing paper in all sizes” to “round pewter ink stands” to “sealing-wax, wafers, quills, [and] black and red pencils.”  Woodhouse also listed some of the “variety of new books” at his shop, including “Baskerville’s grand family folio bible, with cuts,” “Pope’s Young’s Swift’s Tillotson’s, Shakespear’s, Bunyan’s. and Flavel’s works,” and “Blackstone’s commentaries, 4 vols. 4to.”  The abbreviation “4to” referred to quarto, the size of the pages, allowing readers to imagine how they might consult or display the books.  Woodhouse even had “Newberry’s small books for children, with pictures” for his youngest customers.

The bookseller concluded his newspaper advertisement with a nota bene that invited consumers to engage with other marketing materials.  “A catalogue of new and old books, with the prices printed to each book,” the nota bene declared, “is given away gratis, by said Woodhouse.”  That very well may have been the “CATALOGUE OF A COLLECTION OF NEW AND OLD BOOKS, In all the Arts and Sciences, and in various Languages” that Woodhouse first promoted six weeks earlier in another newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet.  That catalog also included “a large quantity of entertaining Novels, with the lowest price printed to each book.”  Most book catalogs, like newspaper advertisements, did not indicate prices.  Woodhouse apparently believed that stating his prices would help in convincing customers to purchase their books from him rather than from any of his many competitors in Philadelphia.  To draw attention to both the prices and his selection, he gave away the catalog for free.

This catalog may have been part of a larger advertising campaign that Woodhouse launched in the fall of 1772.  He might have also distributed handbills or posted broadsides.  In 1771, he circulated a one-page subscription proposal for “A Pennsylvania Sailor’s Letters; alias the Farmer’s Fall.”  A quarter of a century later, Woodhouse distributed a card promoting copies of “Constitutions of the United States, According to the Latest Amendments: To Which Are Annexed, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federal Constitution, with Amendments Thereto.”  It stands to reasons that Woodhouse used advertising media other than newspapers on other occasions, though such ephemeral items have not survived in the same numbers as newspaper advertisements.  I suspect that far more advertising circulated in early America than has been preserved and identified in historical societies, research libraries, and private collections.

March 11

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Pennsylvania Packet (March 9, 1772).

“Said EVITT prints Advertisements.”

In the early 1770s, William Evitt regularly placed advertisements in several newspapers published in Philadelphia to announce that he “PERFORMS PRINTING IN ALL ITS BRANCHES, With the utmost CARE and EXPEDITION.”  He did not provide much more detail in an advertisement in the March 9, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, though he did include a nota bene about one of the “BRANCHES” of the printing business.  “Said EVITT,” he explained, “prints Advertisements, &c. at two hours notice, as usual.”  The “&c.” (an eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) likely referred to printed blanks such as indentures, bills of lading, and other forms for legal agreements and commercial transactions.

Evitt did not print a newspaper, but he assisted colonizers in disseminating other kinds of advertising media.  The advertisements he printed “at two hours notice” probably included handbills, broadsides (or posters), trade cards (a combination of a handbill and business card), and billheads (a trade card with space for writing receipts by hand).  Each of those items consisted of a single sheet.  At the direction of his customers, Evitt may have embellished the advertising copy with ornamental type of the sort that ran across the top of his newspaper notice or woodcuts with visual images that he supplied.  To produce advertisements in such a short time, he quickly set the type and then worked with employees in operating a manual press.

In declaring that he printed advertisements “as usual,” Evitt suggested that handbills, broadsides, trade cards, billheads, and other items constituted a regular part of his business.  Marketing materials flowed off of his press into the hands of advertisers and, eventually, to colonizers in Philadelphia and beyond.  Compared to eighteenth-century newspapers and the advertisements that appeared in them, however, relatively few handbills, broadsides, trade cards, and billheads survive today.  I believe that historians have underestimated the extent that advertising media circulated in early America, especially in bustling port cities, as a result.  Evitt’s advertisement about printing advertisements suggests that colonizers encountered an array of marketing media on a daily basis.

January 6

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 3, 1771).

“Said EVITT prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”

At first glance, many readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette may have thought that William Evitt’s notice in the January 3, 1771, edition was yet another advertisement for an almanac.  Such advertisements were common at the turn of the new year as printers attempted to sell surplus copies not purchased before the new year began.  David Hall and William Sellers, the printers of both the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack, inserted their own advertisement on the previous page.  The prologue to Evitt’s advertisement suggested that he would devote the entire notice to describing the contents of “THE UNIVERSAL and POOR ROBIN’S ALMANACKS, for the year 1771.”  Although he did promote those two publications, as well as “The GENTLEMAN and CITIZEN’S POCKET ALMANACK” with its “greater variety of useful lists, tables, &c. &c. &c. than any other almanack printed in America,” Evitt addressed a variety of other endeavors in the second half of his advertisement.  He informed customers that he sold books, stationery, and patent medicines, like many other printers, but he also carried other merchandise, including stockings, handkerchiefs, sieves, brushes, soap, and common grocery items.

Near the conclusion of his advertisement, Evitt returned to goods and services more closely associated with printers.  He advised prospective clients that he “prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”  In other words, he did job printing.  Jobs included advertisements, broadsides (today known as posters), circular letters, and a vast array of printed blanks (or forms).  Clients submitted copy or, in the case of blanks, chose from among popular options, then Evitt set the type and produced the specified number of copies.  Evitt did not elaborate on the forms of advertising he printed, but they likely included handbills, catalogs, trade cards, bill heads, broadsides, and circular letters.  He produced them quickly, though the process of manually operating the press meant that he could produce only a limited quantity in that time.  Still, most orders were likely relatively small, in the range of a couple hundred copies.  Evitt considered job printing, especially advertisements, lucrative enough and potentially steady enough to merit mentioning alongside his other enterprises.  In emphasizing the speed of production, he suggested that he competed to provide a service already in demand.  It is quite likely that handbills, broadsides, and other advertisements that came off his press have been lost over time.  Evitt’s newspaper advertisement testifies to a more extensive circulation of other forms of advertising, each of them more ephemeral than newspapers systematically collected and preserved since the eighteenth century.  While newspaper advertising was by far the most common form of marketing in early America, colonists likely encountered other formats more regularly than the numbers of those that survive in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest on their own.

December 30

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Maryland Gazette (December 27, 1770).

“Catalogues may be had at Mr. Thomas Williams and Company’s Store in Annapolis.”

Newspaper advertisements were the most common form of marketing media in eighteenth-century America, but they were not the only means of advertising.  Entrepreneurs also produced and distributed broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, furniture labels, subscription papers, circular letters, and catalogs.  Given the ephemeral quality of those genres, they have not survived in the same numbers as newspaper advertisements, but those that have been identified in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest that various forms of advertising circulated widely.

Sometimes newspaper advertisements from the period made reference to other advertising materials that consumers discarded after the served their purpose, especially subscription papers for books and other publications, auction catalogs for an array of goods, and book catalogs that often also included stationery wares.  Such was the case in an advertisement for “LAW BOOKS” in the December 27, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette.  Thomas Brereton advertised that he sold law books in Baltimore.  Seeking to serve prospective customers beyond that town, he advised readers that they could acquire catalogs “at Mr. Thomas Williams and Company’s Store in Annapolis.”  Consumers could shop from the catalog and place orders via the post, the eighteenth-century version of mail order.

Brereton likely recognized benefits of simultaneously distributing two forms of marketing.  The newspaper advertisements went into widespread circulation throughout the colony and beyond, enlarging his market beyond Baltimore.  Yet the rates for publishing lengthy newspaper advertisements, such as a list of titles from a book catalog, may have been prohibitively expensive.  Instead, resorting to job printing for a specified number of catalogs may have been the more economical choice.  In addition, doing so created an item devoted exclusively to the sale of Brereton’s law books without extraneous materials.  Interested parties who encountered Brereton’s advertisement in newspapers they read in coffeehouse or taverns or borrowed from friends or acquaintances could request their own copies of the catalog to carry with them, mark up, and otherwise treat as they pleased.

Compared to the frequency that newspapers advertisements promoted book catalogs as ancillary marketing materials, relatively few have survived.  Some historians suspect that advertisers did not produce all of the catalogs they mentioned in their newspaper notices, especially those that advertisers promised would soon become available.  Despite that possibility, it did not serve Brereton to direct prospective customers to a catalog that did not exist.  In this instance, he noted that the catalogs were already available, increasing the likelihood that he did indeed produce and circulate them.