August 18

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (August 15, 1771).

“The following BOOKS, many of them late publications.”

During the week of August 15, 1771, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford had more content than would fit in the four pages of a standard issue of the Pennsylvania Journal.  To solve that dilemma, they distributed a two-page supplement composed entirely of advertising.  One side consisted primarily of twenty-two paid notices submitted by residents of Philadelphia and nearby towns, though the Bradfords interspersed five advertisements for books published and available at their printing office among them.  The other side, however, promoted books sold by the Bradfords exclusively.  In effect, they published a full-page advertisement, one that resembled a broadside catalog and could have been produced and distributed separately if they wished.

Although the list of books filled an entire page, the advertisement featured only fifty-five titles.  In most instances, the Bradfords provided more than the names of the authors and short titles of the books.  Instead, they offered blurbs that previewed the contents for prospective customers.  For instance, one entry described “Salmon’s New Geographical and Historical Grammar, or the present state of the several kingdoms of the world, containing their situation and extent, cities, chief towns, history, present state, form of government, forces, revenues, taxes, revolutions, and memorable events; together with an account of the air, soil, produce, traffic, arms, curiosities, religion, languages, &c. &c. illustrated with a new set of maps and other copper-plates.”  In crafting the blurbs, the Bradfords drew heavily from the extensive subtitles of the books and the tables of contents, but they also noted any ancillary items that added value, such as the maps and images that accompanied Thomas Salmon’s Geographical and Historical Grammar.  For works divided into multiple volumes, they also listed how many were included in a complete set.

Publishing this book catalog as part of an advertising supplement for their newspaper presented an opportunity for the Bradfords to market “A New Publication,” an imported History of France during the Reigns of Francis II and Charles IXby Walter Anderson, as well as hawk other titles among their inventory.  The fees they collected from other advertisers whose notices appeared on the other side of the supplement reduced or eliminated the expense of publishing and distributing a full-page advertisement.

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (August 15, 1771).

June 18

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

Essex Gazette (June 18, 1771).

“Those who live remote shall have their Orders as faithfully complied with as if present themselves.”

Apothecaries Nathanael Dabney and Philip Godfrid Kast competed for customers.  Each placed an advertisement in the June 18, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette, inviting prospective customers to their shops in Salem.  Making the choice between the two apothecaries even more visible to readers, their advertisements appeared one after the other.  Kast, the more experienced advertiser, placed the longer notice.  It extended more than a column, extensively listing the items in stock at the Sign of the Lion and Mortar.  Kast also included blurbs about patent medicines, some of them more familiar to consumers than others, such as “Dr. Hill’s Pectoral Balsam of Honey,” “Dr. Robert James’s Powder for Fevers,” “Dr Stoughton’s great Cordial Elixir for the Stomach,” and “Dr. Scott’s Powder for the Teeth.”  Dabney, on the other hand, provided a shorter list of his inventory, but also promising “every Article in the Apothecary’s Way.”  He aimed to make himself competitive with Kast.

Both apothecaries sought clients in Salem and beyond, inviting readers unable to visit their shops to submit orders.  Dabney and Kast each pledged not to favor customers who visited their shops over those who did not.  “Those who live remote,” Dabney proclaimed, “shall have their Orders as faithfully complied with as if present themselves.”  Kast deployed similar language in a nota bene that concluded his advertisement: “Those who will send their Orders shall be as well used as if present themselves.”  That included both consumers and “Practitioners … in Town and Country.”  The apothecaries described an eighteenth-century version of mail order for “DRUGS and MEDICINES,” an effort to enhance their sales and increase their revenues by offering a convenience to their customers.  Some prospective clients may have found Kast’s advertisement the more alluring of the two.  In addition to a longer list of merchandise, the blurbs about various patent medicines served as suggestions for distant customers unable to consult with the apothecary in person.  Furthermore, Kast trumpeted that he sold his wares “as reasonable, and on as good Credit, as can be purchased in Boston.”  The apothecary no doubt sought to engage every reader, but especially prospective customers outside of Salem who might have been likely to look to Boston, the larger port, for better bargains when resorting to sending orders from a distance.

Dabney and Kast promoted the assortment of medicines they carried and pledged good customer service, but Kast further embellished his marketing efforts by comparing his prices to those in Boston and by providing descriptions of certain patent medicines to help prospective customers make their choices.  For instance, Kast declared that Stoughton’s Cordial “is as necessary for all Seamen or Travellers, and others, to take with them as their daily Food.”  That level of detail required purchasing additional space in the Essex Gazette, but Kast may have determined it was well worth the expense if it drummed up additional business.

February 11

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 11, 1771).

“It is the Book used in Princetown College and Grammar School.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, bookseller Garrat Noel frequently placed advertisements in newspapers published in New York.  Sometimes he provided lengthy lists of the titles available at his shop, but on other occasions he instead highlighted select titles for prospective customers.  When he took that approach, Noel offered more extensive descriptions, providing a preview of sorts intended to incite demand.

For instance, Noel included three books in an advertisement that extended half a column in the February 11, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He devoted half of that space to “A NEW GEOGRAPHICAL, HISTORICAL, and COMMERCIAL GRAMMAR; AND PRESENT STATE OF THE SEVERAL KINGDOMS of the WORLD” by William Guthrie.  In two columns, he enumerated the contents of the book.  In an eighteenth-century version of “but wait, there’s more,” Noel proclaimed that the book also included “a TABLE of the COINS of all Nations, and their Value in ENGLISH MONEY” and “a new and correct Set of MAPS.”  He apparently expected that an extensive presentation of the various contents would help in selling copies.

Noel took a similar approach in promoting another book, “The MESSIAH.”  He once again focused on the contents, but adopted a different format and style.  The bookseller provided a blurb, a chatty description of what readers could expect to encounter in the book.  Noel presented “The MESSIAH” as “an entertaining and instructive book, chiefly of the religious and moral Kind,” with the narrative “drawn from the Sacred Scriptures.”  Rather than a dry theological treatise, however, Noel promised prospective buyers that they would enjoy a text “set in a plain, rational, useful and interesting Light.”  Many readers likely found the blurb for the “The MESSIAH” more engaging than the list of contents for Guthrie’s historical geography.

The bookseller deployed yet another strategy for cultivating interest in the final book in this advertisement, John Mair’s “INTRODUCTION TO LATIN SYNTAX.”  In this case, Noel commented on the popularity and success of the book in other markets, hoping that would translate into demand among consumers in New York.  He described “Mair’s Introduction to the making of Latin” as “the latest and most improved Book of that Kind, and now in Use in all the principal Schools in Scotland, where the Language is taught with the greatest accuracy.”  Yet prospective customers did not need to look across the Atlantic to witness approval for this book.  Noel also noted that it “is the Book used in Princetown College and Grammar School,” a fact that the bookseller leveraged as a recommendation for others interested in Latin to purchase it.

In a single advertisement, Noel experimented with three different methods for inciting interest in some of the books he sold.  For one, he relied on an extensive recounting of the contents, while for another he commented on the contents in a spirited blurb.  For a Latin textbook, he reported on its use in both Scotland and a nearby college and grammar school.  For each book, he selected a marketing strategy that he anticipated would resonate with the consumers most likely to have incipient interest in acquiring a copy.

August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:13:1770 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (August 13, 1770).

We shall just give the Sentiments of the Authors of the Monthly and Critical Review concerning it.”

Much of Garrat Noel’s advertisement in the August 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy looked like other advertisements placed by booksellers.  Divided into two columns, it listed some of the “VERY great Variety of BOOKS” that he sold.  With the titles organized mostly in alphabetical order, Noel’s advertisement was a book catalog adapted for publication as a newspaper advertisement.

For selected books, however, Noel did more than name the title and author.  He attempted to incite interest by appending short notes.  Rather than “Bunyan’s Works,” he stocked “Bunyan’s Works complete in 2 Vols Folio, finely adorned with elegant Copper Plates, among which is a neat Head of the Author.”  Not only did this two-volume set come with attractive images, it was also “Recommended by the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD,” one of the most influential ministers in the colonies.  Whitefield gained celebrity when he toured the colonies, preaching to exuberant crowds in cities and towns from Georgia to New England.  Noel deployed a different strategy in promoting “Boswell’s entertaining Account of Corsica.”  Rather than rely on a celebrity endorsement, he noted that readers themselves expressed great enthusiasm for this book.  It was “in so great Demand in London, that 7000 Copies of it sold in the Space of a few Months.”  Noel encouraged consumers in New York to follow the lead of their counterparts in London who had purchased so many copies.

Those additional notes were relatively short compared to Noel’s treatment of “The patriotic Mrs. McAULAY’S celebrated History of England from the Accession of JAMES I. to the Elevation of the House of HANOVER.”  Noel inserted his own puff piece and then followed it with reviews from two prominent magazines published in London.  “This HISTORY OF ENGLAND,” Noel proclaimed, “is universally approved, and for Beauty and Elegance of Diction, is esteemed one of the best written Histories in the English Language.”  Rather than take the bookseller’s word for it, prospective customers could consider “the Sentiments of the Authors of the Monthly and Critical Review concerning it.”  A lengthy blurb from the Monthly Review followed by a shorter blurb from the Critical Review appeared immediately below Noel’s recommendation of the book.  Promotion of Macaulay’s History of England comprised one-quarter of the space devoted to listing the titles available at Noel’s bookstore.  It extended the same length as nineteen books in the facing column, including “Bunyan’s Works” and “Boswell’s entertaining Account of Corsica” that each had shorter commentaries attached.

Noel sought to enhance demand for his wares by enhancing his list of titles with additional notes about some of them.  He hoped that endorsements by celebrity preachers like Whitefield, recommendations from literary critics from magazines like the Critical Review and the Monthly Review, and even sales figures from consumers in London would influence prospective customers in New York.  Booksellers’ catalogs and newspaper advertisements were not necessarily dry lists of titles in eighteenth-century America.  To greater or lesser extents, some booksellers did enhance the standard format in their efforts to win over consumers.

June 11

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

Jun 11 - 6:11:1770 New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (June 11, 1770).

“With an APPENDIX, containing the Distiller’s Assistant.”

In the spring of 1770, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury carried a series of advertisements from “I. FELL, at No. 14, in Pater-noster-Row, London.”  Two of them appeared in the June 11 edition.  The first, a subscription notice for the bible “On a PLAN never before attempted … By a SOCIETY of CLERGYMEN,” listed Fell as one of the booksellers.  This subscription notice stated that “the Printer hereof,” Hugh Gaine, acted as a local agent.  Interested parties needed to make arrangements with Gaine rather than contacting Fell.  As local agent, Gaine compiled a list of subscribers that he sent to Fell, collected payments, and distributed the book after it went to press.  The other advertisement listed eight titles that Fell sold at his shop.  It did not indicate that Gaine served as a local agent, though customers may very well have had the option of submitting orders through him.

Fell’s second advertisement differed from most others placed by booksellers.  They usually took one of two forms.  Some, like the subscription notice, promoted a single title, describing both the contents and the material qualities of the publication.  Others, like an advertisement placed by James Rivington in the same issue of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, listed books for sale but provided little elaboration beyond the titles.  Rivington’s advertisement listed dozens of books; others listed hundreds.  In contrast to either of those standard approaches, Fell’s advertisement featured eight books and provided a blurb about each to incite interest.

In general, Fell did not compose those blurbs.  Instead, he incorporated the extensive subtitles that tended to be a feature of many books published in the eighteenth century.  Thus “THE MEMOIRS OF Miss Arabella Bolton” became “THE MEMOIRS OF Miss Arabella Bolton, CONTAINING a genuine Account of her Seduction, and the barbarous Treatment she afterwards received from the Honourable Col. L—–L, the present supposed M—–r for the County of MIDDLESEX.  With Various other Misfortunes and Embarrasments, into which this unhappy young Woman has been cruelly involved, through the Vicissitudes of Life, and the Villainy of her Seducer.  The whole taken from the Original Letters of the said. Col. L—-L to Dr. KELLY, who attended her in the greatest Misfortunes and Distresses under which she labored:  And also from sever Original Letters to Dr. KELLY and Miss BOLTON, and from other authenticated Papers in the Hands of the Publisher.”  In addition, Fell listed the price.

Each book in Fell’s advertisement received the same treatment, though not all had subtitles as extensive as The Memoirs of Miss Arabella Bolton.  If prospective customers were unfamiliar with a particular volume, they could consult the blurb to get a better sense of what it contained.  The entry for The Country Brewer’s Assistant and English Vintner’s Instructor, for instance, rehearsed the table of contents and noted that it concluded with “an APPENDIX, containing the Distiller’s Assistant.”  In contrast to that practical guide, The Complete Wizzard included “a Collection of authentic and entertaining Narratives of the real Existence and Appearance of Ghosts, Demons, and Spectres:  Together with several wonderful Instances of the Effects of Witchcraft.  To which is prefixed, An Account of Haunted Houses, and subjoined a Treatise on the Effects of Magic.”  Several books in the advertisement included appendices or additional materials not evident in the main title alone.  The Imperial Spelling Dictionary also included a “Compendious English Grammar.”  Wilke’s Jests, or The Patriot Wit also gathered together a “pleasing Variety of Patriotic Toasts and Sentiments.”  But wait, there’s more!  The publisher also added “THE FREE-BORN MUSE; OR SELECT PIECES OF POETRY, by Mr. Wilkes, and other Gentlemen distinguished for their Wit and Patriotism.”

Fell likely intended that these blurbs would convince readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to purchase the books he sold.  His advertisement revealed not only the contents of each volume but also the added value of supplemental materials not readily apparent in the main titles alone.  Fell did not want readers to skim a list of titles quickly or pass over the advertisement entirely; instead, he sought to arouse greater interest by providing more elaborate overviews to capture their attention and convince them to purchase his books so they could read more.

January 28

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

Jan 28 1770 - 1:25:1770 New-York JournalFREEMAN’s NEW-YORK ALMANACK, For the Year 1770.”

In the final week of January 1770, John Holt continued in his efforts to rid himself of surplus copies of Freeman’s New-York Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1770. He did so much more vigorously than other printers who reduced the length and size of their advertisements significantly as January came to an end, perhaps an indication that Holt seriously miscalculated demand for Freeman’s New-York Almanack, printed far too many, and now had an excessive quantity on hand.

Three advertisements for the almanac appeared on the final page of the January 25 edition of the New-York Journal, Holt’s newspaper. He exercised his privilege as the printer to insert and arrange advertisements as he saw fit. The first of those notices was not at first glance an advertisement for the almanac. Instead, it appeared to be a public interest piece about “raising and preparing FINE FLAX” and the advantages of “farmers in North America” doing so. A separate paragraph at the end, just two lines preceded by a manicule, informed readers that “The whole process of raising and managing this flax is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the year 1770.” That note appeared immediately above the most extensive of Holt’s advertisements for the almanac. He had previously run the notices about “FINE FLAX” and the almanac separately, sometimes even on different pages, and left it to readers to discover the synergy for themselves. A month into the new year, however, he no longer left it to prospective customers to make the connection on their own.

To further increase the likelihood that prospective customers would take note of the almanac, Holt placed a third advertisement next to the second one. Even if readers perused a page comprised almost entirely of advertisements so quickly that they did not notice how the “FINE FLAX” advertisement introduced an advertisement listing the contents of the almanac, it would have been difficult to skim all three columns without taking note of Freeman’s New-York Almanack.

Holt’s advertisements for the almanac accounted for a significant portion of the January 25 edition of the New-York Journal. Even taking into account the two-page supplement distributed with it, the entire issue consisted of only eighteen columns. The three advertisements for the almanac filled more than an entire column, displacing news items and editorials that Holt could have published instead. He apparently calculated that he included sufficient news between the standard issue and the supplement to satisfy subscribers, thus allowing him to aggressively advertise the almanac.

December 24

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

Dec 24 - 12:21:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 21, 1769).

The whole process … is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack.”

This notice appeared among the many advertisements that ran in December 21, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. It extolled the virtues of experimenting with the “Method used in French Flanders, Of raising and preparing FINE FLAX, For making the finest of [textiles known as] Hollands, Lawns, Cambricks and Laces.” For the most part, it resembled an editorial more than an advertisement, but the final two lines made clear that John Holt, printer of both the New-York Journal and Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the Year of Our Lord 1770, inserted it to bolster his marketing efforts for the almanac. Holt advised prospective customers that “The whole process of raising and managing this flax is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the year 1770.” This advertisement accounted for one of the most ingenious marketing strategies for almanacs deployed by printers in the 1760s.

Holt advertised the almanac elsewhere in the December 21 issue of the New-York Journal. An advertisement on the third page conformed to one of the standard formats for marketing almanacs. It announced that the almanac was “lately published” and provided an extensive list of the contents beyond the usual astronomical calculations. The almanac included all kinds of usual reference information, including a “Table of Coins, as they pass in England, New-York, Philadelphia, New-England, and Quebec,” a “List of Council, General Assembly, Judges and other Officers in New-York and New-Jersey,” and a “Table of Roads throughout all the English Dominions in America.” The overview of the almanac’s contents did not, however, list the “Method … Of raising and preparing FINE FLAX.” Holt reserved that for a separate advertisement that appeared on the following page.

The printer encouraged readers raise an prepare flax themselves, proclaiming it “the most profitable article of agriculture that ever was introduced in any country.” As an “inexhaustible source of wealth,” it accrued benefits to the farmer but also served the “national advantage.” In making this claim, Holt presented an opportunity for “gentlem[e]n and farmers in North America” to achieve “great profits,” boost local economies, and acquire new commercial advantages as disputes with Britain continued over trade imbalances and duties imposed on imported goods. In addition to encouraging “domestic manufactures,” many colonists advocated for greater diversification of the colonial economy by cultivating new commodities. In singing the praises of “raising and preparing FINE FLAX,” Holt added to the chorus while simultaneously leveraging that discourse to market Freeman’s New-York Almanack. This supplementary notice reinforced his other advertisement that took a more common approach to marketing almanacs in early America.