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.