February 5

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

Feb 5 - 2:5:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 5, 1770).

“All the Books in this Catalogue are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.”

Robert Bell, one of the most industrious booksellers in eighteenth-century America, owed his success in part to savvy advertising. His advertisement for an “Auction of Books” in the February 5, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, for instance, incorporated two significant marketing strategies intended to incite consumer demand.

Bell began by announcing that he had just published a “CATALOGUE of new and old BOOKS” that prospective customers could acquire “gratis at the Place of Sale.” Bell likely intended that distributing the catalog would get people through the door. When they came to pick up a catalog many might decide to view the merchandise. Then they carried away a catalog as a reminder of the books they had examined. In passing out catalogs, Bell also enhanced the dissemination of information about his merchandise beyond the reach of his newspaper advertisement. Prospective customers who obtained catalogues could share them with members of their household as well as friends and neighbors. Bell did not rely on a single medium to attract attention to his “Auction of Books.” Instead, he had multiple marketing media in circulation.

He also addressed the politics of consumption, concluding his advertisement with a note about the origins of the books he offered for sale. “[A]ll the Books in this Catalogue,” he assured prospective customers, “are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.” Although colonial printers produced some American imprints, the most books in the colonies were imported from England prior to the American Revolution. Bell sought to mediate that reality by focusing on the fact that his books had been imported before merchants, shopkeepers, and others enacted a boycott of imported goods to protest the duties levied on certain imported goods in the Townshend Acts. Rather than focus on where those volumes had been produced he instead emphasized when they had arrived in the colonies. Still, he did make an appeal to the place of production when he could, noting that some of his books were indeed “American Manufacture.” To underscore the importance of these distinctions, he addressed prospective customers as “Lovers and real Practisers of Patriotism,” challenging all readers to consider the political meanings of consumer goods.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements have sometimes been dismissed as mere announcements that made no effort at marketing. Bell’s notice, however, demonstrates that some advertisers engaged in savvy marketing campaigns … and that consumers were exposed to their efforts to shape the colonial marketplace.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

benjamin-franklin
Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-19-161736
Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children as well as notices offering rewards for those who escaped from bondage.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-slave-19-161736
Advertisement for an enslaved woman and an enslaved child from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

general-magazine
General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 314th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

December 11

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

Dec 11 - 12:11:1769 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (December 11, 1769).

“Printed Catalogues of which will be given gratis.”

On December 11, 1769, auctioneer Joseph Russell placed advertisements about an estate sale “At the House of the late Mr. John Knight” in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston and Boston Post-Boy. He inserted the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter four days later, informing prospective bidders that a “PUBLIC VENDUE” or auction of Knight’s “House-Furniture” would take place on December 20. Items up for bid included “Feather Beds, Bedsteds, and Bedding,” “a great Variety of Mens & Womens Wearing Apparel,” and “Shoe and Knee Buckles.” In additional to those items, Russell planned to auction “a valuable Library of Books, consisting of History and Divinity.”

The advertisement concluded with a note that “printed Catalogues … will be given gratis.” Those catalogs may have listed all of the items to be sold at auction, but more likely they listed only the books. That same year in Philadelphia William Bradford and Thomas Bradford printed a Catalogue of Books, to be Sold, by Public Auction, at the City Vendue-Store, in Front-Street. That catalog was a broadsheet with four columns; the format lent itself well to posting the catalog around town. Other eighteenth-century catalogs resembled pamphlets instead.

Auctioneers, printers, and booksellers regularly advised newspaper readers that they published book catalogs and distributed free copies, using one advertising medium to promote another. Some historians of print culture suspect that some references to such catalogs in newspaper advertisements led to bibliographic ghosts, alluding to catalogs that were never printed despite the promises or best intentions of the advertisers. For those that did make it to press, book catalogs were even more ephemeral than newspapers, making it less likely that colonists saved rather than discarded them. Still, enough have survived to demonstrate that auctioneers and others did print and distribute catalogs as a means of informing consumers and inciting demand. Newspapers notices were the most voluminous form of advertising in early America, but other marketing media, including catalogs, circulated as well. Russell expected his newspaper advertisements and book catalog to work in tandem.

November 2

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

Nov 2 - 11:2:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 1, 1769).

“His printed CATALOGUE may be had.”

In an advertisement that ran on the front page of the November 2, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, Nicholas Langford, “BOOKSELLER From LONDON,” informed prospective customers that he had just imported a collection of “CHOICE AND USEFUL BOOKS.” Calhoun Winton has documented Langford’s activities as a bookseller (and advertiser) in Charleston, noting that in January 1769 he advertised in the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that “he was departing for London to secure” new inventory.[1] Eleven months later, he returned and once again turned to the public prints to promote his entrepreneurial activities.

This advertisement served as a preview since Langford was not yet ready to offer the books for sale. In a nota bene, he informed readers that “the earliest Notice will be given in all the Papers, when and where the [books] will be ready for Sale.” He offered another sort of preview, instructing interested parties to obtain copies of his “printed CATALOGUE” from several local merchants and artisans. As Winton explains, Langford “established a network … to assist him in purveying his books.”[2] The bookseller indicated that each of his associates accepted orders in addition to distributing his catalog.

The success of this network depended in large part on that catalog since it served as a substitute for browsing through the books themselves. It is not clear from Langford’s advertisement if he had the catalog printed in London before returning to the colonies or if he arrived in Charleston with a manuscript list of titles and had one of the local printers produce it. Either way, the catalog represented additional advertising revenue accrued to at least once printer. In addition to paying to have his advertisements inserted in Charleston’s newspapers, Langford also paid for job printing when he took this special order to a printing office. The catalog itself demonstrates that eighteenth-century advertisers utilized multiple forms of marketing media, not just newspaper advertisements, but it also testifies to the expenses that many entrepreneurs incurred in the process of promoting their wares.

**********

[1] Calhoun Winton, “The Southern Book Trade in the Eighteenth Century,” in The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, ed. Hugh Amory and David D. Hall, vol. 1. A History of the Book in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press in association with the American Antiquarian Society, 2007).

[2] Winton, “Southern Book Trade.”

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 9, 1769).

“A very large and compleat Assortment of BOOKS.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, experienced a disruption in their paper supply for two months in the late spring and early summer of 1769. As a result, they temporarily published the newspaper on slightly larger broadsheets, expanding the number of columns to four rather than three while reducing the length of most issues to two pages instead of four. This meant that overall they published eight columns of content in each issue (compared to the usual twelve) during the time they resorted to larger sheets. On June 9, however, the Fowles distributed a four-page edition that consisted of sixteen columns, one-third more content than a standard issue printed on slightly smaller broadsheets.

William Appleton’s advertisement for “a very large and compleat Assortment of BOOKS” accounted for three of those columns. In the headline, Appleton identified several genres to entice prospective customers: “Law, Physic, History, Anatomy, Novelty, Surgery, Navigation, Divinity, Husbandry, and Mathematicks.” He then listed more than two hundred titles available at his store in Portsmouth. As many booksellers did in their notices, he concluded with a short list of stationery and writing supplies. Had it appeared on a broadside rather than in a newspaper, this advertisement would have been considered a book catalog in its own right. Indeed, many newspaper advertisements placed by booksellers in eighteenth-century America amounted to book catalogs that were not published separately but instead integrated into other media.

The amount of space that Appleton’s advertisement occupied in the New-Hampshire Gazette was impressive. Had it been included in an issue printed on a broadsheet of the usual size, it would have filled an entire page on its own. Although rare, full-page advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century newspapers. John Mein, bookseller and printer of the Boston Chronicle, regularly inserted full-page advertisements (and some that even overflowed onto a second page) in his newspaper in the late 1760s. Other booksellers who were not printers as well as merchants and shopkeepers also published full-page advertisements, though not nearly as often as Mein since they did not have immediate access to the press or need to generate content for publication.

While not technically a full-page advertisement, Appleton’s catalog of books in the June 9, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been if it had been published during almost any other month that year. Still, it dominated the page and demonstrated that advertisers recognized the value in purchasing significant amount of space in newspapers as part of their efforts to attract customers.

January 26

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 26, 1769).

“Catalogues may be had of what Books will be sold this Night.”

An advertisement in the January 26, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal announced an “Auction of BOOKS” that would commence “THIS Evening at FIVE o’Clock … at the City Vendue-store” and continue the following Tuesday. This advertisement also promoted another piece of marketing ephemera intended to encourage sales, “Catalogues … of what Books will be sold.” Printers, booksellers, and auctioneers frequently distributed book catalogs in the eighteenth century, probably more often than the number of surviving catalogs indicates. On the other hand, historians of the book also note that some reference to book catalogs in advertisements and other sources may be ghosts for catalogs that never went to press. Whatever the case with the catalog mentioned in this notice, colonial readers would not have considered it out of the ordinary for auctioneers to print catalogs.

In his Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America, 1693-1800, Robert B. Winans identifies only one surviving catalog that may have been related to the January 26 auction, even if it was not the catalog mentioned in this advertisement: Catalogue of books, to be sold, by public auction, at the City Vendue-Store, in Front-Street: notice of time of the sale will be given in the public papers. Divided into four columns, this broadside (or poster) listed 350 short author entries in no particular order, except for a group of law books at beginning. It lacks an imprint, but Winans attributes it to William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal. Based on the titles, he asserts that the catalog could not have been published before 1768 and probably no later than 1769.

The catalog identified by Winans may have been a precursor to the one mentioned in the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal. It could have been posted around town or otherwise circulated to prospective customers. It could even have been the same catalog if some copies had been held in reserve to distribute on the day of the auction. The ephemeral nature of this advertising medium makes it difficult to know with any certainty. What is more certain is that book catalogs were a familiar form of advertising in colonial America’s largest urban ports by the 1760s. They only became more common as the century progressed.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

benjamin-franklin
Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-19-161736
Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling slaves as well as notices offering rewards for runaways.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-slave-19-161736
An advertisement for slaves from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

general-magazine
General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 313th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:15:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 15, 1768).

A large Assortment of BOOKS.

Although eighteenth-century booksellers sometimes issued book catalogs, either as broadsides or pamphlets, they much more often compiled catalogs for publication as newspaper advertisements. Booksellers who also happened to publish newspapers, like Robert Fowle, took advantage of their access to the press when they wished to promote their books, stationery, and other merchandise. Such printer-booksellers exercised the privilege of determining the contents of each issue, sometimes opting to reduce other content in favor of promoting their own wares. Alternately, inserting a book catalog, even an abbreviated list of titles, among the advertisements occasionally helped to fill the pages when printers lacked other content.

Fowle proclaimed that he stocked “A large Assortment of BOOKS” at his shop next door to the printing office in Portsmouth. To demonstrate that was indeed the case, his advertisement in the July 15, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette extended nearly an entire column and enumerated more than one-hundred titles. Such advertisements were part of a reading revolution that occurred in the eighteenth century as colonists transitioned from intensive reading of the Bible and devotional literature to extensive reading across many genres. Fowle’s list also included reference works as well as books meant for instruction. The printer-bookseller offered something for every interest or taste, including “small Books for Children.”

In some instances Fowle also promoted the material qualities of the books he sold. Some titles were “neatly bound & gilt,” making them especially attractive for display as well as reading. He offered “BIBLE of all sizes, some neatly bound and gilt.” Customers could choose whichever looked most appealing to them. If they did not care for the available bindings, they could purchase an unbound copy and have it bound to their specifications. Book catalogs and advertisements offered a variety of choices when it came to the physical aspects of reading materials, not just the contents.

Robert Fowle may have also published book catalogs in the 1760s, but his newspaper advertisements would have achieved far greater distribution. They alerted prospective customers to the “large Assortment” at his shop, introducing them to titles that they might not have previously considered but now wished to own (and perhaps even read) once they became aware of their availability.

June 2

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

Jun 2 - 6:2:1768 Pennsylvania Journal Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (June 2, 1768).

“For a more particular description I refer to my printed catalogue.”

In the spring of 1768 William Semple advertised “A LARGE assortment of MERCHANDIZE” recently imported from Glasgow and Liverpool.  Although he enumerated a few of those items, such as “Silk gauzes of all kinds” and “Scotch threads,” he devoted most of the space in his advertisement to listing dozens of titles from among “a great collection of BOOKS.”  He concluded by inviting prospective customers to consult his “printed catalogue” for “a more particular description” of his inventory of books.

Semple did not rely on newspaper advertisements alone to promote the books he sold.  Like many other eighteenth-century printers and booksellers, he distributed a catalog intended to entice prospective customers by informing them of the various books, pamphlets, plays, and other printed items available.  A reading revolution took place in the eighteenth century:  habits shifted from intensive reading of the Bible and devotional materials to extensive reading from among many genres.  Book catalogs played a role in fueling that reading revolution by drawing attention to titles that consumers might not otherwise have considered purchasing.

In this case, Semple offered few details about his catalog other than noting that it was printed rather than a manuscript list.  Some booksellers advised that they sold their book catalogs for nominal fees, but Semple did not indicate that was the case.  He may have distributed his catalogs gratisin hopes that doing so would yield a higher return on his investment. His advertisement also does not reveal if his catalog was a broadside or a pamphlet.  He simply stated that a “printed catalogue” existed as a supplement to his newspaper advertisements.

In A Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America, 1693-1800, Robert B. Winans has compiled a list of 286 extant American book catalogs published before the nineteenth century. Booksellers’ catalogs and publishers’ catalogs accounted for just over half, with social library catalogs, auction catalogs, circulating library catalogs, and college library catalogs comprising the remainder.  In addition to the 286 book catalogs with at least one surviving copy, Winans includes entries for others identified from newspaper advertisements and other sources. He suspects, however, that “many if not most of them may be bibliographic ghosts.”  He also reports, “Many other newspaper advertisements could just as legitimately form the basis for additional entries.  But I have not included such entries since I have grave doubts about their validity.”[1]  He does not further explain his skepticism.

Winans includes an unnumbered entry for a “Catalogue of books in history, divinity, law, arts and sciences and the several parts of polite literature, to be sold by Garrat Noel, bookseller” advertised in the August 3, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette, although no extant copy has been located.[2]  He does not include any entry for Semple’s catalog among those published the following year.  Winans’s annotated bibliography of extant book catalogs documents an impressive array of marketing materials distributed in eighteenth-century America.  Despite his skepticism about some that appeared in advertisements yet have not survived (which hardly comes as a surprise that such ephemeral items either no longer exist or have not yet been identified), these advertisements indicate that colonists had an expectation that booksellers and publishers did indeed print and distribute book catalogs as an alternate means of marketing their wares.

**********

[1]Robert B. Winans, A Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America, 1693-1800 (Worcester:  American Antiquarian Society, 1981), xvi.

[2]Winans, Descriptive Checklist, 43

January 31

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

Jan 31 - 1:28:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 28, 1768).

Printed CATALOGUES of the Library of the late Jeremy Gridley, Esq; will be delivered Gratis at the Auction Room.”

In January 1768 auctioneer Joseph Russell deployed multiple media in his efforts to promote a sale devoted to “The LIBRARY of the late Jeremy Gridley, Esq.” He first placed notices in most of the local newspapers, including advertisements that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette on January 21 and in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy on January 25. (He did not place a similar advertisement in the Boston Chronicle. That newspaper had commenced publication only a few months earlier. It featured very few advertisements, an indication that it had not yet attracted significant distribution or readership. Russell may not have considered advertising in that newspaper likely to produce a return on his investment.) Each of these advertisements informed residents of Boston and its environs that Gridley’s library consisting of books on “LAW, HISTORY, DIVINITY, &c.” would be sold “by PUBLIC VENDUE, at the Auction Room in Queen-Street” on the morning of Tuesday, February 2. Notices appeared in multiple newspapers early enough for interested parties to plan to attend the auction.

Russell’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette once again on January 28, but this time a second notice on another page supplemented it. That advertisement announced that “printed CATALOGUES of the Library of the late Jeremy Gridley, Esq; will be delivered Gratis at the Action Room” on the day before the auction. The February 1 editions of the other newspapers that carried Russell’s advertisement each updated Russell’s earlier advertisement with some variation that noted readers could obtain an auction catalog for free. The notice in the Boston Evening-Post, for instance, featured at manicule directing attention to “Printed Catalogues may be had at the Auction-Room, gratis.” Russell used one medium to incite interest not only in the books for sale but also to incite interest in another medium marketing those books.

Newspaper notices and auction catalogs may not have been the only advertising media Russell used to garner attention for an upcoming auction. He may have also distributed handbills or posted broadsides around town. Evidence of the auction catalogs appears in his newspaper advertisements even if none of the catalogs survived, but other ephemeral marketing materials may have simply disappeared after the auction. At the very least, Russell’s original and updated advertisements in four newspapers in combination with his auction catalog suggest a coordinated and extensive effort to attract attention and, ultimately, bidders at the sale of Gridley’s library.