June 10

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (June 10, 1771).

“We shall refer for particulars to our general catalogue now printing.”

Booksellers, like other purveyors of consumer goods, often listed their merchandise in their advertisements.  James Rivington, for instance, inserted a notice that named dozens of titles in the June 10, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  On the same day, an advertisement for a “New-Book & Stationer’s Store” in Boston filled an entire column and overflowed into another in the Boston-Gazette, most of the space devoted to naming more than 150 books.

The partnership of Noel and Hazard, on the other hand, took a different approach in their advertisement in the New-York Gazette.  In a short paragraph, they listed sixteen books “just come to hand,” but also reported that they recently imported many other titles from London and Bristol.  The booksellers opined that “the news-paper can’t afford room but for a few articles,” so rather than publishing a longer list like Rivington and the proprietor of the “New-Book & Stationer’s Store,” a list that would have been incomplete, they directed readers to “our general catalogue now printing” in order to learn more “particulars” about their inventory.  Interested parties presumably visited Noel and Hazard’s shop to acquire copies of the catalog.

The booksellers may have also distributed copies to retailers who had done business with them in the past.  They stated that they had “a large supply of books and stationary, suitable for country stores” and noted that they sold their wares “wholesale and retail.”  Some eighteenth-century printers sent catalogs to associates with the intention that they would use them as order forms.  The recipients marked the number of copies next to each title before returning them, a more efficient method than copying titles into a letter.

Noel and Hazard used one form of marketing, a newspaper advertisement, to promote another form of marketing, a book catalog.  Other newspaper advertisements that listed scores of titles amounted to book catalogs embedded in newspapers, but Noel and Hazard instead opted to produce an item that circulated separately.  The frequency that booksellers mentioned catalogs in their newspaper advertisements suggests that retailers and consumers had access to many more than survive today.

May 13

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 13, 1771).

“Preparing catalogues … to be distributed gratis to their customers.”

In the spring of 1771, booksellers Noel and Hazard took to the pages of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to advertise the “general assortment of books, and stationary ware” available at their shop.  They sought customers of all sorts, offering their inventory both “wholesale and retail.”  The partners made recommendations for the proprietors of country stores, including “bibles, testaments, psalters, primers, childs new play thing, [and] young man’s companion.”  They also had on hand a “great variety of Newbury’s pretty little gilt picture books for young masters and misses,” encouraging adults to purchase books for children.  For prospective customers who pursued certain occupations, Noel and Hazard stocked “navigation books and instruments, surveying books and instruments, [and] architect books and instruments.”  For all sorts of other readers, they sold English and French dictionaries, a “variety of the best pieces on husbandry, gardening and farriery,” and works by Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, and a variety of other authors familiar to eighteenth-century readers.

Noel and Hazard imported their merchandise from London and Scotland.  They anticipated expanding their inventory upon the arrival of “the next vessels from London, Bristol, and Scotland.”  At that time, the items available at their shop would become “so very numerous” that a newspaper advertisement would not longer suffice.  As an alternative, Noel and Hazard were “preparing catalogues of the whole to be distributed gratis to their customers.”  Booksellers regularly produced and disseminated catalogs to supplement their newspaper advertisements.  Those catalogues took various forms, sometimes appearing as broadsides and other times as pamphlets.  Over time, they became more sophisticated in terms of organization.  Rather than listing available titles according to the size of the volumes, booksellers instead grouped them together according to genre.  Doing so assisted prospective customers in locating titles of interest and discovering items they were most likely to purchase but might not have otherwise considered.  Promising free catalogs also served as a ploy to get consumers into shops.  Noel and Hazard described an extensive inventory in their advertisement, but readers who visited their shop to acquire a complete catalog had an opportunity to browse and examine the merchandise for themselves.

Few eighteenth-century book catalogs survive relative to how often booksellers mentioned them in newspaper advertisements.  That has prompted some historians to suspect that many never actually made it into print.  After all, Noel and Hazard stated that they “are preparing catalogues,” not that the catalogs were ready for distribution.  The mere promise of a catalog may have also drawn prospective customers into shops.  Still, booksellers promoted catalogs so frequently that it seems likely that they did distribute many of them, at least in sufficient numbers for prospective customers to have reasonable expectations of acquiring catalogs described in newspaper advertisements.

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 315th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

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.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1770 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (June 4, 1770).

The following BOOKS.”

Lathrop and Smith made a significant investment in their advertisement that ran in the June 4, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Divided into four narrow columns, it filled the space usually devoted to two of the three columns on the final page of the newspaper.  Overall, it comprised one-sixth of the content (two out of twelve columns) delivered to readers.  Listing just over 250 individual titles, it was a book catalog distribute via alternate means.  Lathrop and Smith could have just as easily arranged for handbills or broadsides to inform prospective customers of the assortment of books they sold at their store in Hartford.

That they stocked these books in a relatively small town did not mean, however, that their customers should expect to pay higher prices.  Lathrop and Smith proclaimed that they sold their books “at as low a rate as they are usually sold inBoston or New-York,” the major urban ports in the region.  Furthermore, they encouraged readers to spot special bargains, asking them to take note that “Those articles marked thus [*] are to be Sold for very little more than the Prime Cost.”  In other words, the local booksellers charged only a small markup on several volumes, including Van Swieten’s Commentaries on Boerhaave’s Aphorisms, Winslow’s Anatomy, Moral Tales, and Vicar of Wakefield.

Lathrop and Smith also aided prospective customers in finding titles of interest by separating them according to genre and inserting headers, such as “DIVINITY,” “LAW,” “PHYSIC, SURGERY, &c.,” “SCHOOL BOOKS,” “HISTORY,” and ‘MISCELLANY.”  Within each category, the books were alphabetized by author or title, with the exception of four titles appended to the books on divinity (though they were also alphabetized).  When it came to writing copy, Lathrop and Smith attempted to make their catalog accessible and easy to navigate.

In general, their advertisement was just as sophisticated as those published by their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  The Connecticut Courant ran much less advertising than newspapers in those port cities, but that did not necessarily mean that advertisers did not adopt the same methods and strategies for appealing to consumers.

April 24

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

Apr 24 - 4:24:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 24, 1770).

“A Printed Catalogue will be timely delivered.”

In advance of an auction of a “A Collection of BOOKS,” Nicholas Langford placed an advertisement in the April 24, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  He provided a preview of some of the items for sale, including “Johnson’s Dictionary” in two volumes and thirty-two volumes of the London Magazinefrom the Beginning.”  Langford could have inserted a more extensive account of the “Collection of “BOOKS.”  Instead, he declared that “A Printed Catalogue will be timely delivered.”  He used his newspaper advertisement to promote another form of marketing ephemera that prospective customers could consult and find useful prior to and during the auction.

Indeed, book catalogs and auction catalogs (and catalogs for book auctions) were ephemeral.  Little or no evidence exists concerning the production and distribution of many catalogs except for mentions of them in newspaper advertisements.  Some may never have existed except in those advertisements; bibliographers and historians of print culture suspect that advertisers like Langford sometimes promised catalogs that never went to press.  While some catalogs mentioned in newspaper notices may very well have turned out to be bibliographic ghosts, enough eighteenth-century catalogs have survived to demonstrate that medium did circulate in early America.

It would not have served Langford well to allude to a catalog that would not be “timely delivered” or even delivered at all.  As an entrepreneur seeking to attract as many bidders to his auction as possible, it served his interests to distribute the catalog.  In addition, it would have damaged his reputation if prospective buyers sent for a catalog and he had to confess that he had not managed to follow through on the intention that he had announced to the public in a newspaper advertisement.  Even if something prevented Langford or others from publishing some of the catalogs mentioned in newspaper advertisements, that they were referenced at all suggests that they were a form of marketing media that colonists expected to encounter.

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.”