June 26

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

Jun 26 - 6:26:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (June 26, 1767).

The Subscribers are desired speedily to send for their Books.”

It took some time for Timothy Green to publish Joseph Fish’s book of nine sermons inspired by Matthew 26:18, but much of the responsibility for the delay belonged to the author. Fish continued to write, revise, and add material to the manuscript “After the Proposals for Printing these Sermons by Subscription, were sent abroad.” Six months before announcing that the book had been “JUST PUBLISH’D,” Green issued an advertisement requesting that those who accepted subscriptions forward their lists to him so he could determine how many copies to print.

In the interim, the book expanded. That, in turn, raised the cost of production and, ultimately, the retail price, even for subscribers. Earlier subscription notices marketed the book for 1 shilling and 10 pence, but the additional material made it necessary to increase the price by 4 pence to a total of 2 shillings and 2 pence if “stitch’d in blue Paper.” Reader who desired a volume “bound in Leather” rather than the basic wrapper could pay an additional shilling. Green catered to different tastes and price points.

He also realized that it was problematic to raise the price of Fish’s Sermons by nearly 20% after customers subscribed at a lower cost. To counter objections, he argued that “even with that Addition they will be uncommonly Cheap, as the Book contains upwards of 200 Pages.” (The reverend Fish might have been dismayed that the printer made an appeal to quantity over the quality of the contents.) In addition, Green reported that many others who had not previously subscribed were so keen on acquiring the book that they stood ready to purchase it at the higher price. The printer gave subscribers an opportunity to opt out by requesting that they send for their books soon. Any not claimed, he warned, would be sold to others who eagerly stood ready to purchase any surplus copies. Rather than apologize for raising the price and breaking the conditions set forth in the subscription notices, Green instead lectured subscribers. Even considering the higher price, they could hardly argue with the value, he admonished. After all, other prospective customers certainly acknowledged that this was a good deal. The original subscribers needed to obtain their copies as quickly possible or else risk losing out as others swooped in and claimed their books.

June 30

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

Jun 30 - 6:30:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (June 30, 1766).

“BOOKS & STATIONARY, Just imported, and to be sold by HUGH GAINE.”

Hugh Gaine printed the New-York Mercury, though it is clear from the masthead that he considered himself more than just a printer. He listed his occupations as “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer.” In that regard, Gaine was not much different from other printers who published newspapers in colonial America. They often supplemented the income from operating the newspaper by selling a variety of other products and services associated broadly with the book trades.

Jun 30 - 6:30:1766 Masthead New-York Mercury
Masthead for the New-York Mercury (June 30, 1766).

Gaine devised a headline for his advertisement, which was not a standard practice but also not unknown. He announced that he sold “BOOKS & STATIONARY,” merchandise associated with the book trades. Upon closer examination of his advertisement, however, potential customers would have discovered that in addition to books, stationery, and writing supplies (including “Leather Ink-pots,” “most excellent Sealing-Wax,” and “Office Quils and Pens”), he also sold “a great Variety of other Articles,” including musical instruments, telescopes, and paper hangings (what we would today call wallpaper). Gaine stocked a good deal of merchandise beyond the newspaper he printed.

Setting aside those items, half of his lengthy advertisement promoted a patent medicine, the pectoral balsam of honey, and concluded with a “BEAUTIFYING LOTION.” (One of the benefits of printing the newspaper must have been inserting his own advertisements of whatever length he wished.) Gaine may or may not have written the copy for this portion of the advertisement; he may have copied it directly from other promotional materials sent to him by the suppliers of this remedy. It may seem strange today that a “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer” peddled patent medicines in the eighteenth century, but Gaine was certainly not the only one who did so. A variety of printers and booksellers included a few lines devoted to patent medicines in their book catalogues, demonstrating that they really diversified the merchandise they offered to customers.

January 1

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

Jan 1 - 12:30:1765 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (December 30, 1765)

“According to his annual Custom, [GARRAT NOEL, BOOKSELLER and STATIONER] begs Leave to offer to the Public, the following List of Books, as proper for Christmas Presents and New-Year’s Gifts.”

At this time of the year we often hear laments that Christmas has become too secularized, evidenced in particular by the commercialization of the holiday.  The appropriately-named Noel, however, demonstrates that some advertisers developed a marketing strategy that linked consumption and Christmas in the eighteenth century.

And, since everyone loves a bargain at Christmas and New Year, Noel promised “extraordinray low Prices” to “those who are willing to be generous on the Occasion.”  For those who may not have considered giving gifts during the season, Noel planted the idea that they could confirm their benevolence and thoughtfulness by presenting books and stationery wares to family and friends.