October 15

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

Oct 15 - 10:12:1769 New-York Chronicle
New-York Chronicle (October 12, 1769).

“They will make it their unwearied Study to serve the to the utmost of their Abilities.”

When they opened a shop in New York, bookbinders Nutter and Evans turned to the pages of the New-York Chronicle to inform “their Friends and the Public in general” of their enterprise. In most regards, their advertisement did not look much different than other newspaper advertisements placed by artisans in the eighteenth century. They emphasized both quality and price; however, they did not make reference to years of experience that served as a guarantee of their skill. Unable to make that appeal to prospective customers, they embraced they inexperience and sought to turn it into a virtue. The partnership “earnestly solicits for the Public’s Favour, particularly those who are willing to encourage new Beginners.” In exchange for taking a chance by patronizing a shop operated by these novices, Nutter and Evans offered assurances “that they will make it their unwearied Study to serve them to the utmost of their Abilities.” What they lacked in experience they made up for in enthusiasm. Nutter and Evans also understood that they had an opportunity to make good first impressions that would help them establish a reputation. They communicated to prospective customers that they understood the stakes of serving them well.

They also demonstrated that they understood the expectations prospective customers had for them, describing several of the services they provided. Nutter and Evans did “all manner of Book-binding … either in gilt or plain Covers.” They also ruled blank books “(in whatever Form required).” They enhanced these descriptions of their services with many of the appeals commonly made by bookbinders and other artisans. They made a nod to fashion, stating that they did their work “in the neatest and most elegant taste.” They also invoked the popular combination of price and quality, asserting that they practiced their trade “on reasonable Terms, and with great Accuracy.” When it came to ruling blank books, they made promises that they “performed to Satisfaction” for their clients. Even though they were “new Beginners” who knew they had to prove themselves in the marketplace, Nutter and Evans made evident their understanding of what customers expected and pledged to deliver on those expectations if “the Public in general” gave them the chance to do so.

April 29

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

Providence Gazette (April 29, 1769).

“He also carries on the BOOK-BINDING Business.”

Edward Jones took out an advertisement in the Providence Gazette on April 29, 1769. His advertisement was for “A VARIETY of useful and entertaining BOOKS” as well as his specialty in bookbinding. Bookbinding was a very interesting career choice because it was far from a simple job. In order to become a practicing bookbinder Jones had to go through years of apprenticeship that required “hard work, dexterity, attention to detail, and a willingness and ability to handle painstaking tasks,” according to Ed Crews. However, it was a great trade to have because books were so popular and seen as a status item since they were typically expensive and demonstrated that the owner was wealthy and educated. Yet there was one book that many colonists owned that would go through quite a bit of wear and tear, the Bible. It is likely that there was a large demand for repairing bibles, as they were used frequently.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When customers purchased many of Jones’s “useful and entertaining BOOKS,” they likely did not acquire items that consumers would recognize as books today. In many cases they did not buy bound volumes but instead purchased books still in sheets. They then delivered those sheets to a bookbinder’s shop, where they could make decisions about the binding to fit their tastes and budget. In other words, customers who purchased Brady’s Psalms or Watts’s Hymns did not end up with matching volumes in their homes. They did purchase the same printed material, but their own decisions about binding resulted in different final products.

Ed Crews describes assembling books as akin to “constructing a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.” Broadly speaking, the process required two steps: forwarding and finishing. Forwarding, Crews explains, “generally involved arranging pages so they could be turned and examined.” Recall that customers purchased books in sheets. That meant that many pages were printed out of order on each side of large sheet that, when folded, ended up with the pages in the correct order. Once the pages had been folded in these closed signatures, bookbinders stitched them together and then “put a protective cover on them, typically fashioned of leather from calves, sheep or deer. At this point, the signatures (or folded pages) were cut open so readers could view every page. Already the decisions about the leather cover produced different appearances for volumes that contained the same text, but the decoration that comprised the finishing further distinguished them from each other. Finishing “could include lettering as well as design work” created with heated tools that stamped or imprinted designs into the leather covers. Bookbinders had a lot of responsibility. Not only did their work require artistry, it also required that they produce durable products. Crews notes the many ways that colonists handled their books: the structure “had to allow for repeated openings and closings, page fanning and tugging, falls to the floor, and being pulled from a shelf by a finger hooked on a spine.”

Today most consumers put little thought into the bindings of most books they buy, beyond choosing between hardcover and paperback editions. Colonial consumers, however, faced far more choices. They interacted not only with booksellers but also often with bookbinders who transformed the printed sheets they purchased into unique volumes according to consumers’ wishes.

May 8

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

May 8 - 5:8:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 8, 1767).

“As neat as any in Boston.”

John Edwards, a “BOOKBINDER and STATIONER from BOSTON,” sold a variety of books as well as writing supplies at his shop on Queen Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Edwards did not describe himself as a bookseller, even though he devoted approximately half of his advertisement to listing some of the titles he carried. Throughout the eighteenth century members of the book trades often specialized in one trade yet supplemented their incomes by taking on some responsibilities more closely associated with other aspects of book production and distribution. Both printers and bookbinders, for instance, commonly sold books that they had not printed or bound.

By trade and training, Edwards may have considered himself first and foremost a bookbinder, taking pride in the unique skills mastered in that occupation. Yet the demand for bookbinding services in the town of Portsmouth likely made it impossible to earn his living solely from that trade. Considering that Edwards had relocated from Boston at some point, competition among bookbinders for the business of a finite number of potential customers, even in that bustling port, may have prompted him to seek out other opportunities in the neighboring colony. Fewer bookbinders resided in Portsmouth, but so did fewer potential customers. In the face of less demand for the services of bookbinders, Edwards sold consumer goods related to his trade – books and writing materials – to generate additional revenues. He likely bound some of his imported books to the taste and budget of those who purchased them.

Edwards attempted to mobilize his Boston origins to his advantage. He proclaimed that he bound “all sorts of Books” and made “Account Books of any size, as neat as any in Boston.” Having lived and worked in that city, Edwards was qualified to testify to the quality of the bookbinding done there and assess his own work in comparison. He pledged to potential customers that his work was comparable to what they would find in a larger and more distinguished market, assuring them that its quality was comparable to what they would find in the urban center that most immediately commanded their attention when making comparisons. Similarly, advertisers in Boston favorably compared their wares and workmanship to what was produced in London. Colonists looked to the next larger market for validation as they shaped their own practices of consumption.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:6:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 6, 1766).

“Gentlemen may have any sorts of Books Bound.”

William Appleton described his occupation as bookbinder, but his advertisement makes clear that he offered a variety of services at “his Shop in Queen Street, near the School House.”

“Gentlemen may have any sorts of Books Bound,” Appleton announced. In the eighteenth century, readers frequently purchased books that took a very different material form than what modern consumers expect today. Customers often purchased just the printed pages of the books (and the same went for magazines when they gained popularity after the Revolution) and then arranged for binding on their own, if they wished to have their books bound at all. Printers chose not to raise the production costs of books by having them bound, thus minimizing the risk for books that did not sell. Sometimes they did not even separate the leaves to create pages but instead passed along folded sheets to customers, leaving it to them or a bookbinder to do so. Sometimes printers and booksellers did sell bound books – or offered a choice for bound or unbound – but they marketed this as a convenience that added value. In other instances, however, Appleton and other bookbinders offered a service that allowed readers to customize their books through the various choices that went into selecting materials and appearance for bindings. In turn, bookbinders inserted their own binder’s labels into books to further advertise their services.

Appleton also bound blank books that customers would fill themselves with manuscript rather than print. The “Account Books” may have been lined to aid organizing entries for debiting and crediting accounts.

In addition, Appleton’s advertisement indicated that he supplemented his business by selling books and writing paper. He listed several kinds of reading material, but he likely did not stock as many volumes as contemporary booksellers who distributed catalogues that included hundreds of titles. Still, he gave the impression that potential customers could discover a variety of books when he truncated his list with “&c. &c.” (etc. etc.).

As a member of the book trades, Appleton worked with printers, booksellers, and publishers. Sometimes he took on some of the responsibilities of a bookseller, but likely did not do any printing. Printers and bookbinders provided complementary services that modern consumers usually consider part of the standard production of a commodity, a book, but the bound volume as a finished product was not necessarily what customers purchased in bookstores in the eighteenth century.

Binder’s Labels and Trade Cards: Or, Paratexts that Transformed Books into Advertisements

Readers who visit regularly know that I usually post extended commentary about methodological issues on Fridays, but I would like to depart from that today. It has been a while since I featured any marketing materials other than the day’s featured advertisement. When I expanded this project from Twitter to a blog I intended to use the “extra” space available to incorporate posts exploring other aspects of advertising in eighteenth-century America more regularly. After all, my handle on Twitter is @TradeCardCarl, so let’s see some trade cards!

In addition, in the course of my research I have identified more than a dozen forms of printed ephemera that circulated as advertising in eighteenth-century America, including trade cards, magazine wrappers, billheads, furniture labels, catalogues, and broadsides. I would like the Adverts 250 Project to explore all of those, even as it remains faithful to its primary mission, a “new” newspaper advertisement featured every day.

As I include diverse advertising media in the coming weeks and months, much of it will come from decades other than the 1760s. For today, however, I have chosen two items that would have been in circulation at the same time as the newspaper advertisements featured throughout the week: trade cards issued by bookbinder Andrew Barclay in the mid 1760s.

The first, according to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, dates to approximately 1764 through 1767. It measures 11 cm x 12 cm (or 4¼ in x 4¾ in).

Feb 26 - Barclay Trade Card 1
Trade card distributed by bookbinder Andrew Bradford (ca. 1764-1767).  American Antiquarian Society.

(Let’s take a little digital humanities detour here. As I have stated repeatedly, digital sources are wonderful and have revolutionized the work done by scholars and opened up new levels of access to historic sources for scholars and general audiences alike. But digital sources are not without their shortcomings. Viewing original sources on screens tends to standardize them. They appear to “be” whatever size the screen happens to be. As a result, all sources take on the same size. Others with much more digital humanities experience have commented on this at great length, but it bears repeating here, especially since I will be returning to the actual size, rather than the virtual size, of today’s featured trade cards later.)

The second, again according to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, dates to approximately 1765 through 1767. It measures 6 cm x 9 cm (or 2½ in x 3½ in).

Feb 26 - Barclay Trade Card 2
Trade card distributed by bookbinder Andrew Bradford (ca. 1765-1767).  American Antiquarian Society.

Both trade cards list the same address, but use slightly different language: “Next Door but one to the sign of the Three KINGS … in Cornhill Boston” and “next Door but one North of the three KINGS, in Cornhill Boston.” Thomas Johnston (1708-1767) engraved both. (Johnston’s death explains why both cards have been dated to 1767 at the latest.)

Unlike most of the newspaper advertisements for goods and services printed in the 1760s, these trade cards used both text and images to make appeals to potential customers. In addition to giving Barclay’s location, both announced that he bound and sold books, “Gilt or plain.” Consumers were accustomed to making choices and selecting goods that corresponded to their rank and stature. Offering “Gilt or plain” bindings allowed customers to choose features that corresponded to other decisions they made about how to present themselves to others.

Each trade card included an image of man leaning over a bookbinding press, hard at work. Shelves stocked with books are on display in the background. The books, bookbinding press, and assorted tools were testaments to Barclay’s trade. Both images also suggested an important quality that Barclay wanted past and potential customers to associate with him: industriousness. In both images, a bookbinder wearing an apron could be seen busily at work. Benjamin Franklin did not begin writing his famous Autobiography until 1771 (and it was not published until 1791, after his death), but other eighteenth-century artisans certainly knew the value of industry and the appearance of industriousness that Franklin extolled in his memoir.

Classifying and cataloging early American advertising media is as much art as science. Such items often defy strictly defined categories. I have described both of these items as “trade cards.” In the AAS catalog, however, both are described as “advertising cards” in the genre/form field. That seems like an appropriate description. Although I have heard curators and other staff at the AAS refer to such items as “trade cards,” there are a variety of reasons why catalogers would choose the alternate (and perhaps broader) “advertising cards” to classify these items.

One of these trade cards was featured in The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, the first volume of the impressive History of the Book in America. There it is described as a “binder’s label.” That is a much narrower category than either “trade card” or “advertising card.” It is likely more accurate for its specificity (but I believe that fewer researchers would find it in the AAS catalog if it were classified only as “binder’s label” rather than “advertising card”).

This is where the size of these items becomes important. Most trade cards were larger, making them easier to pass from hand to hand, but also significant enough that they would not be misplaced easily. Many also tended to be large enough that vendors could record purchases and write receipts on the reverse (transforming them into billheads, of sorts).

These relatively small items, on the other hand, would have much more easily gotten lost in the shuffle or discarded … unless they were secured inside a book. Andrew Barclay likely pasted one of these labels inside some of the books he bound for his patrons. In the process, he transformed both the service he provided and the goods he sold into advertising media. When that happened, colonial consumers did not possess their books exclusively; instead, they shared ownership with an artisan who left his mark on a material object that happened to be in their possession. Some readers pasted their own bookplates in the volumes they owned, but Andrew Barclay’s binder’s label pre-empted that practice. Consumers could still place a bookplate in books bound by Barclay, but unless they pasted their own bookplate over his label, their act of taking possession competed with, rather than negated, Barclay’s label.

In the end, readers who took their books to Barclay to be bound ended up purchasing an advertisement that they would later encounter every time they used the item they had purchased from him.  Every time they opened a book bound by Barclay consumers were once again exposed to his binder’s label advertisement.