January 12

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

Jan 12 - 1:12:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 12, 1768).

“For further particulars enquire of the Printer.”

Charles Crouch received so many advertisements for the January 12, 1768, issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that he simultaneously published a two-page supplement devoted exclusively to advertising. Between the standard issue and the supplement, subscribers received six total pages of content, though four entire pages – two-thirds of the entire issue – consisted of paid notices. This advertisement for a “Collection of BOOKS” to be sold “very cheap” appeared among the other advertisements, but it may or may not have been a paid notice. Readers interested in the books were instructed to “enquire of the Printer” for further information. Who placed this advertisement?

Many colonial printers supplemented their revenues by acting as booksellers; they peddled both titles they printed and, especially, imported books. Crouch may have inserted this advertisement in his own newspaper, though the collection of books could have been a private library offered for sale by someone who preferred to remain anonymous in the public prints. After all, the list included several novels that critics sometimes claimed entertained rather than edified readers. The owner may not have wished to publicize reading habits that some considered lowbrow and chose instead to have the printer act as broker in selling the books.

The placement of the advertisement also suggests that may have been the case. Crouch boldly promoted an almanac he published and sold in an advertisement that appeared as the first item in the first column on the first page of the issue, making it impossible for readers to overlook. He included his name and the location of his printing office “in Elliott-street, the Corner of Gadsden’s Alley.” The notice concerning the “Collection of BOOKS” for sale, on the other hand, appeared near the bottom of the middle column on the third page. Printers often gave their own advertisements privileged places in their newspapers. Given that Crouch was not shy about deploying that strategy elsewhere in the issue increases the possibility that he was not hawking the books in this notice but instead facilitated an introduction between seller and prospective buyers.

Eighteenth-century advertisements often included instructions to “enquire of the Printer” for additional information. Printing offices served as brokerages and clearinghouses for information that did not appear in print, allowing colonists to initiate sales in newspaper advertisements while also remaining anonymous. They harnessed the power of the press without sacrificing their privacy when they resorted to directing others to “enquire of the Printer.”

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.

December 28

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

dec-28-12271766-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

“A Variety of Books and Stationary.”

Like many other colonial American printers, John Holt inserted his own advertisements into the newspaper he published. The two-page supplement to the New-York Journal from December 27, 1766, for instance, included three advertisements for “the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” None of them included Holt’s name, but that may have been less important than providing sufficient direction for current and prospective customers to make their way to Holt’s printing shop. Besides, many readers likely would have already known Holt as “the Printer at the Exchange.” For those who did not, the masthead of regular issues of the New-York Journal proclaimed that it was “PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY JOHN HOLT, NEAR THE EXCHANGE.”

Each of Holt’s advertisements in the December 27 issue addressed a different aspect of his business. One attempted to drum up new business, succinctly announcing “A Variety of Books and Stationary, to be sold at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Between subscriptions and advertisements, publishing the New-York Journal generated revenue, but Holt, like many others in his occupation, also acted as bookseller. This yielded an additional flow of income to keep the entire operation running.

dec-28-12271766-ad-2-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

Another advertisement solicited supplies necessary for the New-York Journal to continue publication. “READY MONEY,” it announced, “given for clean Linen RAGS, of any Kind, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange.” Printers throughout the colonies frequently placed such notices. They printed their newspapers on paper made of linen. Rags were essential to their business; they were recycled and reused as paper. Holt placed this particular advertisement in the upper right corner of the second page. Except for the masthead, it included the largest font in that issue, increasing the likelihood that readers would see and take note of it.

dec-28-12271766-ad-3-new-york-journal-supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (December 27, 1766).

Holt’s third advertisement addressed prior operations of his business as well as its future. In the final issue of the New-York Journal for 1766, he called on former customers to settle accounts: “ALL PERSONS who are a Year or more indebted for this Paper, and all who are on any other Account indebted to the Printer at the Exchange, are earnestly requested immediately to discharge their Accounts.” Once again, similar notices appeared in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Subscribers notoriously fell behind in paying for their newspapers. Printers extended credit for subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing of various sorts as well as the books and stationery they sold. In designing the layout for this supplemental issue, the crafty Holt placed this advertisement second, immediately after a notice listing the winning numbers for a recent lottery. He may have hoped to capture readers’ attention as they eagerly examined nearly two columns of winning tickets and moved directly to the next item.

The December 27 supplement of the New-York Journal included relatively little news. Of its six columns, only the third and fourth were given over to news items. Holt devoted the remainder of the supplement to advertising, including three advertisements that either promoted his own printing shop or saw to its general maintenance.

December 8

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

dec-8-1281766-new-york-mercury
New-York Mercury (December 8, 1766).

“BOOKS and STATIONARY … to be sold by Hugh Gaine.”

Hugh Gaine’s advertisement for “BOOKS and STATIONARY, Just imported in the last Ships from London” occupied a place of privilege in the December 8, 1766, issue of the New-York Mercury. It appeared in the first column (and extended into the second) on the first page, the first item below the masthead and charts for high tides and prices current. Just to make sure that readers noticed this advertisement, several words were printed in the largest fonts that appeared anywhere in that issue: “Hugh Gaine” in a size that rivaled the title of newspaper in the masthead and “BOOKS and STATIONARY” (at the top of the first column) and “STATIONARY, &c.” (at the top of the second column) in sizes nearly as large.

Gaine did not have to pay extra or engage in any sort of negotiations with the printer of the New-York Mercury in order for his advertisement to receive such extraordinary treatment. As the masthead announced, he printed the newspaper! That certainly gave him the authority and ability to design his own advertisement and lay out the issue in ways that best served his own interests. He used one of his products, his newspaper, to promote the assortment of books, stationery, and other goods he sold “at the Bible and Crown, in Hanover-Square.” Sometimes the layout of advertising in colonial newspapers was haphazard. Printers often moved type already set from previous issues into other columns in subsequent issues or changed the order of advertisements in order to insert other items. In this case, however, the placement of Gaine’s advertisement was not merely fortuitous; it was intentional.

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First Page of New-York Mercury (December 8, 1766).

On the third page, an advertisement for “HUTCHINS’s Improved: BEING AN ALMANACK AND EPHEMERIS Of the Motions of the SUN & MOON” had similarly large font for some of the key words, distinguishing it from the other advertisements and news items on the same and facing pages. Not surprisingly, the almanac was sol “at HUGH GAINE’s Book-Store and Printing-Office, in Hanover-Square.”

In contrast, a relatively short advertisement announcing that James Rivington had just imported “sundry new Books” appeared on the fourth page. Rivington’s name appeared in all capital letters in a font the same size as the names of other advertisers. Gaine published advertisements from his competitors, but he made sure that his own marketing notices overshadowed them in significant ways. Such was the power of the printer!

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 20, 1766).

To be Sold by the Printers.”

Eighteenth-century printers earned their living by offering a variety of services, as this short advertisement indicates. Publishing the New-Hampshire Gazette was not Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle’s sole occupation in 1766. If they earned any profit at all from selling subscriptions, it was likely rather small. The important revenues from publishing newspapers came from the advertisements (which helps to explain why printers often gave over so much of the space in colonial newspapers to advertising rather than news or, on occasion, supplied half sheet supplements filled almost exclusively with commercial notices).

In this advertisement, the Fowles announced another branch of printers’ craft: printed blanks. Today such items are better known as blank forms. To record exchanges or legal transactions that took place so regularly that they were standardized, customers could purchase blank forms with boilerplate language. That meant that they did not have to start each new document from scratch with a quill pen. Printed blanks were convenient and saved time, making them a popular product. Often newspaper colophons indicated that the publishers printed the newspaper itself, standalone advertisements, and blanks, suggesting that the printed blanks were a significant part of their operations and revenues.

Some colonial printers also sold books, often imported books or imprints they exchanged with their counterparts in the colonies. Printing a book was a massive undertaking. Considering the time, effort, and capital required for newspapers, advertisements, printed blanks, and other job printing, printers who sold books tended to sell as many or more books printed by others than books that came off their own presses

This advertisement helps to demonstrate the various activities that took place in an eighteenth-century printing shop. Most printers did not specialize in one type of job. Instead, they generated revenues in multiple ways.

April 12

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 12 - 4:11:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 11, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD … the following BOOKS.”

This advertisement sold different types of books, from Bibles (“royal Families Bibles”) to history books and geography (“Histories of the late War” and “History of Austria”), a science book (“Winkler’s natural Philosophy”), and sets of books about warfare (“Sieges and Battles”) to novels. (Skome also sold Stoughton’s Elixir, a patent medicine.)

The advertisement also mentions “Stackhouse’s Life of Christ, Folio.” In today’s world, “folio” refers to the page numbers that appear in books. However, in the eighteenth century, a folio was a type of book that was larger than average and also more expensive, made of a piece of paper that had been folded just once, resulting in two pages. Other book sizes included quartos, octavos, and duodecimals. Quartos are slightly smaller than folios due to the fact that the paper that was used to form them was folded four times instead of two. Octavos are even smaller, as the paper used to form them has been folded eight times. Duodecimals are even smaller than octavos since they have twelve pages per sheet. One famous example of a work that was distributed as a folio was a 1623 edition of Shakespeare’s works.

For more information on the history of books, check out this syllabus for an online course on “The Book: 1450 to the Present.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

The eighteenth century was an age of revolutions. This blog explores the consumer revolution every day, one advertisement at a time. In many instances, the guest curators and I have linked the appeals made in those advertisements to the political revolution brewing in England’s American colonies. Today’s advertisement, however, called attention to another revolution that occurred throughout the eighteenth century.

Note that Skome’s lists several kinds of reading material, starting with bibles and other devotional works and concluding with “A Number of curious and entertaining NOVELS.” A number of histories, geographies, and other reference works appeared in the middle of the list. In choosing to list his titles in this order, Skome created a hierarchy that reflected many colonists’ attitudes toward the reading materials available to them, including a suspicion and hostility toward novels.

So, what does this have to do with some kind of revolution? A revolution in reading took place during the eighteenth century. Colonists’ reading habits shifted from intensive reading of a small number of printed works – primarily bibles and other texts about religion – to extensive reading of a great number of genres, including histories, travelogues, economics, poetry and other literature, and novels. The consumer revolution and the reading revolution converged as colonists purchased and read a greater variety of books than bibles and almanacs.

This greater variety included “curious and entertaining NOVELS.” Some colonists were not happy with that development, even as they cultivated an appreciation for other printed works. Most books possessed at least some redeeming content, but critics believed that the fictional tales of romance and scandal in novels promoted salacious behavior in real life. Such critiques had a gendered component as well: in a patriarchal society, many men worried about what kinds of ideas women and girls might develop when left to their own devices to read possibly unsavory novels without appropriate supervision.

March 20

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 20 - 3:20:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 20, 1766).

“All such Gentlemen as have generously offered to give Books to the Library of said COLLEGE, would be pleased to send them.”

In this advertisement a well-known university asked students and others to both return and donate books to the College Library. This was 128 years after the college was founded. When I think of Harvard University this advertisement asking for books is not what I usually think of.

Shortly after Harvard was founded and the Great and General Court ordered that it would be established in Newetowne (later renamed Cambridge). In 1638, John Harvard willed his library of approximately 400 books and his estate to the college, making him the first Harvard College benefactor.

My question when I saw this advertisement was: why would a 128 year old well respected college library ask their students in a very public way to return those books they promised or borrowed? The answer to that question: because they didn’t have many books any more. On January 24, 1764, there was a fire in the original Harvard Hall, which burned around 4,500 volumes, and left only one of their original benefactor’s books. The collection went from approximately 5,000 to 500 due to about 400 books being out on loan to students and faculty. An additional 100 new books had yet to be unpacked and were being stored in a different location.

The fire is suspected to have started in the library hearth, where the floor quickly caught fire. Due to the fact that the Massachusetts General Court was there when the fire started they claimed responsibility. Through funds supplied by the Court and numerous generous donations of funds and books, by the end of 1766 a new Harvard Hall had been built and the Harvard library had more books than it did on that cold night in January two years previously.

Beyond my curious nature this advertisement caught my eye because throughout my childhood I loved wandering throughout Boston and Cambridge. From since I can remember I have gone to the Harvard –Yale game every other year, tailgating before and eating pastrami with my family. It’s an honored and loved tradition, and one I can not wait to continue this fall. I might even take detour and stop by Harvard Hall. Go Crimson!

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I appreciate the way that Elizabeth’s personal experiences enrich her appreciation of this advertisement and the story of the Harvard College library that she discovered in the process of asking questions about why this particular advertisement appeared at that particular time. As I have noted several times, the advertisements featured here often hint at hidden stories. In some instances the full details of those stories will likely never be recovered because we simply lack the necessary documents, but in this case the advertisement turned out to be just one of the many pieces of evidence that contribute to reconstructing the events of a particular event that continued to unfold in 1766.

I also like the way that this advertisement helps us to imagine the movement of goods after their initial purchase, in this case the use of books by students at Harvard College. The guest curators and I focus primarily on advertisements for consumer goods that were newly crafted or imported (along with occasional notices for used goods at vendue sales), which allows us to suggest how sellers envisioned that their wares would be used. In examining assorted appeals, we note the reasons that advertisers expected potential customers to visit their shops or engage their services.

This advertisement, however, illuminates the motivations of those who purchased books, whether they bought new ones to pass along to the library immediately, donated volumes that had been in their personal collections for some time, or gave funds for the purpose of acquiring books for the new library. A spirit of generosity animated the exchange of goods – specifically books – in the story this advertisement helps to tell.