September 28

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

Sep 28 - 9:28:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 28, 1768).

“BOOKS to be sold at the Printing-Office.”

Like other printers throughout colonial America, James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, often used his own publication to promote books, pamphlets, and other printed materials that he sold. Although printers sought to generate additional revenues as a result of running their own advertisements in their newspapers, Johnston frequently had an additional motive. Short advertisements for books or advertisements also served as filler to complete an otherwise short column in the Georgia Gazette. Such was the case for a two-line advertisement at the bottom of the first column on the third page of the September 28, 1768, edition of that newspaper. The notice, which Johnston inserted frequently, read in its entirety: “A FEW COPIES of the ACTS of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY passed last session to be sold by the printer of this paper.” Johnston had another slightly longer advertisement, that one for printed blanks (or forms), which he also inserted regularly. It appears that the type for both remained set so the compositor could simply insert them as necessary when an issue ran short of other content.

Given those circumstances, a lengthier advertisement for “BOOKS to be sold at the Printing-Office” that filled half a column (or one-quarter of a page) departed from the usual format for advertisements placed by the printer of the Georgia Gazette. The advertisement divided the column, creating two narrower columns that listed dozens of books by title. A price, neatly justified to the right, accompanied each title. For instance, “Revolutions in Portugal” sold for three shillings and six pence. “Gullivers travels, 2 vols.” sold for eight shillings. In that regard Johnston’s advertisement differed from those placed by other printers and booksellers. Most merely listed titles; very few informed prospective customers in advance what they could expect to pay. Although Johnston rarely published such an extensive catalog of books he sold, when he chose to do so he made a significant innovation to the standard method deployed by printers and booksellers who advertised in other newspapers published in other colonies. If he had sought only to fill remaining space in an issue that lacked sufficient content, a list of “BOOKS to be sold” would have served the purpose. Including the prices, as well as the format for doing so, required additional time, effort, and creative energy in writing the copy and setting the type.

August 9

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

Aug 9 - 8:9:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 9, 1768).

“For the inspection of the CURIOUS … one of Mr. Benjamin Martin’s ROYAL PATENT PUMPS.”

Like many other colonial booksellers, Nicholas Langford stocked an array of other sorts of goods at his “BOOK and PRINT STORE” in Charleston. In an advertisement in the August 9, 1768 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Langford listed several titles from among the “Very neat and choice collection of BOOKS in polite literature, approved history and useful sciences” that he had recently imported, but he supplemented those wares with other sorts of merchandise, including “Woodstock wash leather gloves” and “neatest London made gentlemens shoes.” Langford’s inventory of clothing and housewares was not particularly extensive when compared to the items listed by many shopkeepers. However, the bookseller did stock sufficient additional goods to garner attention from prospective customers interested in more than just books, stationery, and prints.

That part of Langford’s advertisement was not all that unusual. Eighteenth-century booksellers frequently attempted to supplement the revenues generated by their primary occupation by selling other items on the side. A lengthy paragraph about “Mr. Benjamin Martin’s ROYAL PATENT PUMPS,” however, did distinguish Langford’s advertisement from others placed by booksellers. Langford announced that he displayed one of the pumps, which had never before been seen in South Carolina, “For the inspection of the CURIOUS.” He invited readers to examine the display model for themselves to see “its much superior effect produced by a continual stream” and observe how it “work[ed] without friction,” eliminating the “wear” and “choak” commonly associated with other pumps. Langford promoted several uses for this new brand of pumps, asserting that “they will be found to be extremely useful to this province, particularly for the draining of swamps, and filling the indico vats.” Interested parties could place their orders at the “BOOK and PRINT STORE” for Langford to transmit “to the manufactory in London.”

The final paragraph of Langford’s advertisement deviated significantly from the standard marketing efforts deployed by eighteenth-century booksellers. He offered readers a curiosity that they were invited to contemplate in the moment as well as examine on their own during a visit to his shop. In making “Mr. Benjamin Martin’s ROYAL PATENT PUMPS” available for purchase, he enhanced his reputation as an entrepreneur who tended to the improvement of the entire colony rather than merely advancing his own business. Yet he did stand to reap benefits of his own if displaying the pump and taking orders also happened to create additional foot traffic in his shop and if curious onlookers also happened to buy books or other wares. Langford hoped to transform the “CURIOUS” into consumers.

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

February 11

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

Feb 11 - 2:11:1768 Massacusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 11, 1768).

*** Country Customers may be supplied as well by Letter as if present.”

When his partner passed away, Nicholas Bowes placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette. In it, he issued an invitation for “all Persons that have Accounts open with said Company to come and settle them.” Yet he also wanted current, former, and prospective customers to know that he continued to sell books and stationery “at the same Shop.” Bowes devoted about half of the space in his advertisement to a nota bene that announced the continuation of the business that he had previously operated with Wharton.

To that end, Bowes advanced several marketing appeals. Like many merchants and shopkeepers, he promised consumers that he offered a variety of choices among his “large and compleat Assortment” of books and stationery. Customers could select items that matched their own needs and tastes. Bowes also sold his wares “at the lowest Rates,” attempting to draw visitors to his shop with competitive prices. In making those appeals, Bowes resorted to two of the most common marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. He saved his most innovative appeal for last: “*** Country Customers may be supplied as well by Letter as if present.” He even used distinctive typography – the asterisks and italics – as a visual means of attracting notice to that particular effort to market his merchandise. For the convenience of those who lived outside the busy port and faraway from his shop he made available all of the same benefits enjoyed by his local patrons. In proclaiming that distant customers “may be supplied as well by Letter as if present,” he pledged not to show any preferences or to take advantage of those who submitted their orders through the mail.

Retailers did not invent mail order shopping in the late nineteenth century, despite the proliferation and popularity of catalog shopping during the period. Nor did Bowes pioneer the strategy in the mid eighteenth century … but Bowes did offer a service that was not yet a standard practice promoted to potential customers via advertising. Merchants and shopkeepers sporadically made note that they served customers via the post in their newspaper notices, suggesting that the practice was fairly common even if it had not yet been codified as one of the standard marketing strategies that appeared in print. By inserting it into his advertisement, Bowes confirmed that he did provide this service, expanding his potential market to the hinterlands beyond Boston.

October 16

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

Oct 16 - 10:16:1767 Page 1 New-London Gazette
First Page of the New-London Gazette (October 16, 1767).

“MEIN, At the LONDON BOOK-STORE, North Side of KING-STREET, BOSTON.”

The Adverts 250 Project previously featured an extraordinary advertisement that John Mein placed in the New-London Gazette in the fall of 1767. Not only did Mein, a Boston bookseller, advertise in a distant newspaper, his advertisement occupied nearly two entire pages. That was a bold and innovative marketing strategy.

It was not a one-time gimmick. Mein placed a similar advertisement in the October 16, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette, an advertisement that was even more elaborate than the previous one. The new version extended over six columns, two entire pages (with the exception of the masthead on the first page). Mein’s advertisement accounted for half of that issue of the newspaper, limiting the amount of space for news items and prompting the printer to insert a notice that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next.”

This new advertisement had another feature that distinguished it from the previous version. It appeared on the first and fourth pages of the four-page newspaper (rather than the final two pages). This meant that it was both the first and last item readers encountered when they read that issue of the New-London Gazette. In addition, if a reader held the open newspaper aloft to read the second and third pages, observers would glimpse only the first and last pages. From their perspective it would appear that the New-London Gazette contained nothing except Mein’s advertisement. Similarly, a closed copy of the newspaper sitting on a desk or table assumed the appearance of a broadsheet book catalogue since no other advertisements or news items would have been visible.

Theses visual aspects that depend on the material qualities of the newspaper might be overlooked when working with a copy bound into a volume with other issues of the New-London Gazette, a common practice for preserving and archiving eighteenth-century newspapers. Deprived of the ability to exist as a separate issue but instead reduced to four consecutive pages in a larger book, the transformed newspaper does not immediately suggest all of the visual characteristics that early American readers would have experienced. The same could also be said of digitized versions of the advertisement, each page completely disembodied from the others. The greater significance of Mein’s advertisement becomes apparent only upon contemplating how the form in which the New-London Gazette was originally delivered to readers, not just the format the issue happens to occupy in the twenty-first century.

Oct 16 - 10:16:1767 Page 4 New-London Gazette
Final Page of New-London Gazette (October 16, 1767).

 

October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:9:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 9, 1767).

“ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES.”

Each issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a colophon that ran across all three columns at the bottom of the final page. Most colonial newspapers included a colophon on the final page, though they differed in length and content. The colophon for the October 8, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette simply stated “Printed by Richard Draper.” On the same day, the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy included a longer colophon: “New-York: Printed by JAMES PARKER, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Beaver-Street where Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper are taken in.” Parker used the colophon as an advertisement for his own newspaper. One of his local competitors did the same in a more elaborate colophon for the New-York Journal, but also promoted job printing and offered relatively rare information concerning prices for newspaper advertisements. “NEW-YORK: Printed by JOHN HOLT, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange, in Broad Street, where all Sorts of Printing Work is done in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition. Advertisements of a moderate Length are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.”

Among this variation, Robert Wells devised one of the most elaborate colophons that graced the pages of colonial newspapers in the 1760s. Had the type been set in a single column and inserted among the advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, the contents of the colophon would have been indistinguishable from the paid notices inserted by colonial entrepreneurs. It first indicated Wells’s location, “at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY,” and then mentioned specific services related to the newspaper, “Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS.” To entice potential advertisers to choose his newspaper rather than either of the other two printed in Charleston at the time, Wells underscored that the South-Carolina and American General Gazette “circulated through all the SOUTHERN COLONIES.” Advertisers could reach broad markets of prospective consumers.

Yet Wells did not conclude the colophon there. He inserted two more lines about his work as a bookseller and stationer, invoking common appeals to prices, quality, and choice found in advertisements placed by retailers of all sorts. He also hawked bookbinding services, making the “Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY” a location for convenient one-stop shopping. Wells accepted “ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES,” but also promised that “a large Stock is constantly kept up.” He did “all Kinds PRINTING and BO[O]K-BINDING Work … executed with Accuracy and Expedition, at the most reasonable Rates.”

Robert Wells took advantage of the space allotted in his newspaper for a colophon by inserting what amounted to an advertisement for the goods and services he provided. Such was the privilege of operating the press that every issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a message to colonial consumers.