August 13

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

Connecticut Courant (August 13, 1771).

“Catalogue of BOOKS.”

Like purveyors of consumer goods who provided elaborate lists of their merchandise, colonial booksellers frequently published lists of the books available at their shops in their newspaper advertisements.  Those lists often amounted to book catalogs adapted to a different format.  In the case of an advertisement that Lathrop and Smith placed in the August 13, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant, the booksellers even described their notice as a “Catalogue of BOOKS.”

Arranged in five columns with a headline extending across the entire page, the impressive list occupied most of the third page.  It accounted for almost one-quarter of the issue.  The first three columns filled the space allotted to two columns on the other pages.  The fourth and fifth columns, however, were even more narrow in order to fit in the space of a single column.  That allowed the compositor to insert four additional advertisements, all of them unrelated to the book catalog, in the lower right corner of the page.  By maintaining the standard column width, those advertisements could be moved within the newspaper to appear in other places in subsequent editions without needing to set the type all over again.  This configuration suggests that Lathrop and Smith did not invest in broadsheet catalogs to disseminate separately, but instead relied solely on the Connecticut Courant to reach prospective customers.

Although they neglected one marketing innovation, the booksellers did adopt another.  To aid readers and prospective customers in finding items of interest, the booksellers divided their inventory into several genres, including Divinity; Law; Physic, Surgery, &c.; School Books; History; and Miscellany.  Within each genre, they listed the books in alphabetical order by author or, in the case of some popular works, by title.  Readers perusing the Divinity section spotted “Edwards on Original Sin” and “Whitefield’s Hymns.”  Those browsing books about Law encountered “Blackstone’s Commentaries” and “Every Man his own Lawyer.”

Filling nearly an entire page, this advertisement likely attracted attention.  Readers could hardly have ignored it, nor could they have ignored Lathrop and Smith’s names in a larger font than even the name of the newspaper in the masthead on the first page.  Published in Hartford, the Connecticut Courant usually devoted less space to advertising than newspaper printed in larger towns and cities.  That made Lathrop and Smith’s “Catalogue of BOOKS” all the more noteworthy.

Connecticut Courant (August 13, 1771).

July 8

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 8, 1771).

“In a few days will be published by said SPARHAWK, a handsome edition of Dimsdale on the small-pox.”

John Sparhawk cultivated a reputation as a bookseller with a particular interest in medicine.  He did so in his advertisements and in choices he made in running “the London Book-store, and Unicorn and Mortar.”  The dual name for his location on Second Street in Philadelphia testified to his overlapping business interests.  Many booksellers sold patent medicines, but Sparhawk did more than just carry “Drugs and medicines of all kinds.”  He also published American editions of medical treatises.

In March 1771, Sparhawk advertised the publication of Samuel-Auguste Tissot’s Advice to the People in General, with Regard to their Health.  He continued advertising that volume for sale at his shop into the summer, but he and John Dunlap, the printer, also distributed copies to printers and booksellers in other cities.  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, advertised that they sold the book in the July 8 edition of their newspaper.  Their notice reiterated a portion of the advertisement Sparhawk ran in the Pennsylvania Journal, asserting that “This Book has been generally approved by People of all Ranks, into whose Hands it has fell, and it’s Character is so well known that it is esteemed needless to add more in its Favor.”  As the publisher whose name appeared on the title page of the American edition, Sparhawk aimed to associate himself with that esteem.

Within a few months, the bookseller-apothecary pursued the publication of another medical treatise.  In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he announced that “In a few days will be published by said SPARHAWK, a handsome edition of Dimsdale on the small-pox.”  Like Tissot’s Advice to the People, Thomas Dimsdale’s Present Method of Inoculating for the Small-Pox (1767) was a popular book that quickly went into several editions in England.  Its success likely made an American edition seem like a safe investment for Sparhawk, but he derived more than just revenues from its publication and sale.  He demonstrated a commitment to medicine and public health that distinguished him from other booksellers who merely stocked patent medicines and sold imported medical treatises.

July 7

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

Pennsylvania Journal (July 4, 1771).

“At the London Book-Store and Unicorn and Mortar.”

Like many booksellers, John Sparhawk also sold patent medicines.  He did not, however, do so as a side venture but instead cultivated a specialization in health and medicine when marketing the merchandise available as his “London Book-Store” in Philadelphia in the early 1770s.  To underscore that he carried “Drugs and Medicines of all kinds as usual,” he marked his location with a sign depicting a unicorn and mortar.  In selecting an image associated with apothecaries, the bookseller suggested that he did not merely stock a variety of elixirs but also possessed greater expertise than most shopkeepers, booksellers, and others who listed patent medicines among the many items available at their shops.

Sparhawk further enhanced that reputation by publishing an American edition of “TISSOT’s ADVICE to the People, Respecting their HEALTH” in the spring of 1771.  In describing the contents of the popular volume by Swiss physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot, first published in 1761, portions of the advertisement Sparhawk placed in the Pennsylvania Journal echoed the lengthy subtitle.  “THIS book,” the advertisement explained, “is calculated particularly for those who may not incline, or live too far distant, to apply to a doctor on every occasion.”  It included “a table of the cheapest, yet effectual remedies, and the plainest directions for preparing them readily.”  Originally published in French at Lyon, Tissot’s Avis au Peuple sur sa Santé became one of the bestselling medical texts of the eighteenth century.  By the time Sparhawk produced an American edition just ten years after the first publication of the book, it had already been through four editions in London.  The title page noted, though Sparhawk’s advertisement did not, that the American edition included “all the notes in the former English editions” as well as “some further additional notes and prescriptions.”

Sparhawk also mentioned that he stocked “Burn’s Justice, Blackstone’s Commentaries, and a general assortment of Books, on all subjects,” but he made Tissot’s manual the centerpiece of his advertisement.  Having invested in its publication, he certainly wanted the American edition to do well, but selling as many copies as possible was not his only goal.  After all, he could have published American editions of any number of books, but he chose Advice to the People to buttress his image as a knowledgeable purveyor of both books and medicines.  Publishing the book and associating it with “Unicorn and Mortar” was in itself a marketing strategy.

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.

February 11

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 11, 1771).

“It is the Book used in Princetown College and Grammar School.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, bookseller Garrat Noel frequently placed advertisements in newspapers published in New York.  Sometimes he provided lengthy lists of the titles available at his shop, but on other occasions he instead highlighted select titles for prospective customers.  When he took that approach, Noel offered more extensive descriptions, providing a preview of sorts intended to incite demand.

For instance, Noel included three books in an advertisement that extended half a column in the February 11, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He devoted half of that space to “A NEW GEOGRAPHICAL, HISTORICAL, and COMMERCIAL GRAMMAR; AND PRESENT STATE OF THE SEVERAL KINGDOMS of the WORLD” by William Guthrie.  In two columns, he enumerated the contents of the book.  In an eighteenth-century version of “but wait, there’s more,” Noel proclaimed that the book also included “a TABLE of the COINS of all Nations, and their Value in ENGLISH MONEY” and “a new and correct Set of MAPS.”  He apparently expected that an extensive presentation of the various contents would help in selling copies.

Noel took a similar approach in promoting another book, “The MESSIAH.”  He once again focused on the contents, but adopted a different format and style.  The bookseller provided a blurb, a chatty description of what readers could expect to encounter in the book.  Noel presented “The MESSIAH” as “an entertaining and instructive book, chiefly of the religious and moral Kind,” with the narrative “drawn from the Sacred Scriptures.”  Rather than a dry theological treatise, however, Noel promised prospective buyers that they would enjoy a text “set in a plain, rational, useful and interesting Light.”  Many readers likely found the blurb for the “The MESSIAH” more engaging than the list of contents for Guthrie’s historical geography.

The bookseller deployed yet another strategy for cultivating interest in the final book in this advertisement, John Mair’s “INTRODUCTION TO LATIN SYNTAX.”  In this case, Noel commented on the popularity and success of the book in other markets, hoping that would translate into demand among consumers in New York.  He described “Mair’s Introduction to the making of Latin” as “the latest and most improved Book of that Kind, and now in Use in all the principal Schools in Scotland, where the Language is taught with the greatest accuracy.”  Yet prospective customers did not need to look across the Atlantic to witness approval for this book.  Noel also noted that it “is the Book used in Princetown College and Grammar School,” a fact that the bookseller leveraged as a recommendation for others interested in Latin to purchase it.

In a single advertisement, Noel experimented with three different methods for inciting interest in some of the books he sold.  For one, he relied on an extensive recounting of the contents, while for another he commented on the contents in a spirited blurb.  For a Latin textbook, he reported on its use in both Scotland and a nearby college and grammar school.  For each book, he selected a marketing strategy that he anticipated would resonate with the consumers most likely to have incipient interest in acquiring a copy.

February 6

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (February 4, 1771).

“Next Door to the THREE DOVES.”

In an advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the February 4, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, Thomas Knight advised prospective customers that he sold window glass and bottles “at the Three Kings in Cornhill.”  A short notice in the standard issue informed the public that the “Sale of Sugars, which was advertised to be at the Bunch of Grapes To-Morrow, is postpon’d.”  John Boyles advertised several dozen books in the supplement, listing the titles in two columns.  He also made reference to a shop sign in order to direct readers to his location.  The bookseller gave his location as “Next Door to the THREE DOVES, In Marlborough-Street, Boston.”

Like other major urban ports, Boston did not adopt street numbers until the very end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth.  Prior to that, advertisers and others resorted to a variety of means of describing locations.  For instance, they indicated street names and mentioned nearby landmarks.  Shop signs also helped when giving directions, not only for those at the locations marked by the signs but also for others in close proximity.  Boyles apparently had not commissioned his own sign for his bookshop, but that did not prevent him from using a sign affiliated with another business as a landmark for finding his location.

Some proprietors deployed their shop signs as brands representing their businesses, regularly naming them in their newspaper advertisements and sometimes inserting woodcuts depicting them.  The most ambitious eighteenth-century advertisers also distributed trade cards and billheads that made reference to their shop signs and included images.  Yet other entrepreneurs considered those shop signs a form of public property rather than the sole domain of the businesses they marked.  Boyles, for instance, did not seem to believe that the Three Doves belonged exclusively to his neighbor’s business.  He appropriated the shop sign in his own marketing efforts, using it as an efficient means of directing his own customers to his bookshop.

January 26

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

Providence Gazette (January 26, 1771).

“THE TRIAL … published by Permission of the Court.”

In January 1771, John Fleeming published an account of the trials of the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.  His marketing campaign began in the January 14, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post with a brief notice that he would soon take the book to press.  A week later, he published a much more extensive advertisement in the same newspaper, that one listing the various contents of the book from “The Indictments against the Prisoners” through “the Verdict returned by the Jury.”  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, joined Fleeming in selling copies in Boston.

The account of the trials was soon available in other towns as well.  On January 25, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a short advertisement informing the public that “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston, are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.”  The next day, Benjamin West published a longer advertisement in the Providence Gazette.  Like Fleeming, he listed the names of the “Soldiers in his Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot” tried “for the Murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Grey, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr, on Monday Evening, the 5th of March, 1770.”  West may not, however, have intentionally replicated that portion of Fleeming’s advertisement.  Instead, he incorporated the lengthy title as it appeared on the title page of the book into his advertisement, a common practice when marketing all sorts of books in the eighteenth century.  West did compose unique copy, making appeals that had not previously appeared in other newspaper notices, for his advertisement.  “In this Book may be read,” he explained, “all the Evidence and Arguments on both Sides, which are contained in no less than 217 Pages.”  In addition to the length suggesting that the account was complete, West also promoted its accuracy, commenting on “The Whole being taken in Short-hand, and published by Permission of the Court.”  Fleeming made similar appeals, but he named the transcriber, John Hodgdon, and noted that his copy had been compared “with other Minutes taken at the Trial.”

Fleeming, West, and the Fowles adopted different approaches in their advertisements for an account of the trials for the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, but they all marketed memorabilia about a significant event with implications that reverberated throughout the colonies and across the Atlantic.  They and their potential customers did not know that the Boston Massacre and other events part of the imperial crisis they were experiencing would eventually culminate in the American Revolution.  Today, however, we look at the production and marketing of books and pamphlets about the Boston Massacre and prints depicting it and recognize that the commodification of the American Revolution began years before the first shots at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.

January 8

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

Connecticut Courant (January 8, 1771).

“He will sell for the following Prices.”

K. Sexton sold books at a shop “Near the Great Bridge in Hartford” in the early 1770s. Like many other early American booksellers, he placed newspaper advertisements that listed various titles available at his shop. In his advertisement in the January 8, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant, however, he included an enhancement not part of most newspaper advertisements or book catalogs published during the period.  He gave the prices of his merchandise.

In orderly columns that ran down the right side of his notice, Sexton listed prices in pounds, shillings, and pence, allowing prospective customers to anticipate what they would spend on his books as well as identify bargains.  He charged, for instance, fourteen shillings for a two-volume set of “SMALL Morrocco Bibles, bound in the neatest Manner,” five shillings and four pence for a “large” edition of a popular novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, and four shillings and eight pence for a “small” edition, and ten pence for “Cato’s Tragedy.”

For some items, Sexton sought buyers among both consumers and retailers.  He sold “Sinners in the Hands of an angry God, a Sermon preach’d by the Rev’d Jon. Edwards at Enfield, at a Time of great awakenings” for six pence for a single copy or four shillings for a dozen.  Retailers and others who bought in volume enjoyed a significant discount when they paid four shillings or forty-eight pence for twelve copies; Sexton reduced the retail price by one third.  He offered similar savings for purchasing at least a dozen copies of six other titles, including “Mr. Moodys Sermon to Children” and “Watts’s Catechism.”  For each of those, he charged either four pence each or three shillings (or thirty-six pence) for a dozen.  Those who bought a dozen save one quarter of the retail price.

Most booksellers did not specify prices for their merchandise in newspapers advertisements that listed multiple titles, though they were more likely to mention prices in advertisements for single titles and almost always did so in subscription notices for proposed books, magazines, and pamphlets.  In general, most purveyors of goods and services in eighteenth-century America did not indicate prices in their advertisements, except to offer assurances that they were low or reasonable.  Setting prices and promoting them to prospective customers eventually became a standard marketing strategy, but it was not common in eighteenth-century advertisements.  In the early 1770s, Sexton’s use of prices in his newspaper notices amounted to an experiment and innovation in marketing.

December 16

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

New-York Journal (December 13, 1770).

“54 57.”

“55 58.”

The numbers at the end of bookseller Garret Noel’s advertisement in the December 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal would have been a familiar sight to readers, even if they did not take the time to grasp their significance.  After all, they were not intended for readers, but instead for the compositor.  A brief notation, in this case “55 58,” alerted the compositor to the first and last issues in which an advertisement was supposed to appear.  The December 13 edition was “NUMB. 1458,” according to the masthead, thus the final issue for this particular advertisement.  It first ran three weeks earlier in “NUMB. 1455.”

This advertisement, however, had another notation with two other numbers, “54 57,” associated with it.  They appeared midway through the advertisement, a rather unusual situation.  This resulted from Noel placing two separate advertisements.  The first listed books “imported in the Britannia, Capt. Miller.”  It first ran in “NUMB. 1454” on November 15.  The following week, Noel placed another advertisement for books “IMPORTED, In the Albany, Capt. Richards.”  Rather than run it as a separate advertisement, the compositor appended it to Noel’s other notice.  In so doing, the compositor for the New-York Journal made a different decision than the compositor for the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  In the latter publication, Noel’s advertisements ran as separate items on different pages.

Noel derived advantages from both methods.  In the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, readers encountered his advertisements multiple times.  This increased visibility may have made Noel and his books more memorable for prospective customers.  On the other hand, combining the advertisements into a single notice in the New-York Journalcreated a lengthy notice that testified to the range of choices available at Noel’s shop.  The amount of spaced it occupied on the page may have helped draw attention as well.  Furthermore, it seems likely that Noel may have enjoyed a free insertion of his first advertisement for an additional week.  It should have been discontinued with “NUMB. 1457” on December 6, but it appears the compositor overlooked the notation in the middle of the advertisement.  No portion of the advertisement appeared in “NUMB. 1459” on December 20.  The compositor heeded the notation at the end, the usual position, and removed the entire advertisement.

The notations at the end of many advertisements help to tell stories about business practices and the production of newspapers in the eighteenth century.  In this case, the unusual configuration of multiple notations in a single advertisement in the New-York Journal demonstrates that even though the advertiser wrote the copy the compositor exercised discretion concerning format.  The single notice in the New-York Journal had quite a different format compared to the notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.