March 20

GUEST CURATOR: Catherine Hurlburt

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

Connecticut Journal (March 20, 1772).

“Penknives, Quills, Ink Powder, Sealing-Wax & Wafers.”

In this advertisement, James Lockwood put up for sale an array of books on various subjects, as well as different writing tools. Lockwood emphasized that these commodities were English, “JUST IMPORTED from LONDON,” which may have been enticing to some colonists. Even though in 1772 the relationship between Britain and the colonies was deteriorating, many colonists still considered themselves to be British, and having English goods was considered a sign of status throughout the colonies, making these goods more desirable.[1]

Today, some readers might find that the writing utensils pique their interest and become curious about writing in the eighteenth century. Colonists mixed their own ink from ink powder and wrote with pens made by sharpening quills with penknives. Lockwood sold all of those items that are so different from the writing tools we use today. Another interesting difference between then and now is the age at which people who learned to write began their lessons. According to Rachel Bartgis, reading education began around age four and lasted until age seven, but writing did not occur until around age nine. This is because writing with a quill took higher fine motor ability than using today’s pen or pencil. In contrast, children learn reading and writing at the same time today. In addition, colonists learned “cursive” because “print,” named after the script on the printing press, was only used for special purposes, such as labelling parcels.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In the advertisement that Catherine selected to feature today, James Lockwood updated a notice that he first published in the Connecticut Journal more than two months earlier.  He began 1772 by placing an advertisement to advise consumers in New Haven and the nearby towns that he “is now opening, at a new Store, … a great Assortment of English & India GOODS, BOOKS, and all kinds of STATIONARY.”  He pledged that he sold his merchandise “Wholesale or Retail, at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”

As Lockwood settled in at his new store, he decided to emphasize his “large and good Collection of BOOKS & STATIONARY” in his next advertisement, mentioning his “great Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” only after listing the various kinds of books he had in stock.  He did not mention any titles, but instead announced that he carried “Divinity, Law, Physic, Surgery, Anatomy, History, Voyages& Travels, Novels, Poems, Plays, Philosophy & Mathematicks, School Books, Miscellaneous Works, [and] Seaman’s Books.”  Each genre received its own line in a portion of the advertisements divided into three columns.  That made the list easier for readers to peruse and areas of interest more visible to prospective customers.  The unique format also distinguished Lockwood’s advertisement from others on the page.  The third column included the various writing implements that Catherine examined.

Lockwood continued to promote his low prices, though he further enhanced that appeal.  Rather than claiming that he set process “at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours,” he instead looked to competitors in Boston and New York.  Lockwood declared that his customers acquired books, stationery, and “ENGLISH GOODS” from him “As low as they are commonly purchased” in those larger ports.  Prospective customers did not need to travel or send away to merchants and shopkeepers in those cities.  Instead, they could find the best bargains right in New Haven.

Lockwood’s proximity to “the College in New-Haven” (now Yale University) may have inspired him to publish an updated advertisement that focused on books and stationery.  He did not rely on a single newspaper notice to attract customers to his new Store.  Instead, he tried different methods of marketing his wares and generating name recognition among readers of the Connecticut Journal.

**********

[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 476.

February 24

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (February 24, 1772).

“A GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF BOOKS … AN ASSORTMENT of CURIOUS HARD-WARE.”

John Sparhawk sold a variety of goods at the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” on Second Street in Philadelphia in the early 1770s.  He ran an advertisement in the February 24, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet to announce that he had in stock “A GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF BOOKS,” listing a dozen titles.  Like many other booksellers, he also carried “papers and stationary of all kinds” as well as patent medicines popular among consumers.

A good portion of the inventory he promoted in his advertisement, however, deviated from the sorts of ancillary merchandise that most booksellers sold.  Sparhawk devoted more space in his advertisement to “AN ASSORTMENT of CURIOUS HARD-WARE” than to “Blackstone’s commentaries,” “Kalm’s history of America,” and other books.  He had everything from “A variety of spectacle” to “An assortment of very neat pocket and horse pistols, brass and iron barrels, bolted, plain and silver mounted” to “Pinchbeck buckles of the best kinds” to “Knives and forks, from the best to the common kinds in wood boxes or shagreen cases.”  Shoppers encountered the same sorts of merchandise at the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” that they found at general purpose stores around town.

Even though his list of tea urns, gloves, scales, and other wares occupied more space than his catalog of books, Sparhawk did draw attention to two books in particular.  In a nota bene, he advised prospective customers about bargains for purchasing American editions of two medical texts.  They got a great deal on “TISSOT’S Advice to the People with regards to their Health, an American edition, at 10s. the London edition is 15s.”  Similarly, they could acquire “Dimsdale’s present method of Innoculation for the Small-pox, at 3s. 9d.” for an American edition, but “the London edition is 6s.”  Sparhawk also noted that he “has a few sets of the 12th, 13th and 14th volumes of Van Swieten’s Commentaries, to match the eleven preceding,” for those who wanted to complete their sets.

Booksellers often diversified their inventory with stationery, writing supplies, and “DRUGS AND MEDICINES” to generate additional revenues.  Most, however, did not advertise extensive selections of other kinds of merchandise.  Sparhawk made it clear that customers could browse far more than books when they visited the “LONDON BOOK-STORE,” yet he also made special appeals about some of his books to demonstrate that customers interested in that branch of his business would be well served.  In some ways, the diversification of merchandise available at many modern book stores resembles Sparhawk’s strategy for earning a living in eighteenth-century Philadelphia.

February 3

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 3, 1772).

“Collection of BOOKS … A Catalogue of which may be seen at said Store.”

Henry Knox is most often remembered as the general who oversaw artillery for the Continental Army during the American Revolution and the new nation’s first Secretary of War in George Washington’s cabinet.  Before the Revolution, however, Knox earned his livelihood as a bookseller in Boston.  He frequently advertised books and stationery available at his “LONDON BOOK-STORE” in the Boston Evening-Post and other newspapers.  In an advertisement that ran in February 1772, for instance, he promoted a “Large and valuable Collection of BOOKS” as well as “Writing Paper of all Sorts and Sizes … and almost every other kind of Stationary.”

Knox did not name any of the titles he had on hand, but he did list several genres, including “Divinity, History, Law, Physick, and Surgery” and “A Variety of New Novels, Sea Books, All Kinds of School Books, and Classical Authors.”  To entice prospective customers to visit, he confided that “A Catalogue … may be seen at said Store.”  Many booksellers supplemented their newspaper advertisements with other marketing materials, including trade cards, broadsides, and catalogs.  Some historians of early American print culture have cast doubt on how many book catalogs booksellers actually produced and disseminated, suggesting that many catalogs mentioned in newspaper advertisements never materialized.  In this case, however, Knox likely referred to a thirty-two page “Catalogue of books, imported and to be sold by Henry Knox, at the London Book-Store, a Little Southward of the Town-House, in Cornhill, Boston, MDCCLXXII.”  At least two copies survive, one held by the Grolier Club in New York and the other in the collections of the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University.

Knox distributed at least one other catalog before the American Revolution.  The Library Company of Philadelphia and the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine Library in London each have an undated catalog that highlighted titles by “Much Esteemed Authors in Physic and Surgery.”  That four-page catalog has tentatively been dated to 1772 because the copy in the collections of the Library Company has been bound with and precedes A New Lecture on Heads by George Alexander Stevens, originally printed in London and reprinted for Henry Knox in 1772.  Just as books published in the twenty-first century often include advertisements for other books, printers and booksellers in early American sometimes inserted advertising in the books they produced and sold.

**********

The catalogers at the American Antiquarian Society provided invaluable assistance in telling the story of Henry Knox and his book catalogs.

January 29

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 27, 1772).

“The Magazines from January, 1771, to October, inclusive,” Rivington stated, “are likewise come to Hand.”

James Rivington and other American booksellers sold some books printed in the colonies, but imported most of their inventory.  In January 1772, Rivington ran an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to advise prospective that he had recently imported “Lilly’s Modern Entries, a new and correct Edition; Hawkins’s Pleas of the Crown, a new and improved Edition; Wood’s Conveyancer, a new Edition; … [and] a great Variety of other Books in Law, Physick, Divinity, Mathematicks.”  Rivington noted that “the Particulars will be given in a few Days,” signaling to readers that he intended to insert a lengthier advertisement that listed even more titles or perhaps even distribute a book catalog printed separately.

A manicule drew attention to a final note.  “The Magazines from January, 1771, to October, inclusive,” Rivington stated, “are likewise come to Hand.”  American printers published even fewer magazines than books prior to the American Revolution.  They attempted less than fifteen titles before 1775.  Most of those magazines folded in a year or less, though a couple did run for two or three years.  Some printers distributed subscription notices to incite interest, but ultimately had difficulty attracting sufficient subscribers (or advertisers) to make publishing their magazines viable ventures.

When American readers perused magazines prior to declaring independence, they read imported publications printed in London.  Given the time necessary to transport those magazines across the Atlantic, that meant that colonizers read magazines several months after they were published.  That being the case, Rivington’s advertisement for magazines published a year earlier in January 1771 did not offer outdated material.  In fact, the October editions were about as current as any magazines that American consumers purchased.  In addition, Rivington also understood what some customers did with magazines when they acquired them.  Magazines were not just for reading; they were also for display. Some readers collected a “volume” of magazines, usually editions spanning six months or a year, and had them bound together to resemble books.  Advertising magazines “from January, 1771, to October, inclusive,” let customers interested in collecting and displaying a complete run of a magazine that Rivington could supply them with all the issues they needed.  While it may seem strange to modern readers that Rivington advertised magazines published a year earlier, doing so made good sense in 1772 because it resonated with how consumers read and otherwise engaged with those monthly publications.

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.