November 23

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

Boston-Gazette (November 23, 1772).

“A General Supply of the most modern BOOKS.”

Like many modern booksellers, James Foster Condy sold books and more at his store on Union Street in Boston in the early 1770s.  In a lengthy advertisement that ran in the November 23, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette, he highlighted several aspects of his business, promoting his merchandise, his prices, and his customer service.

Condy began with an announcement about a new publication, “A POEM, Entitled, the GRAVE. By Robert Blair.”  That volume also included “An ELEGY written in a Country Church-Yard. By Mr. Gray.”  In addition to listing the price, just one shilling, Condy appealed to colonizers who considered themselves refined consumers of literature, assuring them that the “Pamphlet will fully recommend itself, to the best Judges and Lovers of Poetry.”  The bookseller had a particular interest in this pamphlet, having made arrangements with a local printer to produce a new edition.

The portion of Condy’s advertisement that hawked the poems could have stood on its own as a separate notice, but the bookseller determined that it served as a good introduction to an overview of his wares.  In addition to the poetry, printed in Boston, he also stocked a “General Supply of the most modern BOOKS” imported from London.  Rather than list any titles, Condy highlighted various genres, including “Law, Physick, History, Divinity, and every Branch of polite Literature” as well as bibles and other devotional materials.  He even had “Books for the Amusement and Instruction of Children.”

The bookseller also carried an assortment of stationery and writing supplies.  That portion of his advertisement occupied almost as much space as the portion about the poetry and more than the portion about other books.  Condy listed everything from “Writing Paper of every Sort” and “Account Books of every Size and Quality” to “various Sorts of Penknives” and “Quills,” to “Glass Ink Potts” and “red and black Sealing Wax.”  In yet another section of the advertisement, he called attention to other kinds of merchandise, some of it related to the books and stationery he sold.  Condy stocked “reading Glasses” and “Glasses for near-sighted Persons” as well as “Diagonal Machines for viewing of Prints” and “a Convex Glass for drawing Landscapes.”

The bookseller concluded with a pitch that extended beyond his merchandise.  He proclaimed that he offered the lowest prices that consumers would encounter not only in the city but anywhere in the colonies, asserting that “All those Persons who please to purchase at said Store, may depend on buying as cheap as at any Store in BOSTON or AMERICA.”  He was so confident in that claim that he declared its veracity “without Exception.”  In addition, his customers would be “used” or treated “in such a Manner as will leave no Room for Complaint, but give entire Satisfaction.”  In other words, Condy considered customer service an important aspect of his business.

With all of the books, stationery, writing supplies, glasses, and other merchandise, the inventory at Condy’s bookstore looked much the same to consumers in eighteenth-century America as modern bookstores appear to customers who browse an array of goods.  Condy did not rely on a single revenue stream.  Instead, he marketed and sold a variety of wares, using price and customer service to further entice prospective clients.

October 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (October 28, 1772).

“A catalogue of new and old books … is given away gratis.”

William Woodhouse, a bookseller, stationer, and bookbinder in Philadelphia, regularly advertised in the public prints in the early 1770s.  For instance, he ran an advertisement in the October 28, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, advising consumers that he had recently received a shipment of new inventory from London.  Woodhouse provided some examples to entice prospective customer, starting with stationery items.  He stocked everything from “a large assortment of the best writing paper in all sizes” to “round pewter ink stands” to “sealing-wax, wafers, quills, [and] black and red pencils.”  Woodhouse also listed some of the “variety of new books” at his shop, including “Baskerville’s grand family folio bible, with cuts,” “Pope’s Young’s Swift’s Tillotson’s, Shakespear’s, Bunyan’s. and Flavel’s works,” and “Blackstone’s commentaries, 4 vols. 4to.”  The abbreviation “4to” referred to quarto, the size of the pages, allowing readers to imagine how they might consult or display the books.  Woodhouse even had “Newberry’s small books for children, with pictures” for his youngest customers.

The bookseller concluded his newspaper advertisement with a nota bene that invited consumers to engage with other marketing materials.  “A catalogue of new and old books, with the prices printed to each book,” the nota bene declared, “is given away gratis, by said Woodhouse.”  That very well may have been the “CATALOGUE OF A COLLECTION OF NEW AND OLD BOOKS, In all the Arts and Sciences, and in various Languages” that Woodhouse first promoted six weeks earlier in another newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet.  That catalog also included “a large quantity of entertaining Novels, with the lowest price printed to each book.”  Most book catalogs, like newspaper advertisements, did not indicate prices.  Woodhouse apparently believed that stating his prices would help in convincing customers to purchase their books from him rather than from any of his many competitors in Philadelphia.  To draw attention to both the prices and his selection, he gave away the catalog for free.

This catalog may have been part of a larger advertising campaign that Woodhouse launched in the fall of 1772.  He might have also distributed handbills or posted broadsides.  In 1771, he circulated a one-page subscription proposal for “A Pennsylvania Sailor’s Letters; alias the Farmer’s Fall.”  A quarter of a century later, Woodhouse distributed a card promoting copies of “Constitutions of the United States, According to the Latest Amendments: To Which Are Annexed, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federal Constitution, with Amendments Thereto.”  It stands to reasons that Woodhouse used advertising media other than newspapers on other occasions, though such ephemeral items have not survived in the same numbers as newspaper advertisements.  I suspect that far more advertising circulated in early America than has been preserved and identified in historical societies, research libraries, and private collections.

October 18

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

Massachusetts Spy (October 15, 1772).

“The least favours gratefully acknowledged.”

John Langdon deployed a variety of strategies for marketing his inventory at the “New Book-Store” in Boston in the fall of 1772.  Like many other retailers, he emphasized the choices that he provided for consumers.  In an advertisement in the October 15 edition of the Massachusetts Spy, the bookseller informed prospective customers that he recently imported a “LARGE and Grand Assortment of BOOKS in all Arts and Sciences.”  Those new titles supplemented those he already had in stock.  He confidently proclaimed that he now offered “as large a collection as is to be found at any Store in America.”  His selection supposedly rivaled what consumers would encounter in shops in urban ports like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia as well as in the shops operated by local competitors.  Langdon intended for that bold claim to double as an invitation for prospective customers to browse in his shop and discover titles of interest among his extensive inventory for themselves.

In addition, thew bookseller made appeals to price and customer service.  He explained that he planned to depart for England in the spring.  As a result, he wished to sell his inventory over the course of the next several months.  To do so, he set low prices.  Langdon pledged that “every Gentleman who may please to favour him with their custom may depend on purchasing at a little more than the sterling cost and charges.”  In other words, he did not mark up the prices exorbitantly but instead sought to make only a small profit on each book he sold.  Langdon concluded his advertisement with a note that the “least favours [are] gratefully acknowledged.”  He appreciated any business, no matter how large or small the transaction.  Even though he had such a large inventory, no purchase … and no customer … was insignificant. Langdon intended to cultivate relationships with everyone who entered his shop.

Langdon’s advertisement for the New Book-Store was no mere announcement that he sold books.  Instead, he crafted a notice that incorporated multiple marketing strategies.  He emphasized the size of his inventory, his motivation for setting low prices, and the importance of every customer in his effort to encourage consumers to acquire books from him.

August 22

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 22, 1772).

“The APPENDIX is not in the London Edition.”

Henry Miller, printer of the Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, published and advertised an American edition of A Complete German Grammar by John James Bachmair in 1772.  German-speaking colonizers constituted a significant portion of Pennsylvania’s population, prompting Miller, himself born in the principality of Waldeck on the Upper Rhine, to believe a local market existed for this book.  He informed prospective customers that he charged nine shillings for his edition, compared to fourteen shillings for the London edition.

In addition to declaring that he published the third edition, “greatly altered and improved,” Miller also promoted an Appendix that included “An Index of German Words similar in Sound, but of different Orthography and Signification,” “Names of the most common Occupations and Trades, as also the Names of the Materials and Implements, &c. thereto belonging,” and an “Explication of a German Proverb.”  In a nota bene, Miller underscored that all of those items were bonus materials not included in the London edition.  In addition to the lower price, the useful and entertaining supplemental materials likely made Miller’s American edition seem like an even better choice for colonizers interested in learning German.

Miller also deployed a blurb from the first edition in his efforts to market the book.  He quoted from the preface to the first edition, highlighting Bachmair’s assertion that “those who have a Mind to learn fundamentally the German Language, will find such plain and easy Instructions, that, even without a Master, they may at least attain to read and understand it.”  The blurb simultaneously offered encouragement and set expectations.  With some diligence, those who studied from the book could learn to read and understand German, even if they did not become fluent enough to speak and write the language.  They could achieve that level of proficiency studying on their own rather than working with tutors or schoolmasters.

Miller incorporated a variety of marketing strategies into advertisements for his American edition of Bachmair’s German Grammar.  He hawked supplementary materials that did not appear in the more expensive London edition, while also including a blurb in which the author gave encouragement and promised “plain and easy Instructions.”  In describing the contents of the appendix and inserting the blurb, Miller sought to help prospective customers imagine themselves learning German with greater ease than they previously anticipated.

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.

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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.

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[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.

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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.