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.

October 5

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

Oct 5 - 10:5:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 5, 1767).

As the Articles in this Advertisement were very numerous, we are obliged to omit them till the next Week for want of Room.”

Bookseller John Mein frequently placed advertisements in Boston’s newspapers (and sometimes publications in other towns) in the 1760s. Even if they had never visited the “LONDON BOOK-STORE North Side of King-Street,” regular readers of the Boston-Gazette would have been familiar with Mein’s marketing efforts. On occasion his advertisements occupied even more space than those inserted by shopkeepers with the most extensive lists of imported merchandise, extending anywhere from an entire column to an entire page. Mein intended to publish another lengthy advertisement in the Boston-Gazette on the first Monday in October 1767, but had to settle for a shorter notice.

Actually, Mein placed two advertisements in the October 5 issue. One appeared at the top of the third column on the second page, to the right of an open letter “To The People of Boston and all other English Americans,” a letter that argued Parliament had renewed its attempts to reduce the colonies to “perfect slavery.” This relatively short advertisement amounted to a single square, the standard length for most paid notices in that issue. The second advertisement, approximately two squares, appeared in the middle of the third column on the third page, less easy to distinguish among the other notices on the page.

Both advertisements announced that Mein stocked “A Grand Assortment Of the most modern BOOKS, In every Branch of polite Literature, Arts and Sciences” (though the typography differed significantly). The shorter notice also indicated that since “the Articles in this Advertisement were very numerous, we are obliged to omit them till the next Week for want of Room.” The second notice focused primarily on a single volume, a new edition of “Dilworth’s Spelling Book” just published on “fine Paper” with new type. It concluded with a brief note that “Printed Catalogues may be had Gratis at the Store” on King Street. Surely Mein’s catalog included many of the books he meant to advertise in the Boston-Gazette that week had space permitted.

Given the placement of Mein’s advertisements within the newspaper, he may not have submitted two separate notices for publication. Instead, the printers may have created the shorter advertisement, with its announcement anticipating a lengthier list of Mein’s titles in the next issue, and given it a prominent place to compensate for not publishing all of the copy Mein submitted. When the advertisement did appear the following week, it filled an entire page. Given the expense that Mein incurred, the printers may have considered a second advertisement promising more information about Mein’s “Grand Assortment Of the most modern BOOKS” the least they could do when they ran out of space to publish the list in its entirety. After all, they wanted to encourage the bookseller to continue (to pay) to insert lengthy advertisements in their newspaper.

Mein intended to attract attention through the volume of his advertising, yet circumstances prompted the printers to deliver an alternate marketing strategy. They incited interest by temporarily withholding the complete advertisement while simultaneously giving the announcement a prominent place in the publication to increase the number of potential customers who would read it.

September 25

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

Sep 25 - 9:15:1767 Page 3 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 25, 1767).

“London BOOK-STORE, North Side of KING-STREET, BOSTON.”

John Mein, prominent bookseller in Boston, placed an extraordinary advertisement in the September 25, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette. A regular advertiser in Boston’s newspapers, Mein previously experimented with a full-page advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette two months earlier. The length of his advertisement in the New-London Gazette, however, far exceeded that previous notice: it extended nearly two full pages and amounted to almost half of the entire issue. Mein’s advertisement for “A very GRAND ASSORTMENT of the most modern BOOKS, in every Branch of polite Literature, Arts and Sciences” filled the entire third page and all but the second half of the final column on the fourth page. It took up so much space that Timothy Green, the printer, inserted a notice at the bottom of the second page to assure readers (and advertisers whose notices had been squeezed out to make room for Mein) that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next.” Although not unknown, full-page newspaper advertisements were not common in the 1760s. When they did appear they merited special notice, yet they seemed restrained compared to Mein’s nearly-two-page advertisement.

Mein’s extensive advertisement qualified as exceptional for another reason: he operated the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” on King Street in Boston, yet he supplemented his marketing efforts in local newspapers with a newspaper notice in faraway New London, Connecticut. Retailers frequently acknowledged that they served customers in the hinterlands that surrounded their own cities and towns, but they rarely placed advertisements in newspapers published in other colonies if they had local alternatives. Retailers in Boston, for instance, expected that when they advertised in any of the city’s four newspapers that they would attract customers from other parts of Massachusetts beyond the busy port. They typically did not, however, insert advertisements in newspapers printed in other towns, each with their own hinterlands in other colonies. Mein deviated from standard practices related to newspaper advertising, apparently considering the opportunity to enter new markets worth the investment. He had previously published book catalogs that may have been distributed far beyond Boston. Any customers they generated may have encouraged him to consider advertising in newspapers in distant cities. He acknowledged customers who resided outside Boston in the final paragraph of his advertisement: “Gentlemen, Traders, &c. who send Orders, may depend on being served with the utmost Fidelity and Dispatch, and as cheap as if present.” In his efforts to gain customers from markets beyond Boston, Mein anticipated and addressed potential obstacles that might prevent them from patronizing his business.

Sep 25 - 9:15:1767 Page 4 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 25, 1767).

August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:17:1767 New York Gazette
New-York Gazette (August 17, 1767).

“They will be presented to the Publick in a Catalogue.”

Garret Noel continued to stock “A Very extensive Assortment of Books” nearly a month after his advertisement concerning a shipment that just arrived on the Amelia first appeared in the July 20, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette. That the second line of his notice, proclaiming that he “Has this Day receiv’d” new inventory, was slightly outdated mattered little compared to two other aspects of the advertisement.

Noel, a prolific advertiser, informed potential customers that his “extensive Assortment of Books” covered a wide variety of topics, including “History, Divinity, Law, Physic, [and] Poetry.” In fact, he now carried so many new books that they were “too numerous” to list all the titles in newspaper advertisements. Instead, he resorted to another medium, a book catalog printed separately and often distributed free of charge as a means of inciting demand. Noel indicated that his catalog was “publishing with all the speed possible.” No extant copy exists, but that does not mean that Noel’s catalog never made it to press. According to the American Antiquarian Society’s online catalog, Noel previously published four other catalogs in 1754/55, 1755, 1759, and 1762. The partnership of Noel and Hazard later published a catalog in 1771. Perhaps Noel never printed the catalog promised in this advertisement but instead suggested that it existed as a means of luring potential customers to his shop, but the evidence suggests a fairly good chance that he did indeed publish this marketing tool to supplement his frequent newspaper advertisements. While fairly complete collections of many eighteenth-century newspapers have survived into the twenty-first century, other printed materials have not. Newspaper advertisements suggest that many more book catalogs likely circulated in the eighteenth century than can be found in archives today.

While awaiting publication of the catalog, Noel also informed existing customers who had placed orders that they could send for them. This announcement did matter more at the time the bookseller originally inserted the advertisement in the New-York Gazette. With a new shipment that had just arrived he likely had not yet had time to send notices to every customer awaiting an order. An announcement in the newspaper presented an opportunity for eager customers to obtain their purchases as quickly as possible (and potentially saved the bookseller time and energy in contacting customers individually). That this portion of Noel’s notice continued to run for so many weeks also served to inform potential customers that they could also submit special orders.

Garret Noel offered two forms of customer service intended to cater to consumers and convince them to purchase his merchandise. He distributed a catalog detailing his “Very extensive Assortment of Books,” introducing potential customers to titles they may not have previously considered. He also accepted orders and informed clients as soon as they arrived, exhibiting how eagerly he sought to serve his patrons.