August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:13:1770 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (August 13, 1770).

We shall just give the Sentiments of the Authors of the Monthly and Critical Review concerning it.”

Much of Garrat Noel’s advertisement in the August 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy looked like other advertisements placed by booksellers.  Divided into two columns, it listed some of the “VERY great Variety of BOOKS” that he sold.  With the titles organized mostly in alphabetical order, Noel’s advertisement was a book catalog adapted for publication as a newspaper advertisement.

For selected books, however, Noel did more than name the title and author.  He attempted to incite interest by appending short notes.  Rather than “Bunyan’s Works,” he stocked “Bunyan’s Works complete in 2 Vols Folio, finely adorned with elegant Copper Plates, among which is a neat Head of the Author.”  Not only did this two-volume set come with attractive images, it was also “Recommended by the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD,” one of the most influential ministers in the colonies.  Whitefield gained celebrity when he toured the colonies, preaching to exuberant crowds in cities and towns from Georgia to New England.  Noel deployed a different strategy in promoting “Boswell’s entertaining Account of Corsica.”  Rather than rely on a celebrity endorsement, he noted that readers themselves expressed great enthusiasm for this book.  It was “in so great Demand in London, that 7000 Copies of it sold in the Space of a few Months.”  Noel encouraged consumers in New York to follow the lead of their counterparts in London who had purchased so many copies.

Those additional notes were relatively short compared to Noel’s treatment of “The patriotic Mrs. McAULAY’S celebrated History of England from the Accession of JAMES I. to the Elevation of the House of HANOVER.”  Noel inserted his own puff piece and then followed it with reviews from two prominent magazines published in London.  “This HISTORY OF ENGLAND,” Noel proclaimed, “is universally approved, and for Beauty and Elegance of Diction, is esteemed one of the best written Histories in the English Language.”  Rather than take the bookseller’s word for it, prospective customers could consider “the Sentiments of the Authors of the Monthly and Critical Review concerning it.”  A lengthy blurb from the Monthly Review followed by a shorter blurb from the Critical Review appeared immediately below Noel’s recommendation of the book.  Promotion of Macaulay’s History of England comprised one-quarter of the space devoted to listing the titles available at Noel’s bookstore.  It extended the same length as nineteen books in the facing column, including “Bunyan’s Works” and “Boswell’s entertaining Account of Corsica” that each had shorter commentaries attached.

Noel sought to enhance demand for his wares by enhancing his list of titles with additional notes about some of them.  He hoped that endorsements by celebrity preachers like Whitefield, recommendations from literary critics from magazines like the Critical Review and the Monthly Review, and even sales figures from consumers in London would influence prospective customers in New York.  Booksellers’ catalogs and newspaper advertisements were not necessarily dry lists of titles in eighteenth-century America.  To greater or lesser extents, some booksellers did enhance the standard format in their efforts to win over consumers.

July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:24:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 24, 1770).

“An Exhibition of modern Books, by AUCTION.”

Robert Bell, one of the most influential booksellers and auctioneers in eighteenth-century America, toured New England in the summer of 1770.  Bell is widely recognized among historians of the book for his innovative marketing practices.  The tone and language in his advertisement in the July 7, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette, however, seems rather bland compared to the flashy approach that eventually became the hallmark of Bell’s efforts to promote his books and auctions.  On the other hand, another advertisement in the Essex Gazette just a few weeks later hinted at the showmanship that Bell was in the process of developing and refining.

In announcing auctions that would take place at a tavern in Salem on three consecutive nights, Bell addressed prospective bidders as “the Lovers of literary Instruction, Entertainment, and Amusement.”  Deploying such salutations eventually became a trademark of his newspaper advertisements, broadsides, and book catalogs.  The advertisement in the Essex Gazette gave customers a glimpse of the personality they would encounter at the auction.  Bell described each auction as “an Exhibition of modern Books” and proclaimed that one each evening “there will really exist an Opportunity of purchasing Books cheap.”  He seemed to take readers into his confidence, offering assurances that the prospect of inexpensive books was more than just bluster to lure them to the auction.

In the same advertisement, Bell sought to incite interest in another trilogy of auctions.  “An Opportunity similar to the above,” he declared, “will revolve at the Town of NEWBURY-PORT.”  Readers of the Essex Gazette who could not attend any of the book auctions in Salem had another chance to get good bargains while mingling with other “Lovers of literary Instruction, Entertainment, and Amusement.”  Like other itinerants who announced their visits in the public prints, whether peddlers or performers, Bell made clear that he would be in town for a limited time only.  He advised that “the Public may be certain that the Auctionier’s Stay in those Towns will not exceed the Time limited as above.”  Bell would be in Salem for just three nights and then in Newburyport for three more nights before moving along to his next destination.

Compared to his recent notice in the Providence Gazette, the advertisement Bell placed in the Essex Gazette much more resembled the style of promotion that made him famous in the eighteenth century and infamous in the history of the book.  His lively language suggested that his auctions would be more than the usual sort of sale.  They would be events that readers would not want to miss.

July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 7, 1770).

“Robert Bell, BOOKSELLER and AUCTIONIER.”

Historians of the book have long credited Robert Bell as one of the most innovative, industrious, and successful booksellers in eighteenth-century America.  His auctions achieved great success, due in part to the larger-than-life personality he cultivated and in part to the marketing strategies he developed.  Carl Bridenbaugh asserts that Bell “institutionalized the colonial book auction, and more than any one else in [the era of the American Revolution] laid the solid foundations for book publishing in America.”[1]

At the time that he ran his advertisement for “An OLD LOOKING-GLASS For the LAITY and CLERGY Of all Denominations” in the Providence Gazette in the summer of 1770, he had only recently arrived in the colonies.  James N. Green explains that Bell, “a Scot who reached Philadelphia in 1768 after a career as a reprinter of English properties in Ireland, was the first American bookseller to reprint systematically new and popular British books in direct competition with imports.”[2]  This distinguished him from other booksellers who sold primarily imported books rather than taking on the risk and expense of publishing and selling American editions.  In 1770, Bell circulated a subscription proposal for Blackstone’s Commentaries.  Upon acquiring sufficient subscribers, he published an American edition in 1771 and 1772.  Green echoes Bridenbaugh, describing Bell as an “innovative and dynamic” promoter of printed wares who provided “a model of what the book culture of an independent country might be like, and he foreshadowed the transformation of the book trade in the postwar years.”[3]

Yet Bell sometimes resorted to traditional means of advertising books, especially near the beginning of his career in America.  Bell’s advertisement in the Providence Gazette was muted compared to others.  Some of his subsequent newspaper advertisements addressed readers and prospective customers as “Sons of Science,” “Sentimentalists of America,” and “The Lovers of literary entertainment, amusement and instruction.”[4]  By 1780, Bell devised advertisements that hawked his own personality in addition to describing the community of readers, including in a broadsheet in which he described himself as “Bookseller, Provedore to the Sentimentalists, and Professor of BOOK-AUCTIONEERING in America.”  According to Green, “Before Bell, book advertisements consisted of nothing more than a transcription of their titles; no one had ever used language to sell books in this way.”[5]  The length of Bell’s advertisement in the Providence Gazette, however, set it apart from others in the same issue, but the language did not distinguish it from other advertisements for books from the period.  The personality associated with his bookselling and auctioneering enterprise was still a work in progress.

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[1] Carl Bridenbaugh, “The Press and the Book in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 65, no. 1 (January 1941): 16.

[2] James N. Green, “The Rise of Book Publishing,” in Robert A. Gross and Mary Kelley, eds., An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, 1790-1840, vol. 2, A History of the Book in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 77.

[3] Green, “Rise of Book Publishing,” 77.

[4] Bridenbaugh, “Press and the Book,” 15.

[5] James N. Green, “English Books and Printing in the Age of Franklin,” in Hugh Amory and David D. Hall, eds., The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, vol. 1, A History of the Book in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press with the American Antiquarian Society, 2007), 285.

June 11

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

Jun 11 - 6:11:1770 New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (June 11, 1770).

“With an APPENDIX, containing the Distiller’s Assistant.”

In the spring of 1770, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury carried a series of advertisements from “I. FELL, at No. 14, in Pater-noster-Row, London.”  Two of them appeared in the June 11 edition.  The first, a subscription notice for the bible “On a PLAN never before attempted … By a SOCIETY of CLERGYMEN,” listed Fell as one of the booksellers.  This subscription notice stated that “the Printer hereof,” Hugh Gaine, acted as a local agent.  Interested parties needed to make arrangements with Gaine rather than contacting Fell.  As local agent, Gaine compiled a list of subscribers that he sent to Fell, collected payments, and distributed the book after it went to press.  The other advertisement listed eight titles that Fell sold at his shop.  It did not indicate that Gaine served as a local agent, though customers may very well have had the option of submitting orders through him.

Fell’s second advertisement differed from most others placed by booksellers.  They usually took one of two forms.  Some, like the subscription notice, promoted a single title, describing both the contents and the material qualities of the publication.  Others, like an advertisement placed by James Rivington in the same issue of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, listed books for sale but provided little elaboration beyond the titles.  Rivington’s advertisement listed dozens of books; others listed hundreds.  In contrast to either of those standard approaches, Fell’s advertisement featured eight books and provided a blurb about each to incite interest.

In general, Fell did not compose those blurbs.  Instead, he incorporated the extensive subtitles that tended to be a feature of many books published in the eighteenth century.  Thus “THE MEMOIRS OF Miss Arabella Bolton” became “THE MEMOIRS OF Miss Arabella Bolton, CONTAINING a genuine Account of her Seduction, and the barbarous Treatment she afterwards received from the Honourable Col. L—–L, the present supposed M—–r for the County of MIDDLESEX.  With Various other Misfortunes and Embarrasments, into which this unhappy young Woman has been cruelly involved, through the Vicissitudes of Life, and the Villainy of her Seducer.  The whole taken from the Original Letters of the said. Col. L—-L to Dr. KELLY, who attended her in the greatest Misfortunes and Distresses under which she labored:  And also from sever Original Letters to Dr. KELLY and Miss BOLTON, and from other authenticated Papers in the Hands of the Publisher.”  In addition, Fell listed the price.

Each book in Fell’s advertisement received the same treatment, though not all had subtitles as extensive as The Memoirs of Miss Arabella Bolton.  If prospective customers were unfamiliar with a particular volume, they could consult the blurb to get a better sense of what it contained.  The entry for The Country Brewer’s Assistant and English Vintner’s Instructor, for instance, rehearsed the table of contents and noted that it concluded with “an APPENDIX, containing the Distiller’s Assistant.”  In contrast to that practical guide, The Complete Wizzard included “a Collection of authentic and entertaining Narratives of the real Existence and Appearance of Ghosts, Demons, and Spectres:  Together with several wonderful Instances of the Effects of Witchcraft.  To which is prefixed, An Account of Haunted Houses, and subjoined a Treatise on the Effects of Magic.”  Several books in the advertisement included appendices or additional materials not evident in the main title alone.  The Imperial Spelling Dictionary also included a “Compendious English Grammar.”  Wilke’s Jests, or The Patriot Wit also gathered together a “pleasing Variety of Patriotic Toasts and Sentiments.”  But wait, there’s more!  The publisher also added “THE FREE-BORN MUSE; OR SELECT PIECES OF POETRY, by Mr. Wilkes, and other Gentlemen distinguished for their Wit and Patriotism.”

Fell likely intended that these blurbs would convince readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to purchase the books he sold.  His advertisement revealed not only the contents of each volume but also the added value of supplemental materials not readily apparent in the main titles alone.  Fell did not want readers to skim a list of titles quickly or pass over the advertisement entirely; instead, he sought to arouse greater interest by providing more elaborate overviews to capture their attention and convince them to purchase his books so they could read more.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1770 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (June 4, 1770).

The following BOOKS.”

Lathrop and Smith made a significant investment in their advertisement that ran in the June 4, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Divided into four narrow columns, it filled the space usually devoted to two of the three columns on the final page of the newspaper.  Overall, it comprised one-sixth of the content (two out of twelve columns) delivered to readers.  Listing just over 250 individual titles, it was a book catalog distribute via alternate means.  Lathrop and Smith could have just as easily arranged for handbills or broadsides to inform prospective customers of the assortment of books they sold at their store in Hartford.

That they stocked these books in a relatively small town did not mean, however, that their customers should expect to pay higher prices.  Lathrop and Smith proclaimed that they sold their books “at as low a rate as they are usually sold inBoston or New-York,” the major urban ports in the region.  Furthermore, they encouraged readers to spot special bargains, asking them to take note that “Those articles marked thus [*] are to be Sold for very little more than the Prime Cost.”  In other words, the local booksellers charged only a small markup on several volumes, including Van Swieten’s Commentaries on Boerhaave’s Aphorisms, Winslow’s Anatomy, Moral Tales, and Vicar of Wakefield.

Lathrop and Smith also aided prospective customers in finding titles of interest by separating them according to genre and inserting headers, such as “DIVINITY,” “LAW,” “PHYSIC, SURGERY, &c.,” “SCHOOL BOOKS,” “HISTORY,” and ‘MISCELLANY.”  Within each category, the books were alphabetized by author or title, with the exception of four titles appended to the books on divinity (though they were also alphabetized).  When it came to writing copy, Lathrop and Smith attempted to make their catalog accessible and easy to navigate.

In general, their advertisement was just as sophisticated as those published by their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  The Connecticut Courant ran much less advertising than newspapers in those port cities, but that did not necessarily mean that advertisers did not adopt the same methods and strategies for appealing to consumers.

February 5

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

Feb 5 - 2:5:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 5, 1770).

“All the Books in this Catalogue are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.”

Robert Bell, one of the most industrious booksellers in eighteenth-century America, owed his success in part to savvy advertising. His advertisement for an “Auction of Books” in the February 5, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, for instance, incorporated two significant marketing strategies intended to incite consumer demand.

Bell began by announcing that he had just published a “CATALOGUE of new and old BOOKS” that prospective customers could acquire “gratis at the Place of Sale.” Bell likely intended that distributing the catalog would get people through the door. When they came to pick up a catalog many might decide to view the merchandise. Then they carried away a catalog as a reminder of the books they had examined. In passing out catalogs, Bell also enhanced the dissemination of information about his merchandise beyond the reach of his newspaper advertisement. Prospective customers who obtained catalogues could share them with members of their household as well as friends and neighbors. Bell did not rely on a single medium to attract attention to his “Auction of Books.” Instead, he had multiple marketing media in circulation.

He also addressed the politics of consumption, concluding his advertisement with a note about the origins of the books he offered for sale. “[A]ll the Books in this Catalogue,” he assured prospective customers, “are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.” Although colonial printers produced some American imprints, the most books in the colonies were imported from England prior to the American Revolution. Bell sought to mediate that reality by focusing on the fact that his books had been imported before merchants, shopkeepers, and others enacted a boycott of imported goods to protest the duties levied on certain imported goods in the Townshend Acts. Rather than focus on where those volumes had been produced he instead emphasized when they had arrived in the colonies. Still, he did make an appeal to the place of production when he could, noting that some of his books were indeed “American Manufacture.” To underscore the importance of these distinctions, he addressed prospective customers as “Lovers and real Practisers of Patriotism,” challenging all readers to consider the political meanings of consumer goods.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements have sometimes been dismissed as mere announcements that made no effort at marketing. Bell’s notice, however, demonstrates that some advertisers engaged in savvy marketing campaigns … and that consumers were exposed to their efforts to shape the colonial marketplace.

January 27

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

Jan 27 - 1:27:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 27, 1770).

JUST PUBLISHED … A SERMON … by the Rev. MORGAN EDWARDS.”

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, continued to advertise “WEST’S ALMANACKS, For the present Year” and “his ACCOUNT of the TRANSIT of VENUS” in the January 27, 1770, edition of his newspaper. Both were written by Benjamin West, an astronomer, mathematician, and one of the first professors at Rhode Island College (now Brown University), and printed by Carter. The printer also advertised another book for sale at his printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head, though he had not published “A SERMON delivered January 1, 1770, by the Rev. MORGAN EDWARDS, A.M. one of the Fellows of Rhode-Island COLLEGE, and Pastor of the Baptist Church in Philadelphia.” The advertisement announced that the sermon was “JUST PUBLISHED at NEWPORT,” though Carter had acquired copies to sell in Providence.

This advertisement referred to A New-Years-Gift: Being a Sermon, Delivered at Philadelphia, on January 1, 1770, and Published for Rectifying Some Wrong Reports, and Preventing Others of the Like Sort, but Chiefly for Giving It Another Chance of Doing Good to Them Who Heard It. Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, reprinted the sermon after Joseph Crukshank first printed an edition in Philadelphia. Southwick presumably believed that the sermon would find a market in Newport because of Edwards’s affiliation with the college and his role as a “prime mover” in its founding. Similarly, Carter likely hoped to capitalize on the college’s imminent move to its permanent home in Providence in 1770 when he advertised the sermon.

Both printers may have also expected a particular passage in the sermon, one not mentioned in its long and ponderous title, would attract the attention of prospective customers. Carter’s advertisement stated that it had been “occasioned by his having been strongly impressed for a Number of Years past, that he should die on the 9th Day of March next.” According to Martha Mitchell in the Encyclopedia Brunonia, Edwards’s wife, who died in 1769, “had somehow foreseen the time of her death. Edwards now recalled a dream he had fifteen years earlier and became convinced he would die the next year.” Edwards survived the year, but his credibility did not. Another minister suggested “that the year was not to be that of Edwards’s death but of the death of his ministry,” which turned out to be the case. He resigned as pastor and did not preach again. Preaching the sermon damaged his reputation; that it circulated in print in several colonies compounded the problem, even as it provided an opportunity for printers and booksellers to augment their revenues.

November 2

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

Nov 2 - 11:2:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 1, 1769).

“His printed CATALOGUE may be had.”

In an advertisement that ran on the front page of the November 2, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, Nicholas Langford, “BOOKSELLER From LONDON,” informed prospective customers that he had just imported a collection of “CHOICE AND USEFUL BOOKS.” Calhoun Winton has documented Langford’s activities as a bookseller (and advertiser) in Charleston, noting that in January 1769 he advertised in the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that “he was departing for London to secure” new inventory.[1] Eleven months later, he returned and once again turned to the public prints to promote his entrepreneurial activities.

This advertisement served as a preview since Langford was not yet ready to offer the books for sale. In a nota bene, he informed readers that “the earliest Notice will be given in all the Papers, when and where the [books] will be ready for Sale.” He offered another sort of preview, instructing interested parties to obtain copies of his “printed CATALOGUE” from several local merchants and artisans. As Winton explains, Langford “established a network … to assist him in purveying his books.”[2] The bookseller indicated that each of his associates accepted orders in addition to distributing his catalog.

The success of this network depended in large part on that catalog since it served as a substitute for browsing through the books themselves. It is not clear from Langford’s advertisement if he had the catalog printed in London before returning to the colonies or if he arrived in Charleston with a manuscript list of titles and had one of the local printers produce it. Either way, the catalog represented additional advertising revenue accrued to at least once printer. In addition to paying to have his advertisements inserted in Charleston’s newspapers, Langford also paid for job printing when he took this special order to a printing office. The catalog itself demonstrates that eighteenth-century advertisers utilized multiple forms of marketing media, not just newspaper advertisements, but it also testifies to the expenses that many entrepreneurs incurred in the process of promoting their wares.

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[1] Calhoun Winton, “The Southern Book Trade in the Eighteenth Century,” in The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, ed. Hugh Amory and David D. Hall, vol. 1. A History of the Book in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press in association with the American Antiquarian Society, 2007).

[2] Winton, “Southern Book Trade.”

October 26

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

Oct 26 - 10:26:1769 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (October 26, 1769).

“Printed in AMERICA.”

John Mein was an ardent Tory. In the late 1760s, he and John Fleeming published the Boston Chronicle, one of the most significant Loyalist newspapers. Merrill Jensen describes the Boston Chronicle as “the handsomest newspaper in America” but “also one of the most aggressive.”[1] Mein and Fleeming made it their mission to contradict and oppose the narrative promulgated by patriot printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill in the Boston-Gazette. Mein opposed the nonimportation agreements ratified by Boston’s merchants in response to Parliament imposing duties on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea. Yet when it came to marketing the wares available at his London Book Store on King Street, Mein sometimes adopted a strategy more often associated with patriots who encouraged resistance to the abuses perpetrated by Parliament. In an advertisement that extended an entire column in the October 26, 1769, edition of the Boston Chronicle, Mein proclaimed that he sold books “Printed in AMERICA.” In this instance, the printer and bookseller managed to separate business and politics, hoping to increase the appeal of more than a dozen titles, including several “Entertaining Books for Children,” by making a “Buy American” appeal to consumers.

In that same issue of the Boston Chronicle, Mein and Fleeming published “Outlines OF THE Characters of some who are thought to be ‘WELL DISPOSED.’” As Jensen explains, the “Well Disposed” was “a name first used by the popular leaders to describe themselves, but which their enemies had turned into a gibe.”[2] The character sketches included “Johnny Dupe, Esq; alias the Milch-Cow of the “Well Disposed” (John Hancock), “Samuel the Publican, alias The Psalm Si[ng]er” (Samuel Adams), “Counsellor Muddlehead, alias Jemmy with the Maiden Nose” (James Otis), and “The Lean Apothecary” (Joseph Warren). Jensen notes, “There were many other nicknames which contemporaries doubtless recognized.” These insults created such an uproar that Mein soon departed from Boston in fear of his life. A mob attacked him, but Mein managed to escape, first hiding in the attic of a guardhouse and eventually disguising himself as a soldier and fleeing to a British warship in the harbor. From there he sailed to England, only to discover that “London booksellers to whom he owed money had given power of attorney to John Hancock to collect from his property in Boston.”[3] On Hancock’s suggestion, Mein was jailed for debt.

Mein’s proclamation that he sold books “Printed in AMERICA” had a political valence, but the politics of the marketing appeal did not necessarily match his own politics. Instead, he appropriated a marketing strategy that resonated with prospective customers rather than reflected his own partisan position. His editorials made clear where he stood when it came to current events and the relationship between the colonies and Britain, but that did not prevent him from making a “Buy American” argument in the service of selling of wares.

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[1] Merrill Jensen, The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763-1776 (Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing, 1968, 2004), 360.

[2] Jensen, Founding of a Nation, 361.

[3] Jensen, Founding of a Nation, 362.

September 11

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

Sep 11 - 9:11:1769 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (September 11, 1769).

“Every Part of the Workmanship is AMERICAN.”

Bookseller Garrat Noel frequently inserted advertisements in newspapers published in New York in the late 1760s. In an advertisement that appeared in the September 11, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, he promoted a “great Variety of Books and Stationary” available at his shop, highlighting three of them that he considered of special interest to prospective customers. The first was a political tract. The title also served as an overview of its contents: “BRITISH Liberties, or, the Free-born Subject’s Inheritance; containing the Laws that form the Basis of those Liberties, particularly Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, and Habeas Corpus Act, with Observations thereon, also an introductory Essay on y, and a comprehensive View of the Constitution of Great Britain.”

The contents of the other two books were distinctly American. A travel narrative looked westward to the “Frontiers of Pennsylvania” and the prospects of “introducing Christianity among the Indians, to the Westward of the Alegh-geny Mountains.” It included a brief ethnography, described as “Remarks on the Languages and Customs of some particular Tribes among the Indians,” while also presenting indigenous Americans as a problem to be solved. The book featured “a brief Account of the various Attempts that have been made to civilize them.” Considered together, the tract on “BRITISH Liberties” and the travel narrative told the story of an ideal North America, at least from the perspective of colonists who desired westward expansion facilitated by compliant Indians and a Parliament that knew the boundaries of its authority on that side of the Atlantic.

Noel also marketed a third edition of a “TREATISE concerning RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS,” by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the influential revivalist minister who had played a significant role in the movement now known as the Great Awakening. Not only written by an American author, “every Part of the Workmanship” of the book “is AMERICAN.” Noel began his advertisement with a political tract and returned to politics in his efforts to sell the final book he highlighted. Most of his “great Variety of Books” had likely been imported from Britain, even those by American authors, but this one had been produced in the colonies. American compositors set the type. American binders secured the pages. Noel concluded his advertisement with another nod to the “domestic manufactures” that became so popular during the nonimportation movement that colonists joined to protest the taxes levied by the Townshend Acts. He offered a “fresh Assortment of PICTURES, framed and glazed in America.” The prints themselves almost certainly came from Britain, but Noel chose to emphasize the portion of the product made locally. This achieved symmetry in his advertisement, balancing the concern for the “BRITISH Liberties” of colonists with an opportunity to defend those liberties by purchasing a book and framed prints made, all or in part, in America. As much as was possible with his current inventory, Noel invoked a “Buy American” strategy to resonate with the politics of the day.