What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Universal Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES … together with the following BOOKS.”
At the same time that booksellers Smith and Coit advertised in the Connecticut Courant in the summer of 1773 they also distributed a broadside book catalog that listed hundreds of titles available at their shop in Hartford. While booksellers sometimes placed full-page newspaper advertisements that doubled as broadsides, that was not quite the case here. A single page of the Connecticut Courant did not have sufficient space to accommodate all five columns of titles that appeared on the broadside. As a result, four of those columns ran on the second page of the July 13 edition, amounting to a full-page advertisement, of sorts, and the final column ran on the third page.
That required some revisions on the part of the compositor. Both the newspaper advertisement and the broadside book catalog featured the date “5th July, 1773.” The printing office likely produced the broadside first, at about the same time the July 6 edition of the newspaper went to press, and then the compositor adapted type already set to fit in the next issue of the Connecticut Courant. The same introductory material ran across the top of both the broadside and the newspaper advertisement, but the compositor did have to rest that portion to run across only four columns instead of five. The entries in the columns themselves, however, remained the same, with the exception of “Robinson Crusoe” moving from the bottom of the fourth column to the top of the fifth column on the facing page.
The compositor also removed a list of additional merchandise, including stationery, writing supplies, and groceries, that ran across all five columns at the bottom of the broadside. Those items did not disappear from the newspaper advertisement. Instead, the compositor reset the type so it fit at the bottom of the additional column that appeared on the third page. When readers held open the issue to peruse the interior pages, they saw the entire advertisement in a slightly different format than what appeared on the broadside. The contents of Smith and Coit’s entire broadside book catalog made it into the newspaper, appearing for only a single week. Still, that demonstrated the determination of the booksellers to disseminate multiple forms of marketing materials and the ingenuity of the compositor in making it happen. In addition, it likely was not the first time that Smith and Coit simultaneously distributed a broadsided book catalog and a newspaper advertisement.