July 13

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

Connecticut Courant (July 13, 1773).

“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.

Smith and Coit’s Broadside Book Catalog (1773). Courtesy Huntington Library.

August 4

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

Connecticut Courant (August 4, 1772).

“The following BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON, are to be sold.”

Booksellers Smith and Coit had a true full-page advertisement in the August 4, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  They came close in the previous issue, but the compositor squeezed another advertisement into the space that otherwise would have been the right margin.  When readers perused the August 4 issue, they encountered only Smith and Coit’s advertisement on the final page.  Not even a colophon stating that Ebenezer Watson printed the Connecticut Courant in Hartford appeared at the bottom of the page.

Smith and Coit likely distributed this advertisement via other methods.  They may have placed an order for handbills or broadsides.  They certainly did so a year later when they disseminated a broadside promoting “a universal assortment of drugs, medicines, painter’s colours, and grocery articles; together with the following books” on sale “at their store east of the Court-House in Hartford.”  According the notes in the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, this broadside was “Primarily booksellers’ catalog” and the “complete text of the broadside appeared in the July 6, 1773, issue of the Connecticut Courant, printed by Ebenezer Watson.”  It did not run in the standard issue of the July 6 edition, but Watson may have distributed a supplement not included in America’s Historical Newspapers.  The broadside did do double duty as the second page of the July 13 edition.  Considering that Watson collaborated with Smith and Coit in creating a broadside book catalog that also served as a full-page newspaper advertisement in the summer of 1773, they probably did so in 1772 as well.

Smith and Coit had several options for circulating their book catalog.  They may have posted it at their shop or pasted it up around town.  They may have passed it out as a handbill.  They may have given customers a copy when they made purchases, encouraging them to consider buying other titles on a subsequent visit.  They may have treated it as a circular letter, writing a short note, folding the catalog into a smaller size, sealing it, addressing it, and sending it via the post.  They may have sent copies to booksellers in other towns, alerting them to titles they had in stock to sell or exchange for others.  Smith and Coit may have distributed their book catalog in some or all of these ways.  Other advertisers utilized all of them in the second half of the eighteenth century.

July 28

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

Connecticut Courant (July 28, 1772).

“BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON.”

Booksellers Smith and Coit took out a full-page advertisement in the July 28, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Or did they?

A headline that extended four lines ran across the top of the final page, advising readers that “The following BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON, are to be sold cheap for Cash, by SMITH and COIT, At their Store in HARTFORD.”  The booksellers provided a list of authors and titles, arranged in four columns with one item per line.  They further aided prospective customers in navigating the list by organizing it according to genre, providing headings for each category, and alphabetizing the entries under Divinity; Law; Physic, Surgery, &c.; Schoolbooks; History; and Miscellany.  This design allowed Smith and Coit to distribute the advertisement separately as a broadside book catalog, if they placed an order for job printing with Ebenezer Watson, the printer of the Connecticut Courant.

Smith and Coit may have intended to run a full-page advertisement, but another notice also appeared on the final page, that one printed in the right margin on the final page.  To make the advertisement that William Jepson placed in the previous issue fit in the margin, either Watson or a compositor in his printing office rotated the type perpendicular to the other contents of the page and divided the notice into five columns of five or six lines each.  A common strategy for squeezing content into the margins, that saved the time and energy of completely resetting the type.

Jepson’s advertisement could be easily removed.  Indeed, it did not appear on the same page as Smith and Coit’s advertisement in the next edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Instead, the booksellers had the entire page to themselves, a true full-page advertisement.  Did Watson make the adjustment of his own volition?  Or had Smith and Coit complained that Jepson’s notice intruded into their advertisement, its unusual format distracting from the impression they hoped to make with a full-page advertisement?