November 20

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

New-London Gazette (November 20, 1772).

“A curious Assortment of new-fashion’d GOODS.”

One advertisement dominated the final page of the November 20, 1772, edition of the New-London Gazette.  Ebenezer Backus, Jr., ran a notice that filled more than three-quarters of the page, inviting customers to attend a sale of a “curious Assortment of new-fashion’d GOODS” at his store in Norwich.  Although other items appeared at the top of the page, the size of Backus’s advertisement in general combined with the size of font for the word “GOODS” in the middle of the page in particular, drew attention away from everything else.  Readers may have eventually noticed the “POETS CORNER,” a weekly feature on the final page, but the prominence of Backus’s advertisement likely meant they overlooked Thomas Hartshorn’s notice calling on those indebted to him to settle accounts, at least initially.

Backus’s notice may have circulated solely in this format, but that may not have been the case.  He could have also made arrangements with Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, to produce additional copies to distribute as broadsides or handbills.  That seems to have been a practice among printers and entrepreneurs in the early 1770s.  Smith and Coit likely did so with a broadside book catalog that also ran in the August 4, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Similarly, John Boyles may have adopted the same strategy with subscription proposals for Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws in the October 19, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

The inclusion of a colophon suggests that Green printed separate broadsides or handbills for Backus to post around town or give to prospective customers.  Green did not always publish a colophon in the New-London Gazette.  When he did, it sometimes read, “NEW-LONDON: Printed by T. Green,” and other times simply stated, “Printed by T. Green.”  In contrast, the colophon centered at the bottom of the final page of the November 20 edition gave both the place of publication and the printer’s full name, “NEW-LONDON: Printed by TIMOTHY GREEN.”  Printers often placed their colophon on broadsides and handbills they printed for others, giving announcements or advertisements intended for other purposes a secondary purpose as marketing materials promoting the services offered by printers.  The presence of the colophon on the final page of the New-London Gazette does not definitively demonstrate that a broadside or handbill circulated separately, but it does support the possibility that colonizers encountered more advertising in a variety of formats than those preserved in the collections of research libraries and historical societies might suggest.

New-London Gazette (November 20, 1772).

October 19

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 19, 1772).

“PROPOSALS For Re-Printing by Subscription … Baron de MONTESQUIEU’s celebrated Spirit of Laws.”

It would have been hard for readers to miss the subscription proposal that dominated the final page of the October 19, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  John Boyles announced his intention to publish an “American Edition” of the “Baron de MONTESQUIEU’s celebrated Sprit of the Laws,” a work of political philosophy “Which ought to be in EVERY MAN’s Hands.”  Boyles explained that the book had been “Translated from the French Original” as well as “translated and published in most of the civilized Nations of EUROPE.”  Colonizers who wished to participate in the transatlantic republic of letters needed to acquire copies of their own.  To make this particular edition even more attractive than imported alternatives, the publisher stated that it would include “a larger Account of the Life and Writings of the AUTHOR, than is in the European Editions.”

The format of the subscription proposal suggests that it may have been printed separately as a broadside or handbill, on paper of a different size, for distribution beyond subscribers to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  If that was indeed the case, the compositor did not wish to set the type once again in order to insert the subscription proposal in the newspaper.  Its width exceeded two newspaper columns, causing the compositor to create a narrow third column by rotating the type for additional advertisements to run perpendicular to the page.  In the years immediately preceding the American Revolution, advertisers sometimes arranged to have book catalogues, broadsides, or handbills incorporated into newspapers, expanding the reach of their marketing efforts.  That being the case, I suspect that more advertising ephemera circulated in early America than has been identified and preserved in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections.  This subscription proposal in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy hints at a hidden history of early American advertising impossible to recover in its entirety.  Although newspaper notices constituted, by the far, the most voluminous form of advertising in early America, other printed media likely circulated more frequently than previously realized.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 19, 1772).

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.