January 8

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

jan-8-181767-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 8, 1767).

“Books for Children, very proper for Christmas and New Year’s Gifts.”

John Mein made a fairly unique appeal to potential customers when he advertised “A Large Assortment of entertaining and instructive Books for Children, very proper for Christmas and New Year’s Gifts.” The bookseller tied consumerism to the holidays in a way that few other advertisers did in late 1766 and early 1767, which differs significantly from marketing practices in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Very few advertisers acknowledged Christmas as a holiday, much less used it to promote purchases from their shops. Recognition of the new year manifested itself in advertising mostly through calls for those who previously bought on credit to settle accounts. Indeed, only a handful of advertisers linked the holidays to making purchases and giving gifts.

As with many other aspects of marketing, members of the book trade seemed to be at the forefront of this innovation. Throughout all of the advertisements placed in newspapers during December 1766 and early January 1767, booksellers alone encouraged customers to think of their wares as gifts for others. In an advertisement in the January 8, 1767, issue of the New-York Journal bookseller Garrat Noel listed “A very large Parcel of Mr. Newberry’s beautiful gilt Picture Books, for the Entertainment of his old Friends the pretty Masters and Misses of New-York, at Christmas and New-York.” The appropriately named Noel was a veteran of promoting holiday gifts, having noted in his advertisements a year earlier that it was “his annual Custom … to offer to the Public, the following List of Books, as proper for Christmas Presents and New-Year’s Gifts.”

John Mein further advanced this innovation, anticipating marketing strategies of the late nineteenth century and beyond. He announced that potential customers could pick up free “Printed Catalogues” listing the books he considered especially suited to be given as gifts. Retailers of all sorts eventually resorted to catalogs, especially Christmas catalogs, to drive sales during a season increasingly associated with consumerism.

In the 1760s, however, the media – both printers and advertisers – took little notice of the Christmas season. On the same day that Mein’s advertisement appeared in Boston and Noel’s in New York, the first page of the Virginia Gazette featured “An ODE upon CHRISTMAS” on the front page. It was dated December 4, 1766, but the printers did not consider it pressing enough to make room for it in their newspaper until five weeks later. The Christmas holiday did not dominate December in the 1760s to the extent it does in modern America.

February 25

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Feb 25 - 2:24:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (February 24, 1766).

This Day has published … The CHILD’s best INSTRUCTOR. In SPELLING and READING.”

This advertisement for a child’s spelling and reading book consists of instruction in the “true and correct pronunciation of every word.” According to E. Jennifer Monaghan and Arlene L. Berry, children were mainly taught to read before they could even write because the majority of reading was done orally. This particular book caters to that method of teaching by including words that are broken up into syllables so that the child will learn to pronounce words correctly.

Within the book, there are lessons on morality. In a time when faith was very much a part of people’s lives, whether they went to church or not, teaching one’s children to be virtuous was encouraged. They also mention the presence of historical events from England. It is interesting that the history of Britain is mentioned as a selling point because of the colonies eroding relationship with Britain.

This book was not just aimed at children. At the end of the advertisement, foreigners are invited to use it as well in order to learn the proper pronunciation of words.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Mary correctly notes that the relationship between Britain and the colonies was eroding in 1766. The Stamp Act was still in effect (and would not be repealed until March 20, 1766, almost simultaneously with passage of the Declaratory Act). I have previously featured several advertisements that reacted to the Stamp Act in one way or another, often encouraging consumers to purchase locally produced goods rather than imported wares.

In selecting this advertisement, Mary helps to provide balance in the narrative and interpretation. Colonists were engaged in resistance to what they considered abuses perpetrated by Parliament, but most were not yet prepared to advocate revolution and separation from Britain. Indeed, many objected to the Stamp Act and other measures because they believed they departed from traditional British liberties.

Even as political tensions rose, Americans continued to feel connected to Britain culturally. They believed that they shared a common past. As a result, it did not seem odd to colonists to oppose the Stamp Act imposed by Parliament while simultaneously celebrating the feats of William the Conqueror and other monarchs through seven centuries. Note that Noel also marketed this book by stating that it was used “by the most eminent Schoolmasters in and about London.” Noel likely believed that such connections to the metropolitan center of the empire imbued the book with greater cachet among potential readers.

(As an aside, Garrat Noel placed the first advertisement featured on the Adverts 250 Project when it started publication as a blog.)