August 8

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

Maryland Gazette (August 5, 1773).

“Every possessor of a copy may himself enter the proper alteration or addition, agreeable to the advertisements I shall from time to time insert in the Gazette.”

In the summer of 1773, Elie Valette placed an advertisement in the Maryland Gazette to provide an update on The Deputy Commissary’s Guide.  Intending to publish the book by subscription, he commenced a marketing campaign several months earlier.  He successfully attracted subscribers to the project, a sufficient number that the book “Is now in the Press, and will be speedily published.”  Still, Vallette continued to promote the book, hoping to gain additional subscribers to defray the costs and generate more revenue.  To that end, he once again declared that those who subscribed in advance would have their names printed on a personalized title page, but they needed “to be speedy in their application, as none but such can have their names printed in the title page.”  In the end, that particular enticement worked out a bit differently than Vallette originally described it.

The author also presented an endorsement from several prominent colonizers, all of them “gentlemen of the law” in Maryland, publishing it with their permission.  “WE have perused your manuscript, entitled ‘The deputy Commissary’s Guide,’” the lawyers wrote, “and do much approve of it; we apprehend that performance will be of general utility, and that it well deserves the encouragement of the publick.”  Even before this endorsement, the number of subscribers “increased far beyond what was conjectured” … and Vallette still had not received lists of subscribers from all of the “gentlemen who have been so obliging to take in subscriptions” throughout the colony.  Perhaps an unexpected number of subscribers played a role in Vallette ultimately altering his plans for the title page.  In this advertisement, he confided that the subscribers exceeded his original “provision.”

Valette balanced the popularity and demand for the book with the opportunity to become a subscriber.  It was not too late!  To help convince any prospective subscribers who might have been wavering, the author revealed another feature of the book.  He planned to include “a number of blank leaves” for manuscript additions to reflect changes in the laws.  “In some few instances,” Vallette acknowledged, “the testamentary laws now existing, may, and probably will, soon undergo the revival of the legislature.”  In such instances, “every possessor of a copy [of The Deputy Commissary’s Guide] may himself enter the proper alteration or addition.”  To aid in that endeavor, the author pledged that he would place advertisements in the Maryland Gazette to guide subscribers in updating their books “whenever any such alteration shall take place.”  Vallette’s relationship with subscribers extended beyond a single transaction.  He continued to offer services after buyers received their books.

Vallette intended for each of these marketing strategies – personalized title pages, an endorsement from six prominent lawyers, and blank pages to enter alterations to current laws – to entice even more subscribers for The Deputy Commissary’s Guide.  Other authors, booksellers, printers, and publishers sometimes included recommendations from well-known figures in their advertisements for books.  The title pages and blank pages, however, represented innovative and novel techniques for encouraging prospective subscribers to reserve their own copies of the book.

April 1

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

Maryland Gazette (April 1, 1773).

“Every Subscriber shall have his Name and Title printed in the Title Page, in a Label adapted for that Purpose, as in the above Scheme, provided their Signature come timely to Hand.”

For several weeks in the winter and spring of 1773, subscription proposals for Elie Vallette’s Deputy Commissary’s Guide within the Province of Maryland ran in the Maryland Gazette.  When the advertisement first appeared in the February 25 edition, it filled an entire column.  An excerpt from the preface accounted for approximately half of the space required to publish the notice.  Vallette and the printers, Anne Catharine Green and Son, eventually revised the notice, eliminating the excerpt.

The advertisement retained its most distinctive feature: a “scheme” or depiction of a label to include the name, title, and county of the subscriber.  Vallette and the Greens hoped that personalizing the title page would help in selling more books, but warned that only subscribers who placed their orders early would qualify for the labels.  Those labels, however, do not seem to have been part of the book when it went to press.  Instead, subscribers (and others who eventually purchased copies or received them as gifts) received something that they likely considered even better: an engraved title page that included a blank banner.

Curious to learn more about the proposed label, I examined the four copies of the Deputy Commissary’s Guide in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  None of them featured the label depicted in the advertisements in the Maryland Gazette, but each of them did include a title page engraved by Thomas Sparrow.  Annotations made by catalogers and curators indicated that Sparrow also engraved currency that circulated in Maryland in the early 1770s.  In addition, those annotations also stated that the Deputy Commissary’s Guide was the first book with an engraved title page printed in America, certainly a premium for subscribers and other readers who acquired copies.

Title pages engraved by Thomas Sparrow (Elie Vallette, The Deputy Commissary’s Guide, 1774). Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

The engraved title page certainly enhanced the book.  The blank banner allowed colonizers to further enhance their copies in whatever manner they wished to personalize the title page.  The banners in two of the copies at the American Antiquarian Society remain empty.  One has the words “TO MR. J: MACNABB* *1775*” clumsily stamped within the banner.  A handwritten note on another page reads, “The Gift of Elie Vallette to his Friend John McNabb.”  The other copy has the name “R. Tilghman” gracefully written inside the banner.

Vallette and the Greens did not supply the personalized labels that they promoted in the subscription proposals for the Deputy Commissary’s Guide.  That probably did not matter to most subscribers when they discovered the ornate and expensive engraved title page that they received instead.  The author and the printers substituted an even better premium than the one they marketed to prospective subscribers.

February 25

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

Maryland Gazette (February 25, 1773).

“Every Subscriber shall have his Name and Title printed in the Title Page.”

As spring approached in 1773, the printers Anne Catharine Green and Son prepared to take The Deputy Commissary’s Guide within the Province of Maryland to press.  The first advertisement for the work appeared in the February 25 edition of the Maryland Gazette.  Extending an entire column, it included several features intended to entice subscribers to reserve their copies by May 1.

Like many proposals, the advertisement explained the purpose of the book and provided a list of the contents.  In this instance, that meant publishing an excerpt from the book.  In the “PREFACE,” Elie Vallette, the author, explained that he wrote the Guide to establish “a general Uniformity in the Proceedings of Deputy Commissaries, and of assisting Executors and Administrators in the Performance of their Duties.”  He asserted that he gained valuable experience in “my Office of Register, which I have executed for Eight Years past with Application and Diligence,” and, as a result, could provide valuable advice to anyone “concerned in the Management of the Estates of deceased Persons, as Creditors, Executors, Administrators, Legatees, Relations, or in what they have to leave, as well as to claim.”  Vallette’s preface also devoted a paragraph to outlining the nine chapters and promised “a general Index to the Whole” for easy reference.

To facilitate reserving copies of the Guide, Vallette and the printers enlisted the assistance of several local agents.  According to the advertisement, “the several Deputy Commissaries in each respective County of this Province” took orders and accepted payments.  In addition, local agents in seven towns and four more in Annapolis also received subscriptions.  Customers could also contact the printing office directly.

The proposal also described the material aspects of the book and gave prices.  The printers planned to issue “one large Octavo Volume, containing about Three Hundred Folios” for ten shillings.  They also hoped to procure a bookbinder.  If they managed to do so, “the Volume will be neatly bound in Calf, gilt, and lettered.”  That would increase the price by “an additional half Crown.”

Vallette and the printers also promoted a special feature: subscribers would receive personalized copies “provided their Signature comes timely to Hand.”  Each customer who subscribed early enough “shall have his Name and Title printed in the Title Page, in a Label adapted for that Purpose.” The advertisement included an image of that label.  It featured a decorative border made of printing ornaments enclosing the words “FOR MR.” with space to fill in the name and title of the subscriber and the word “County” to appear after the subscriber’s location.  The image of the label likely helped to draw attention to the advertisement.  Readers then discovered the value added by personalizing copies they ordered in advance.

This lengthy advertisement deployed a variety of marketing strategies to convince consumers to reserve copies of the Deputy Commissary’s Guide.  An excerpt from the book explained the author’s purpose and credentials and provided an overview of the contents.  That included describing the chapters and drawing attention to the index.  A list of local agents directed customers where to place their orders.  The printers described the size of the book and the number of pages.  They also indicated that they hoped to hire a bookbinder and gave prices for unbound and bound copies.  Finally, the advertisement offered the option of personalizing the title page, including an image of the label, but only if prospective customers acted quickly to reserve their copies.  Vallette and the Greens ran a sophisticated campaign to promote this book.