March 27

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

Providence Gazette (March 27, 1773).

“Very few will be printed that are not subscribed for.”

For several months John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, disseminated subscription proposals for “reprinting ENGLISH LIBERTIES, or THE FREE-BORN SUBJECT’S INHERITANCE” in his own newspaper and in other newspapers published in New England.  He recruited local agents in Providence and other towns to collect the names of subscribers who reserved copies in advance, a rudimentary form of market research that allowed him to assess demand and the number of copies he needed to print.  In an advertisement that ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette in December 1772, for instance, he indicated that “Subscriptions are received by JOHN CARTER, the Publisher, and by T. and J. FLEET, at the Heart and Crown, in Boston” as well as “by a Number of Gentlemen in the neighbouring Towns and Governments, to whom Subscription Papers are sent.”

On March 27, 1773, Carter inserted a new notice in the Providence Gazette, one that called on “[t]hose Gentlemen who have favoured the Printer in promoting Subscriptions” to return their subscription papers, those broadsides, handbills, or pamphlets that described the proposed volume and had space for subscribers to add their names and the number of copies they wished to reserve.  He also issued another call for those who had not yet subscribed to do so quickly, noting that they would have their “Names prefixed, as Patrons of a Work that contains … a full and compleat View of our Rights as Freemen and British Subjects.”  Books published by subscription often included a list of subscribers, a means of giving credit to those who supported the project and made publication possible.  Such lists also testified to membership in a community that shared common ideals, in this instance a desire to understand and to protect their “Rights as Freemen and British Subjects.”  Carter anticipated that political sympathies and current events might convince some prospective customers that they did indeed want their names among the subscribers to the project, visible to the rest of the subscribers and anyone else who read the book.  The copy in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society includes a six-page list of subscribers at the end.  The placement may have been a decision made by the purchaser or the bookbinder rather than the order intended by the publisher.

Carter made other pitches as he prepared to take the book to press.  He cautioned, “Very few will be printed that are not subscribed for,” so anyone interested needed to reserve their copies in advance or risk the publisher running out.  In addition, the limited number of surplus copies “will be sold at an advanced Price.”  In other words, Carter planned to charge more for those books than the “One Dollar” subscribers paid.  Finally, the printer offered bonus content, declaring that he planned to insert “some valuable Remarks and Additions … by a Gentleman learned in the Law.”  That, Carter confidently stated, would “render the Work still more worthy of the public Attention.”  In his efforts to market an American edition of English Liberties, Carter incorporated several strategies commonly deployed by printers, publishers, and booksellers in eighteenth-century America.

December 18

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 18, 1772).

“PROPOSALS for Re-printing by Subscription, ENGLISH LIBERTIES.”

In the first week of November in 1772, John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, issued a proposal for “Re-printing by Subscription, ENGLISH LIBERTIES, OR, The free-born Subject’s INHERITANCE,” a volume “Compiled first by HENRY CARE, and continued with large Additions, by WILLIAM NELSON, of the Middle Temple, Esq.”  The contents of the book included the “Magna Charta, or the Great Charter of English Liberties,” “a short History of the Succession, not by any hereditary Right,” “a Declaration of the Liberties of the Subject, and of the Oath of Allegiance and Supremacy,” and other essays.

Carter inserted the subscription proposal in the Providence Gazette, sometimes placing it on the front page to give it greater prominence.  Except for notices about goods and services available at his printing office, advertisements appeared on the final pages of that newspaper.  Carter also arranged to have the subscription proposal published in other newspapers in New England, including in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The proposal stated that ‘SUBSCRIPTIONS are received by JOHN CARTER, the Publisher, and by T. and J. FLEET,” printers of the Boston Evening-Post, as well as “by a Number of Gentlemen in the neighbouring Towns and Governments, to whom Subscription Papers are sent.”  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, likely had subscription proposals, either broadsides posted in their office or handbills to distribute to customers, and collected names of those who wished to reserve copies of the book.

In the proposal, Carter advised that he would not take the work to press without first knowing that he had generated sufficient interest to make it a viable venture.  “As soon as the Names and Residences of 500 Subscribers are collected,” he declared, “the Work will be immediately put to the Press, & compleated with all Expedition.”  It apparently took some time for Carter to convince that many consumers to subscribe to the project.  Unlike many books advertised via subscription proposal, however, he was eventually successful, publishing English Liberties more than a year later in 1774.  True to his word, Carter included a list of subscribers, six pages at the end of the book.  The “Friends of Libertyand useful Knowledge” that the printer addressed in the subscription notice could see their names listed among other “Friends of Liberty and useful Knowledge.”