February 11

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 11, 1773).

“His French and English Rudiments, by the help of which a scholar may learn French with very little assistance from a master.”

In February 1773, Mr. Delile, a “Professor of the French Language” Boston, published an advertisement in which he confided to the public, especially the “Encouragers of LITERATURE,” that he had “always been desirous of meriting the esteem of the learned world … by the cultivation of the BELLES LETTRES.”  To that end, he issued a subscription proposal for printing several of his “performances” in the French language.  The two volumes would include the “French and English Rudiments” that he devised, an address that he delivered at “the Academy,” the school he operated, the previous December, and two “French Odes, in the manner of Pindar.”  In addition, he planned to add a “Latin discourse, on the arts and sciences, against several paradoxes of the celebrated Jean Jacques Rousseau.”

To further entice prospective subscribers to reserve copies, Delile elaborated on most of those items.  He declared that “the public favor’d him with the kindest testimony of their benevolence” after hearing his oration at the school, so much so that “many Gentlemen” had “earnestly requested a copy.”  Delile commodified that address, giving those gentlemen and others an opportunity to purchase that address.  For those not yet fluent in French, the “most eloquent fragments … will be translated into English.”  Delile also inserted two stanzas of the French odes, providing a preview for prospective subscribers and allowing them to judge the quality of the work.  In promoting the “French and English Rudiments,” he asserted that “a scholar” could consult that “performance” and “learn French with very little assistance from a master.”  Those “Rudiments” supplemented, but did not completely replace, working with a French tutor.

Delile was prepared to provide the necessary assistance to “those Gentlemen, who study under him” and others who wished to enroll in his classes.  He concluded his subscription proposal with an announcement that he “gives constant Attendance at the Academy” throughout the day and into the evenings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Such an extensive schedule made it possible for pupils to attend lessons “as their business will admit of their leisure to attend.”  Even if Delile did not garner enough subscribers to make publishing his French and Latin “performances” a viable venture, he likely hoped that the enterprising spirit and commitment to belles lettres demonstrated in his subscription proposal would resonate with current and prospective pupils to convince them to make their way to “the Academy” for lessons.

August 26

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 26, 1772).

“Beautifully printed on a fine American Paper, and with elegant Types.”

In the summer of 1772, John Dunlap informed the public that he “JUST PUBLISHED … POEMS on SEVERAL OCCASIONS, with some other COMPOSITIONS; by NATHANIEL EVANS.”  He called on subscribers who previously reserved copies to collect them from his printing office on Market Street in Philadelphia while also encouraging others “who design to become Purchasers … as there are but few Copies thrown off above those subscribed for.”  In addition to promoting the author as a former “Missionary (appointed by the Society for propogating the Gospel) for Gloucester County, in New-Jersey; and Chaplain to the Lord Viscount Kilmorey, of the Kingdom ofIreland,” Dunlap asserted that the book was “Beautifully printed on a fine American Paper, and with elegant Types.”

That short advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette reiterated several of the appeals that Dunlap previously deployed in marketing the book.  He distributed a broadsheet subscription notice that gave prospective buyers a chance to examine both the paper and the type.  At the beginning of a lengthy description of the project on one side, Dunlap declared that the book would be “printed on the same Pennsylvania manufactured Paper as this Advertisement, and the same Type as the Poem annexed.”  During the imperial crisis, many colonizers express their appreciation for domestic manufactures, items produced in the colonies, making “Pennsylvania manufactured Paper” an attractive alternative to imported paper.  The printer devoted the other side of the broadsheet to “AN ODE, Written by the AUTHOR on compleating the Twenty-First Year of his Age” that doubled as a “A SPECIMEN OF THE TYPE.”  That preview of the content simultaneously allowed buyers to see what they could expect in terms of the material qualities of the book.

An excerpt from the “PREFACE,” including a history of collecting and preparing the poems for publication following the death of the author, appeared on the other side of the broadsheet.  Dunlap appended a note that “the List of Subscribers will be committed to the press,” instructing “all who are desirous of encouraging this Publication, and who may not yet have subscribed [to] send their names.”  He also advised “those who have taken subscriptions of others” to send their lists as quickly as possible so he could include all subscribers in the list and print enough copies to match the advance orders.  In the newspaper advertisement, Dunlap promised that non-subscribers who bought any of the surplus copies would have their name “printed in the List of Subscribers to the 2d Edition.”  They would eventually be recognized among the ranks of those who supported the project.

Dunlap did not rely solely on newspaper advertisements in marketing his edition of Evans’s Poems.  Instead, he printed and distributed a broadsheet subscription notice that incorporated excerpts to entice prospective subscribers.  He also promised public recognition in the form of a printed subscription list.  Unlike newspaper advertisements, the broadsheet utilized the paper and the type for the project, allowing prospective customers to assess the material conditions of the proposed book when they decided if they wished to subscribe.  Although newspaper notices accounted for most advertising in eighteenth century America, entrepreneurs circulated many other kinds of marketing media, including trade cards, catalogs, and subscription notices with excerpts and type specimens.

John Dunlap, Type Specimen from Subscription Notice (Philadelphia, 1772). Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.