September 11

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

Sep 11 - 9:11:1769 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (September 11, 1769).

“Every Part of the Workmanship is AMERICAN.”

Bookseller Garrat Noel frequently inserted advertisements in newspapers published in New York in the late 1760s. In an advertisement that appeared in the September 11, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, he promoted a “great Variety of Books and Stationary” available at his shop, highlighting three of them that he considered of special interest to prospective customers. The first was a political tract. The title also served as an overview of its contents: “BRITISH Liberties, or, the Free-born Subject’s Inheritance; containing the Laws that form the Basis of those Liberties, particularly Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, and Habeas Corpus Act, with Observations thereon, also an introductory Essay on y, and a comprehensive View of the Constitution of Great Britain.”

The contents of the other two books were distinctly American. A travel narrative looked westward to the “Frontiers of Pennsylvania” and the prospects of “introducing Christianity among the Indians, to the Westward of the Alegh-geny Mountains.” It included a brief ethnography, described as “Remarks on the Languages and Customs of some particular Tribes among the Indians,” while also presenting indigenous Americans as a problem to be solved. The book featured “a brief Account of the various Attempts that have been made to civilize them.” Considered together, the tract on “BRITISH Liberties” and the travel narrative told the story of an ideal North America, at least from the perspective of colonists who desired westward expansion facilitated by compliant Indians and a Parliament that knew the boundaries of its authority on that side of the Atlantic.

Noel also marketed a third edition of a “TREATISE concerning RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS,” by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the influential revivalist minister who had played a significant role in the movement now known as the Great Awakening. Not only written by an American author, “every Part of the Workmanship” of the book “is AMERICAN.” Noel began his advertisement with a political tract and returned to politics in his efforts to sell the final book he highlighted. Most of his “great Variety of Books” had likely been imported from Britain, even those by American authors, but this one had been produced in the colonies. American compositors set the type. American binders secured the pages. Noel concluded his advertisement with another nod to the “domestic manufactures” that became so popular during the nonimportation movement that colonists joined to protest the taxes levied by the Townshend Acts. He offered a “fresh Assortment of PICTURES, framed and glazed in America.” The prints themselves almost certainly came from Britain, but Noel chose to emphasize the portion of the product made locally. This achieved symmetry in his advertisement, balancing the concern for the “BRITISH Liberties” of colonists with an opportunity to defend those liberties by purchasing a book and framed prints made, all or in part, in America. As much as was possible with his current inventory, Noel invoked a “Buy American” strategy to resonate with the politics of the day.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (June 19, 1769).

“Elegant PICTURES, Framed and glazed in AMERICA.”

Late in the spring of 1769, bookseller Garrat Noel placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy to promote a “GREAT Variety of the most elegant PICTURES” available at his shop next door to the Merchant’s Coffeehouse. Like many other booksellers, he supplemented his revenues by peddling items other than books, magazines, and pamphlets. Booksellers sometimes included prints in their advertisements, yet Noel placed special emphasis on them when he placed a notice exclusively about them.

As part of his marketing effort, Noel tapped into discourses about politics and implicitly tied his prints to the nonimportation agreement currently in effect in response to the duties enacted by the Townshend Acts. He proclaimed that his prints were “Framed and glazed in AMERICA.” The success of nonimportation depended in part on encouraging “domestic manufactures” or local production of consumer goods. Yet Noel assured prospective customers that purchasing items produced in the colonies did not mean that they had to settle for inferior craftsmanship. He stressed that “in Neatness of Worksmanship” the frames that encased his prints were “equal [to] any imported from England.” Similarly, they had been glazed (the glass fitted into the frame) in the colonies by an artisan who demonstrated as much skill as any counterpart in England, though the glass itself may have been imported. Furthermore, his customers did not have to pay a premium when they considered politics in their decisions about which goods to purchase. Not only were the frames the same quality as those imported, Noel pledged to sell them “at a much lower Price.” The bookseller may have even hoped that the combination of price, quality, and patriotic politics would prompt consumers who had not already been in the market for prints to consider making a purchase as a means of demonstrating their support for domestic production and the nonimportation agreement.

Notably, Noel did not indicate that the prints or glass had not been imported, only that the frames had been produced and the glass fitted in the colonies. Drawing attention to the fact that they had been “FRAMED and glazed in AMERICA” provided a distraction from the origins of the prints and possibly the glass as well. Especially if the glass had been imported since the Townshend Acts went into effect, Noel attempted to tread a difficult path since glass was among the goods indirectly taxed. Still, this strategy allowed him to suggest that he did his part to support “domestic manufacturers” and provide opportunities for colonists to put their principles into practice by choosing to consume items produced, at least in part, in the colonies.

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Many thanks to Cortney Skinner for the clarification concerning glazing in the comments. I have updated this entry accordingly.

August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:17:1767 New York Gazette
New-York Gazette (August 17, 1767).

“They will be presented to the Publick in a Catalogue.”

Garret Noel continued to stock “A Very extensive Assortment of Books” nearly a month after his advertisement concerning a shipment that just arrived on the Amelia first appeared in the July 20, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette. That the second line of his notice, proclaiming that he “Has this Day receiv’d” new inventory, was slightly outdated mattered little compared to two other aspects of the advertisement.

Noel, a prolific advertiser, informed potential customers that his “extensive Assortment of Books” covered a wide variety of topics, including “History, Divinity, Law, Physic, [and] Poetry.” In fact, he now carried so many new books that they were “too numerous” to list all the titles in newspaper advertisements. Instead, he resorted to another medium, a book catalog printed separately and often distributed free of charge as a means of inciting demand. Noel indicated that his catalog was “publishing with all the speed possible.” No extant copy exists, but that does not mean that Noel’s catalog never made it to press. According to the American Antiquarian Society’s online catalog, Noel previously published four other catalogs in 1754/55, 1755, 1759, and 1762. The partnership of Noel and Hazard later published a catalog in 1771. Perhaps Noel never printed the catalog promised in this advertisement but instead suggested that it existed as a means of luring potential customers to his shop, but the evidence suggests a fairly good chance that he did indeed publish this marketing tool to supplement his frequent newspaper advertisements. While fairly complete collections of many eighteenth-century newspapers have survived into the twenty-first century, other printed materials have not. Newspaper advertisements suggest that many more book catalogs likely circulated in the eighteenth century than can be found in archives today.

While awaiting publication of the catalog, Noel also informed existing customers who had placed orders that they could send for them. This announcement did matter more at the time the bookseller originally inserted the advertisement in the New-York Gazette. With a new shipment that had just arrived he likely had not yet had time to send notices to every customer awaiting an order. An announcement in the newspaper presented an opportunity for eager customers to obtain their purchases as quickly as possible (and potentially saved the bookseller time and energy in contacting customers individually). That this portion of Noel’s notice continued to run for so many weeks also served to inform potential customers that they could also submit special orders.

Garret Noel offered two forms of customer service intended to cater to consumers and convince them to purchase his merchandise. He distributed a catalog detailing his “Very extensive Assortment of Books,” introducing potential customers to titles they may not have previously considered. He also accepted orders and informed clients as soon as they arrived, exhibiting how eagerly he sought to serve his patrons.

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.)

January 1

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

Jan 1 - 12:30:1765 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (December 30, 1765)

“According to his annual Custom, [GARRAT NOEL, BOOKSELLER and STATIONER] begs Leave to offer to the Public, the following List of Books, as proper for Christmas Presents and New-Year’s Gifts.”

At this time of the year we often hear laments that Christmas has become too secularized, evidenced in particular by the commercialization of the holiday.  The appropriately-named Noel, however, demonstrates that some advertisers developed a marketing strategy that linked consumption and Christmas in the eighteenth century.

And, since everyone loves a bargain at Christmas and New Year, Noel promised “extraordinray low Prices” to “those who are willing to be generous on the Occasion.”  For those who may not have considered giving gifts during the season, Noel planted the idea that they could confirm their benevolence and thoughtfulness by presenting books and stationery wares to family and friends.