What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Any Person, by attending to the Instructions given in this Book, may soon attain to a competent Knowledge in the Art of Cookery.”
Cox and Berry sold “Modern Books of all Kinds” as well as “School Books” and “Prayer Books of various Sizes” at their store on King Street in Boston, but they targeted women and children (or parents and others who bought books to give to children) as prospective customers in an advertisement that ran in the January 13, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette. That notice listed several “Little Books for the Instruction and Amusement of all good Boys and Girls,” including “Brother Gift, or the Naughty Girl Reformed” and “Sister Gift, or the Naughty Boy Reformed.” They also stocked abridged versions of popular novels by Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson.
The partners devoted half of their advertisement to promoting “THE FRUGAL HOUSE-WIFE, OR COMPLETE WOMAN COOK … by SUSANNAH CARTER, of London” to female consumers (or others who believed that women they knew would benefit from the guidance offered in that volume). Quoting from the extensive title, Cox and Berry explained that the book provided instruction in “the Art of Dressing all Sorts of Viands [or Foods] with Cleanliness, Decency and Elegance.” It contained five hundred “approved Receipts” or recipes as well as the “best Methods” for “Preserving, Drying, Candying, [and] Pickling” various foods. In addition to the recipes, readers would encounter menus or “various Bills of Fare, for Dinners and Suppers in every Month of the Year” as well as a “copious Index to the Whole” to help them navigate so much content. To further entice prospective customers, Cox and Berry declared that The Frugal House-Wife “contains more in Quantity than most other Books of a much higher Price.” Such a bargain!
The booksellers promised that “Any Person, by attending to the Instructions given in this Book, may soon attain to a competent Knowledge in the Art of Cookery.” That theme ran throughout Cox and Berry’s advertisement. They targeted women and children as consumers out of a belief that they merited special instruction in performing their household duties or behaving appropriately. They deployed consumer culture, especially choices about which books to purchase, as a means of promoting good order within households, though they suggested that the readers of these books would experience “Amusement” as well as “Instruction” in the process of learning their proper roles.