What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A General Supply of the most modern BOOKS.”
Like many modern booksellers, James Foster Condy sold books and more at his store on Union Street in Boston in the early 1770s. In a lengthy advertisement that ran in the November 23, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette, he highlighted several aspects of his business, promoting his merchandise, his prices, and his customer service.
Condy began with an announcement about a new publication, “A POEM, Entitled, the GRAVE. By Robert Blair.” That volume also included “An ELEGY written in a Country Church-Yard. By Mr. Gray.” In addition to listing the price, just one shilling, Condy appealed to colonizers who considered themselves refined consumers of literature, assuring them that the “Pamphlet will fully recommend itself, to the best Judges and Lovers of Poetry.” The bookseller had a particular interest in this pamphlet, having made arrangements with a local printer to produce a new edition.
The portion of Condy’s advertisement that hawked the poems could have stood on its own as a separate notice, but the bookseller determined that it served as a good introduction to an overview of his wares. In addition to the poetry, printed in Boston, he also stocked a “General Supply of the most modern BOOKS” imported from London. Rather than list any titles, Condy highlighted various genres, including “Law, Physick, History, Divinity, and every Branch of polite Literature” as well as bibles and other devotional materials. He even had “Books for the Amusement and Instruction of Children.”
The bookseller also carried an assortment of stationery and writing supplies. That portion of his advertisement occupied almost as much space as the portion about the poetry and more than the portion about other books. Condy listed everything from “Writing Paper of every Sort” and “Account Books of every Size and Quality” to “various Sorts of Penknives” and “Quills,” to “Glass Ink Potts” and “red and black Sealing Wax.” In yet another section of the advertisement, he called attention to other kinds of merchandise, some of it related to the books and stationery he sold. Condy stocked “reading Glasses” and “Glasses for near-sighted Persons” as well as “Diagonal Machines for viewing of Prints” and “a Convex Glass for drawing Landscapes.”
The bookseller concluded with a pitch that extended beyond his merchandise. He proclaimed that he offered the lowest prices that consumers would encounter not only in the city but anywhere in the colonies, asserting that “All those Persons who please to purchase at said Store, may depend on buying as cheap as at any Store in BOSTON or AMERICA.” He was so confident in that claim that he declared its veracity “without Exception.” In addition, his customers would be “used” or treated “in such a Manner as will leave no Room for Complaint, but give entire Satisfaction.” In other words, Condy considered customer service an important aspect of his business.
With all of the books, stationery, writing supplies, glasses, and other merchandise, the inventory at Condy’s bookstore looked much the same to consumers in eighteenth-century America as modern bookstores appear to customers who browse an array of goods. Condy did not rely on a single revenue stream. Instead, he marketed and sold a variety of wares, using price and customer service to further entice prospective clients.