What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Subscribers are desired to send for ther Books as soon as possible.”
In 1767 Lambertus de Ronde, “Minister of the Protestant Dutch Church, at New-York,” inserted an advertisement in the New-York Journal to announce that he had finally published True Spiritual Religion, Or Delightful Service of the Lord. The minister had previously solicited subscriptions to gauge the market for his book, but the anticipated date of publication had been delayed due to “the Pre-engagement of the Printer in other Work.”
This actually worked to the author’s benefit – and to the benefit of subscribers, according to de Ronde. He took advantage of the extra time to “enlarge” the volume, drawing up an “alphabetical Table of the Contents.” In other words, he created an index “for the greater Usefulness and Conveniency of the Reader, who now can readily know on what Page the Words and Things are to be found.” Such a helpful addition to the original manuscript, de Ronde insinuated, certainly excused the delay in publishing the book!
The author also suggested that this must make his book more attractive to additional customers, not just the original subscribers. He indicated that he had “a few more to dispose of than were subscribed for.” In effect, his advertisement did not merely announce publication of True Spiritual Religion and call on subscribers to retrieve their copies. Instead, what masqueraded as an announcement actually marketed the book to other readers. In addition to promoting the utility of the index, de Ronde also praised the material qualities of the volume. It was “printed on a good Paper” and “also neatly bound” (as opposed to being sold in sheets for buyers to have bound on their own). In addition, the printer had set the book with “new large Letter” that readers would find “very Easy for the Eyes.” Even though these various enhancements made the book “more expensive,” de Ronde parted with it at “the lowest Rate” he could charge “without the Author’s Loss.” This was a bargain for potential customers!
Although Lambertus de Ronde addressed subscribers more than once in his advertisement, he did not merely inform them that True Spiritual Religion was ready for delivery. Instead, he used that as a pretext for marketing surplus copies to additional readers who had not participated in the first round of subscriptions. To some extent, he also marketed the book to the original subscribers, especially those who had not paid in full. For any who wavered in their commitment to acquire (and pay for) True Spiritual Religion, he provided multiple reasons for following through on their commitment.
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At the London BOOK-STORE.”
Bookseller John Mein regularly advertised in Boston’s newspapers in the 1760s, often inserting lengthy advertisements that extended over multiple columns or even filled an entire page. Yet newspaper notices were not the only marketing media utilized by Mein and other eighteenth-century booksellers. They also used broadsides and catalogs to inform potential customers of the titles they sold.
To promote the “Grand Assortment of the most MODERN BOOKS, In every Branch of Polite LITERATURE, ARTS, and SCIENCES” at his “LONDON BOOK-STORE,” Mein distributed a small broadside in 1766. Measuring 20 x 13 cm (8 x 5 in), it could have been posted around town or passed out as a handbill. Unlike his newspapers advertisements, the broadside did not include titles of many books. Instead, Mein listed more than two dozen genres that might interest readers, from Divinity and Philosophy to Travels and Voyages to Anatomy and Midwifery. Potential customers need to visit his shop to discover which titles he stocked.
Mein adopted the opposite strategy in the fifty-two-page “CATALOGUE OF CURIOUS and VALUABLE BOOKS” he distributed the same year, listing (and numbering) 1741 different titles. For some, particularly bibles and prayer books, he also described the material aspects of the books, such as “Baskerville’s large Octavo Prayer-Book, bound in red Morocco, gilded” (#1734) and “Tate and Brady’s Psalms, fine Paper, bound in Morocco and Calf, gilded” (#1739). Mein used two different methods in categorizing his books. The first 367 were organized by size: octavo or folio. The remainder, however, fell under subject headings similar to those listed on the broadside. Under certain headings, some books were further demarcated by size. The bookseller aimed to help readers find books that corresponded to their interests, their budgets, their preferences for storing them, and their tastes for displaying them.
Mein’s newspaper advertisement melded aspects of his broadside and catalog, listing multiple titles under several categories. He also added a blurb to promote one book, Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield. Lest potential customers not see any books that interested them, Mein concluded by stating that he “has for Sale a grand Assortment of the best AUTHORS in evry Art and Science, and in every Branch of polite Literature.” Like other eighteenth-century booksellers, he experimented with media and organization in his efforts to market his wares. His advertising may have helped to fuel a reading revolution as colonists’ habits veered from intensive reading of devotional literature to extensive reading of many genres, including novels.
Last week I participated in the Early American Material Texts, a conference co-sponsored by the Library Company of Philadelphia, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania. During my time in Philadelphia I had a series of encounters with material texts, both at the conference and in my exploration of the city.
The current exhibition at the Library Company of Philadelphia, which I was told was a happy coincidence rather than specifically planned to overlap with the conference, depended on the materiality of texts. Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the Blind opened on April 4 and will be on view through October 21. According to the Library Company’s website, Common Touch is a multimedia exhibition that looks at historical embossed and raised-letter documents for the visually impaired as a starting point for a multi-sensory exploration of the nature of perception. Inspired by her research in the Library Company’s Michael Zinman Collection of Printing for the Blind, artist-in-residence Teresa Jaynes” curated an exhibition “that combines her own original works with historical collections that document the education of the blind in the 19th century.”
Because so many of the texts included in this exhibition were intended – indeed, designed – to be read via the sense of touch rather than the sense of sight, the materiality of the texts took on additional significance. What have become familiar systems today, particularly Braille texts, emerged and gained prominence only after experimenting with a variety of other methods for creating texts that blind and sight-impaired individuals could read with their fingertips. Some, such as books that featured large embossed words, could be read fairly easily by sighted individuals, merely replicating traditional texts by adding raised surfaces. (See the image of The Students’ Magazine on the homepage for the exhibition.) Others seemed completely foreign and inaccessible to sighted individuals who would have had little reason to learn systems of reading that relied on tactile sensations. Just as one can hear Morse code and recognize a form of communication without understanding what is being transmitted, many of the texts on display revealed modes of communication reserved for a relatively small number of people who developed specialized skills to decipher it, effectively reversing the relationship between sighted and sight-impaired individuals when it comes to reading most texts.
The exhibition included texts designed for a variety of purposes; not all of them were intended to relay narratives. For instance, it included several methods for writing equations and doing mathematics, including wooden arithmetic blocks that had a surprising limited number of raised surfaces for communicating a lot of information. As a sighted individual, the equations looked like some sort of code, but it was their materiality that made them understandable to sight-impaired readers. In addition, mathematics texts included raised surfaces to demonstrate patterns (the snowflakes were especially beautiful) and teaching geometry. I was challenged to think about the materiality of texts in new ways throughout the conference, but this exhibition raised issues not even considered on the conference program. I was glad that I had a chance to view it before the conference began.
I discovered that some of the arguments made at the conference continued to resonate as I explored museums during my extended stay in Philadelphia. On Saturday I toured the Mütter Museum, operated by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. I especially enjoyed their current exhibition, Vesalius on the Verge: The Book and the Body. According to the Mütter Museum’s website, “December 31st marked the 500th birthday of the ‘Father of Modern Anatomy’ Andreas Vesalius. In 1543 Vesalius published De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body), a series of seven books based on the dissection and research he conducted while at the University of Padua. This treatise on the human body was a groundbreaking work, with both detailed text and illustrations. To this day the Fabrica is still considered a masterpiece of both detailed text and illustrations.” This exhibition will remain on view through the end of August.
During my panel, Nancy Siegel, an art historian from Towson University, examined ephemeral prints by Paul Revere, including illustrations he engraved to accompany eighteenth-century cookbooks. Siegel argued that there were three texts that should be taken into consideration when considering the instructions for cooking a rabbit: the recipe, the illustration, and the rabbit itself. I continued to think about this point as I toured the Vesalius exhibition, which featured medical artifacts as well as the famous anatomical text. In his own time, Vesalius treated bodies as texts and encouraged his students to do the same. Today the exhibition can best be appreciated and understood only by engaging the interplay between “The Book and the Body,” treating each as texts that inform the other.
I was especially intrigued by the portion of the exhibition devoted to Vesalius’s Epitome, a companion piece to the Fabrica that was intended to be a less expensive study guide for students who could not afford the seven volume set. The Epitome included several anatomical plates, but that last two were not meant to be simply viewed and nothing else. Instead, readers were “encouraged to cut up these plates and match individual pieces to the corresponding parts of the first nine anatomical plates.” In this manner, Vesalius intended the Epitome would encourage “interactive learning, furthering the connections between reader, text and illustration” in the Fabrica. Such material manipulations of the printed text also came in handy as alternative texts in the absence of bodies to dissect.
Finally, the conference program was an unexpected delight as a result of the material considerations that went into its design and execution. Measuring 4¼ by 5½ inches, it had the appearance of an eighteenth-century chapbook, complete with a simple binding hand-sewn by the Early American Literature and Material Texts fellows. The covers were printed on drab colored paper, not unlike the covers or wrappers that would have enclosed many eighteenth-century publications. The fonts, format, and illustrations replicated eighteenth-century printing and publishing practices. Advertisements and announcements were included on the interiors of the covers, just as they might have been for books or pamphlets printed in the eighteenth century. It was the most creative conference program I have encountered, but also extremely fitting for a conference about Early American Material Texts.
This week’s extended commentary post is scheduled to publish as a virtual text just as my panel, “Beyond the Book,” commences at the Early American Material Texts conference in Philadelphia. I will be speaking about “Eighteenth-Century Advertising Ephemera: Paratexts that Framed Early American Magazines.” The material that follows below is an excerpt from my pre-circulated paper, the portion that discusses the challenges of conducting archival work on magazines as material texts whose form changed dramatically, both in the eighteenth century as the result of interventions by the original subscribers and throughout subsequent centuries as the result of archival and digitization practices.
Many scholars have examined the cultural, political, and intellectual content of the late-eighteenth-century magazines that poured off the presses in the major port cities of the new United States, yet they have placed little emphasis on the magazine as a commercial medium, in part because almost no advertising appeared within the pages of those magazines and in part because most magazines are today found preserved in bound volumes without the supplementary media, including wrappers and inserts, that featured each issue’s advertising. Here it is important to underscore that the magazines we encounter in digitized form in the American Periodical Series and, indeed, even most that are preserved in archives no longer take the material form they had when they first came into the possession of eighteenth-century readers. A variety of factors have contributed to this. For instance, many subscribers typically took multiple issues, most often six months at a time, to a bookbinder to be bound into a single volume. In the process, ancillary materials were removed, leaving magazines that were largely sanitized of commercial notices, even when they included essays on commerce and economics. As a result, most of the eighteenth-century magazines examined by modern scholars look quite different, take starkly different material form, and, as a result, transmit very different messages than when they were first issued more than two centuries ago.
To what extent were they different? Although commercial notices were largely absent from the body of the issue for any given week or month, those few magazines that are intact demonstrate that contemporary subscribers typically received issues that were delivery systems for advertising. Many of them arrived enclosed in wrappers made of blue paper that featured between two and seven pages of advertising as well as the magazine’s title page, accompanying notes about how to subscribe, and a list of booksellers who sold the magazines. Usually the title and related information took up only one page; sometimes they spread out over two pages, but rarely did they extend onto a third. This typically left three pages for advertising in most magazines but as many as six or seven pages of advertising in each issue of those publications that doubled up the number of sheets used as wrappers and devoted to advertising, including some of the century’s most successful magazines, such as the Columbian Magazine and the American Museum. Although the lack of advertising interspersed with articles does not reflect current strategies, in other ways the material forms of eighteenth-century magazines were not much different from their modern counterparts that overflow with subscription cards and other materials that flutter out when flipping through the pages. Printers and publishers stuffed a variety of inserts, trade cards, book catalogues, and subscription notices inside those blue wrappers that accompanied each monthly issue. Subscribers may have purchased magazines for the edification they provided concerning history, economics, and belles lettres, but those magazines still extant in their original form suggest that printers and other providers of goods and services used literary magazines for their own purposes of making a living and generating revenues.
This argument depends on identifying and examining eighteenth-century magazines still extant in their original form, sometimes a difficult task that merits a few words about both modern methodology and the power of archives over time. First, however, consider how the material circumstances of magazines were transformed almost immediately after publication and distribution to subscribers. Printers and publishers did not intend for supplementary advertising materials that accompanied magazines to remain with the bodies of the magazines indefinitely or even for more than a few months. Publishers and subscribers both understood that once an entire volume, typically six issues over that many months, had been published that the separate issues would be gathered and bound together. Some advertising wrappers included explicit instructions for bookbinders to remove all the supplementary material before binding the volume. Wrappers, trade cards, subscription notices, and book catalogues were out, but title pages, tables of contents, and other materials were added. The final product that ended up on subscribers’ shelves – and in modern archives – did not much resemble the original material form eighteenth-century magazines took when first delivered.
This creates challenges for researchers interested in paratexts as much as (or more than) the essays, poems, and other items that appeared in the bodies of magazines. To compound the difficulty, best practices among an earlier generation of librarians and catalogers sometimes called for dismantling single issues that had not been bound. They sought to better organize an institution’s collections by housing various components with others of their genre – book catalogues with other book catalogues or trade cards in the trade cards collection, for instance – rather than leaving them intact. Such practices did not anticipate the modes of paratextual analysis undertaken by scholars at work today. Even in instances that eighteenth-century magazines and their supplementary materials have remained intact, the companies that have produced digital surrogates have sometimes neglected to photograph and reproduce the ancillary materials, incorrectly assuming that anybody who wished to examine, say, the American Museum would be interested in only the body of that publication and not other materials delivered with it. As Kenneth Carpenter and Michael Winship cautioned in their keynote address at the American Antiquarian Society’s Digital Antiquarian Conference last May, digital surrogates should be consulted as complements to, rather than replacements for, original documents. As we increasingly consult virtual texts we must remember that material texts sometimes tell unique stories that are not always captured in the digitization process.
We must keep eighteenth-century practices and circumstances in mind as we examine magazines in modern libraries and archives. Occasionally, the original subscribers or their bookbinders neglected to remove the advertising materials or overlooked a wrapper or insert here or there. As a result, looking at one supposedly “representative” issue of a magazine usually does not reveal the material circumstances of the original publication. Tracking down the advertisements that accompanied eighteenth-century magazines requires examining as many copies as possible to discover advertising paratexts inadvertently left behind, in both bound volumes and, when they survive, single issues. Indeed, it is often the single issues that include advertising media and testify to the original form of these publications. I have been exceptionally fortunate that curators, librarians, and other staff at several research institutions have generously allowed me to examine every issue, page by page, of eighteenth-century magazines in their collections once they have become familiar with my project and understand why this methodology is imperative. For good reason, archival staff often prefer to limit access to original materials in order to preserve it. When an institution possesses more than one copy of a magazine, for instance, one is often designated for use by researchers in order to preserve the others in their original condition as much as possible. Increasingly, researchers are asked to consult digital surrogates, which also present a “representative” copy, whenever possible. Such sources are often flawed due to the circumstances already described or, in some instances, incomplete because vendors unilaterally decided not to film or digitize ancillary materials because they did not understand the value of these paratexts for researchers. Eighteenth-century magazines exist in a variety of material and digital forms that in and of themselves shape our understanding of their original formats and purposes, sometimes misleading scholars because we do not see, touch, or read the same texts as the early Americans who originally subscribed to these magazines.