What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A POEM. By Doctor GOLDSMITH, author of THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD and THE TRAVELLER.”
In the spring of 1771, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers in Philadelphia, published the first American edition of “The Deserted Village,” a poem penned by Oliver Goldsmith. Later that year, John Holt published another edition in New York. As they prepared their edition for press, the Bradfords also alerted the public that they would soon have copies available for sale at their printing office. They placed an advertisement to that effect in the April 14 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the newspaper they published.
As many printers did when they inserted advertisements for other goods and services in their own newspapers, the Bradfords took advantage of their position to give their notice about “The Deserted Village” a privileged place. It was the first advertisement in the April 14 issue, appearing immediately below the shipping news that listed vessels that arrived and departed in the past week. That increased the likelihood that readers interested primarily in news would at least skim the advertisement even if they passed over the rest of the paid notices that appeared on the same page. That the title of the poem ran in large capital letters, surrounded with plentiful white spice compared to the dense text in most other advertisements, most likely also drew eyes to the Bradfords’ notice.
The printers did not offer much additional information about this publication. They did not describe the material qualities of the paper or type used in production, nor did they incorporate blurbs promoting the work to refined readers. Some booksellers adopted those strategies in their advertisements, but many did not. To incite demand, the Bradfords did introduce one innovation intended to resonate with consumers. They noted that Goldsmith was also the “author of THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD,” a popular novel, and “THE TRAVELLER,” another poem. Both works enjoyed great popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps the Bradfords did not consider it necessary to elaborate on their edition of “The Deserted Village,” but instead expected Goldsmith’s popularity sufficient recommendation for prospective customers to acquire their own copies of the poem.