What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JUST PUBLISHED … LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA.”
An advertisement for a pamphlet that collected together all twelve of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES” ran for the second consecutive week in the April 29, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Interested readers could purchase the pamphlet at the local printing office in Portsmouth or directly from Mein and Fleeming, the publishers, “at the LONDON BOOK STORE, North Side of King Street, BOSTON.”
The advertisement explained why readers should invest in the pamphlet: “Among the WRITERS in favour of the COLONIES, the FARMER shines unrivalled, for strength of Argument, Elegance of Diction, Knowledge in the Laws of Great Britain, and the true interest of the COLONIES.” Yet readers did not need to make decisions about purchasing the pamphlet solely on that recommendation. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, provided then with a preview of the pamphlet’s contents. “Letter XI” appeared in its entirety on the first and second pages of that edition. Similarly, “Letter X” occupied the first and final pages of the previous issue, the one in which the Fowles first published the advertisement for the pamphlet. Prospective buyers could read the Farmer’s arguments for themselves (as well as investigate the several notes he inserted to direct readers to the various sources he invoked). Examining one or two letters could convince some readers that they needed to acquire and study all of them in order to better understand the proper relationship between Parliament and the colonies at a time of general discontent with imperial policies.
Whether encountering an excerpt of another title at the end of a novel or the first chapter of a book available online, modern consumers are accustomed to publishers providing previews as a means of inciting interest in purchasing books. The Fowles adopted a similar strategy in the eighteenth century. They had been reprinting Dickinson’s “Letters” for many weeks, but as they reached the conclusion of the series the last several essays served dual purposes. In addition to disseminating news and editorial opinion, the final “Letters” also became advertisements for a publication stocked and sold by the printers of the newspaper that carried those essays.