What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing.”
During the summer of 1769, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, cooperated with other printers to incite demand for “a Volume of curious Papers, to serve as an Appendix to Lieutenant-Governor HUTCHINSON’S History of Massachusetts-Bay,” a work frequently advertised in newspapers in Boston and other parts of New England. To that end, the Fowles inserted a subscription notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Printers had dual purposes in circulating such “PROPOSALS” as newspaper advertisements and, sometimes, separate subscription papers. They aimed to stimulate demand, but they also conducted market research by assessing demand. They did not move forward with projects if consumers did not express sufficient demand. Such was the case with this “Volume of curious Papers.” The subscription notice starkly stated that the “Work will begin as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers appear to defrey the Expence.” Those who wished to reserve a copy needed to submit their names to T. and J. Fleet in Boston, Bulkeley Emerson in Newburyport, or the Fowles in Portsmouth.
In their efforts to encourage colonists to subscribe to the work, the printers vowed that “No more Books will be printed than what are subscribed for.” This created a sense of urgency for prospective subscribers, warning that if they did not make a commitment soon that eventually it would be too late to acquire a copy so they better not waver. The printers also presented a challenge that made colonists responsible for preserving the history and heritage of New England. The subscription notice concluded with a short paragraph that outlined their duty: “As most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing, it is hoped that a sufficient Number of Subscribers will soon appear, from a regard to the Public, as well as for the sake of their particular Entertainment.” The printers did not envision carefully storing the original documents as a means of safeguarding them for future generations. Instead, the best form of preservation occurred through multiplication. Taking the volume to press would guarantee that the contents of those “curious Papers” would survive long beyond the originals becoming “irrecoverably lost” through deterioration or mishap over the years. Colonists had a civic duty, “a regard to the Public,” to play a role in preventing that loss, according to the printers. Rather than thinking about purchasing and reading the “Volume of curious Papers” as a form of “particular Entertainment” only for themselves, the subscription notice challenged colonists to think of it as a service to their community. Consumption need not be frivolous; it could also serve a purpose in the interests of the greater good.