What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“It is the Book used in Princetown College and Grammar School.”
In the late 1760s and early 1770s, bookseller Garrat Noel frequently placed advertisements in newspapers published in New York. Sometimes he provided lengthy lists of the titles available at his shop, but on other occasions he instead highlighted select titles for prospective customers. When he took that approach, Noel offered more extensive descriptions, providing a preview of sorts intended to incite demand.
For instance, Noel included three books in an advertisement that extended half a column in the February 11, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. He devoted half of that space to “A NEW GEOGRAPHICAL, HISTORICAL, and COMMERCIAL GRAMMAR; AND PRESENT STATE OF THE SEVERAL KINGDOMS of the WORLD” by William Guthrie. In two columns, he enumerated the contents of the book. In an eighteenth-century version of “but wait, there’s more,” Noel proclaimed that the book also included “a TABLE of the COINS of all Nations, and their Value in ENGLISH MONEY” and “a new and correct Set of MAPS.” He apparently expected that an extensive presentation of the various contents would help in selling copies.
Noel took a similar approach in promoting another book, “The MESSIAH.” He once again focused on the contents, but adopted a different format and style. The bookseller provided a blurb, a chatty description of what readers could expect to encounter in the book. Noel presented “The MESSIAH” as “an entertaining and instructive book, chiefly of the religious and moral Kind,” with the narrative “drawn from the Sacred Scriptures.” Rather than a dry theological treatise, however, Noel promised prospective buyers that they would enjoy a text “set in a plain, rational, useful and interesting Light.” Many readers likely found the blurb for the “The MESSIAH” more engaging than the list of contents for Guthrie’s historical geography.
The bookseller deployed yet another strategy for cultivating interest in the final book in this advertisement, John Mair’s “INTRODUCTION TO LATIN SYNTAX.” In this case, Noel commented on the popularity and success of the book in other markets, hoping that would translate into demand among consumers in New York. He described “Mair’s Introduction to the making of Latin” as “the latest and most improved Book of that Kind, and now in Use in all the principal Schools in Scotland, where the Language is taught with the greatest accuracy.” Yet prospective customers did not need to look across the Atlantic to witness approval for this book. Noel also noted that it “is the Book used in Princetown College and Grammar School,” a fact that the bookseller leveraged as a recommendation for others interested in Latin to purchase it.
In a single advertisement, Noel experimented with three different methods for inciting interest in some of the books he sold. For one, he relied on an extensive recounting of the contents, while for another he commented on the contents in a spirited blurb. For a Latin textbook, he reported on its use in both Scotland and a nearby college and grammar school. For each book, he selected a marketing strategy that he anticipated would resonate with the consumers most likely to have incipient interest in acquiring a copy.