What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“We shall just give the Sentiments of the Authors of the Monthly and Critical Review concerning it.”
Much of Garrat Noel’s advertisement in the August 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy looked like other advertisements placed by booksellers. Divided into two columns, it listed some of the “VERY great Variety of BOOKS” that he sold. With the titles organized mostly in alphabetical order, Noel’s advertisement was a book catalog adapted for publication as a newspaper advertisement.
For selected books, however, Noel did more than name the title and author. He attempted to incite interest by appending short notes. Rather than “Bunyan’s Works,” he stocked “Bunyan’s Works complete in 2 Vols Folio, finely adorned with elegant Copper Plates, among which is a neat Head of the Author.” Not only did this two-volume set come with attractive images, it was also “Recommended by the Rev. Mr. WHITEFIELD,” one of the most influential ministers in the colonies. Whitefield gained celebrity when he toured the colonies, preaching to exuberant crowds in cities and towns from Georgia to New England. Noel deployed a different strategy in promoting “Boswell’s entertaining Account of Corsica.” Rather than rely on a celebrity endorsement, he noted that readers themselves expressed great enthusiasm for this book. It was “in so great Demand in London, that 7000 Copies of it sold in the Space of a few Months.” Noel encouraged consumers in New York to follow the lead of their counterparts in London who had purchased so many copies.
Those additional notes were relatively short compared to Noel’s treatment of “The patriotic Mrs. McAULAY’S celebrated History of England from the Accession of JAMES I. to the Elevation of the House of HANOVER.” Noel inserted his own puff piece and then followed it with reviews from two prominent magazines published in London. “This HISTORY OF ENGLAND,” Noel proclaimed, “is universally approved, and for Beauty and Elegance of Diction, is esteemed one of the best written Histories in the English Language.” Rather than take the bookseller’s word for it, prospective customers could consider “the Sentiments of the Authors of the Monthly and Critical Review concerning it.” A lengthy blurb from the Monthly Review followed by a shorter blurb from the Critical Review appeared immediately below Noel’s recommendation of the book. Promotion of Macaulay’s History of England comprised one-quarter of the space devoted to listing the titles available at Noel’s bookstore. It extended the same length as nineteen books in the facing column, including “Bunyan’s Works” and “Boswell’s entertaining Account of Corsica” that each had shorter commentaries attached.
Noel sought to enhance demand for his wares by enhancing his list of titles with additional notes about some of them. He hoped that endorsements by celebrity preachers like Whitefield, recommendations from literary critics from magazines like the Critical Review and the Monthly Review, and even sales figures from consumers in London would influence prospective customers in New York. Booksellers’ catalogs and newspaper advertisements were not necessarily dry lists of titles in eighteenth-century America. To greater or lesser extents, some booksellers did enhance the standard format in their efforts to win over consumers.