What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The following BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON, are to be sold.”
Booksellers Smith and Coit had a true full-page advertisement in the August 4, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant. They came close in the previous issue, but the compositor squeezed another advertisement into the space that otherwise would have been the right margin. When readers perused the August 4 issue, they encountered only Smith and Coit’s advertisement on the final page. Not even a colophon stating that Ebenezer Watson printed the Connecticut Courant in Hartford appeared at the bottom of the page.
Smith and Coit likely distributed this advertisement via other methods. They may have placed an order for handbills or broadsides. They certainly did so a year later when they disseminated a broadside promoting “a universal assortment of drugs, medicines, painter’s colours, and grocery articles; together with the following books” on sale “at their store east of the Court-House in Hartford.” According the notes in the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, this broadside was “Primarily booksellers’ catalog” and the “complete text of the broadside appeared in the July 6, 1773, issue of the Connecticut Courant, printed by Ebenezer Watson.” It did not run in the standard issue of the July 6 edition, but Watson may have distributed a supplement not included in America’s Historical Newspapers. The broadside did do double duty as the second page of the July 13 edition. Considering that Watson collaborated with Smith and Coit in creating a broadside book catalog that also served as a full-page newspaper advertisement in the summer of 1773, they probably did so in 1772 as well.
Smith and Coit had several options for circulating their book catalog. They may have posted it at their shop or pasted it up around town. They may have passed it out as a handbill. They may have given customers a copy when they made purchases, encouraging them to consider buying other titles on a subsequent visit. They may have treated it as a circular letter, writing a short note, folding the catalog into a smaller size, sealing it, addressing it, and sending it via the post. They may have sent copies to booksellers in other towns, alerting them to titles they had in stock to sell or exchange for others. Smith and Coit may have distributed their book catalog in some or all of these ways. Other advertisers utilized all of them in the second half of the eighteenth century.