July 1

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Boston-Gazette (June 29, 1772).

“The Gentlemen who subscribed … for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries … are desired to apply for the second Volume.”

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, inserted a brief notice at the bottom of the final column of the June 29, 1772, edition.  “The Gentlemen who subscribed with Edes and Gill for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries on the Laws of England,” they announced, are desired to apply for the second Volume.”  In addition, “A few of the First Volume may be had by applying as above.”  Edes and Gill did not publish this “American Edition.”  Instead, they served as local agents for Robert Bell, a printer and bookseller based in Philadelphia.

Over the course of many months, Bell inserted subscription notices for an American edition of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  He also distributed handbills to promote the project.  Bell sought to cultivate an American literary market that supplied American readers with American editions instead of books imported from London.  In addition to Blackstone’s Commentaries, he advertised an American edition of David Hume’s History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688.  Bell suggested that consumers had a civic obligation to purchase these volumes, addressing his subscription notices to “all those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications in AMERICA.”

Bell also stated that those who assisted him in this venture engaged in “peaceable, yet active Patriotism.”  In case that was not enough to recruit local agents like Edes and Gill in Boston, he also pledged that “All Persons who collect the Names and Residence, and deliver the Books to twelve Subscribers, have a Claim of Right, and are allowed fourteen to the Dozen for their Assiduity.”  In other words, local agents received two copies gratis for each dozen they sold to subscribers.  The copies of the first volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries that Edes and Gill offered for sale when they announced that subscribers could pick up the second volume may have been copies they received for gathering subscriptions in Boston.  Bell devised marketing strategies to entice both reader-consumers and local agents.

May 24

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

“Send their names to the Printers of this Paper.”

The supplement that accompanied the May 21, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included “PROPOSALS FOR PUBLISHING BY SUBSCRIPTION, A MAP of the INTERIOR PARTS OF NORTH-AMERICA.  By THOMAS HUTCHINS, Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Royal American Regiment, and Engineer.”  Hutchins explained that the map depicted a region “which must soon become a most important and very interesting part of the British empire in America.”  It included “the great rivers of Missisippi and Ohio, with the newest smaller streams which empty into them” as well as “Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan.”  Hutchins asserted that the map “accurately delineated” the region, “a great part of the country and most of the rivers and lakes … laid down from surveys, corrected by the observation of latitudes, carefully executed by himself” during the Seven Years War and “since the final treaty with the western and northern Indians in 1764.”  The map also incorporated “every considerable town of the various Indian Nations, who inhabit these regions.”  The “extent of their respective claims,” Hutchins noted, “are also particularly pointed out.”  Land speculators and settler colonizers certainly had their eyes on those “respective claims,” despite the Proclamation Line of 1763 that reserved that territory for indigenous peoples.

Hutchins declared that he would publish and deliver the map “as soon as the Subscribers amount to a number adequate to defray the unavoidable expence of the publication.”  Like so many others who wished to publish books and maps, he did not intend to assume the financial risk without assurances that the project would meet with success.  To that end, he invited “those in SOUTH-CAROLINA who may think proper to encourage” publishing the map to “as soon as possible, send their names to the Printers of this Paper.”  Powell, Hughes and Company acted as local agents for subscribers.  Hutching did not, however, restrict his marketing efforts to newspaper notices.  He also distributed broadside subscription proposals that featured almost identical text.  Measuring approximately thirteen inches by eight inches, a copy at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania includes blank space to insert the name of a local agent who could have posted the subscription notice in a retail shop or printing office.  That accounts for the first variation in the text compared to the advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette, an invitation for subscribers to “send their names to [blank]” rather than “send their names to the Printers of this Paper.”  A short paragraph unique to the broadside notice followed that blank: “WE the Subscribers do agree to pay Lieutenant THOMAS HUTCHINS, or Order, for the above-mentioned Map and Analysis, ONE PISTOLE, on the receipt thereof, according to the Number affixed to our respective Names.”  Additional blank space provided room for subscribers to add their names and indicate how many copies they wished to order.  The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s copy does not have any manuscript additions; no subscribers signed it to reserve their maps.

Newspaper advertisements provided the best opportunity to circulate subscription notices to the greatest number of prospective customers, but they were not the only means of inciting interest in books and maps.  Hutchins and other entrepreneurs also distributed broadsides to local agents to facilitate recording the names of subscribers.  I suspect that a greater number of those broadsides circulated in early America than survive today, increasing the frequency that colonizers encountered advertising media.

Broadside Subscription Proposal with Space for Subscribers to Add Names. Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

March 10

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Essex Gazette (March 10, 1772).

“The Preservation of these Papers for the Benefit of Posterity.”

A subscription notice for a “second Volume of Collection of Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts-Bay” ran in several newspapers in New England in 1772.  The version that appeared in the March 10 edition of the Essex Gazette carried a familiar appeal, asserting that “most of these Papers will, probably, be irrevocably lost in a few Years, unless preserved by Printing” so many copies that “the Public” would always have access to important documents about the history of the colony.  Prospective subscribers, the advertisement argued, had a duty to assist in “the Preservation of these Papers for the Benefit of Posterity.”

Readers of the Essex Gazette encountered this subscription notice in the context of commemorating recent history, “Preston’s Massacre–in King-Street–Boston” on March 5, 1770.  Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette, devoted the entire first page of the March 10 edition to commemorations marking the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  They enclosed a lengthy memorial within thick mourning borders, a convention usually reserved for death notices but frequently deployed for political purposes during the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution.

In the memorial, the Halls called on the public to seek “the Restoration and Preservation of AMERICAN LIBERTY,” advocating that “the destructive Consequences of Tyranny in general may be properly and truly realized” and that “the Memory of the fatal Effects of the late military Tyranny in this Province, in Particular, may never be obliterated.”  They invoked “that invincible Fortitude and Intrepidity which so eminently distinguished the venerable Founders of this Colony” as they encouraged “every American SON OF LIBERTY … to defend, with the last Drop of Blood, any future Attempts to subjugate this people to the despotic Controul of Military Murderers.”  As they commemorated the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, the Halls encouraged colonizers to consider 150 years of history and their role in shaping events.  They rehearsed recent events in a list of grievances against “Servants of the King,” the “British Ministry,” and the “Soldiery … taught to look upon themselves as Masters of the People.”  Those grievances had greater impact when considered in relation to the founding of the colony and subsequent events chronicled in the proposed volume of “Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts-Bay” advertised on another page.  The advertisement listed the Halls as local agents who accepted subscriptions for the project.  Between the memorial on the first page and the subscription notice on the final page, they tended to the recent and distant past by presenting readers with opportunities to prevent “the Memory” of significant events from being “obliterated” but instead “transmitted to Posterity.”

Essex Gazette (March 10, 1772).

February 16

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

New-York Journal (February 13, 1772).

“Subscribers in the distant Provinces will be supplied as soon as possible.”

Robert Bell invested a lot of effort in promoting an “American Edition of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND” in the early 1770s.  He inserted subscription notices in newspapers from New England to South Carolina, encouraging colonizers to support the development of a distinctly American market for literature.  He inserted an update in the February 13, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, alerting the public that the second volume “will be ready for Delivery to the Subscribers of Philadelphia and New-York, on the 28th of February.”  In addition, “Subscribers in the distant Provinces shall be supplied as soon as possible.”

Bell’s notice in the February 13 edition of the New-York Journal ran on a Thursday, the only day that John Holt, the printer, distributed that newspaper.  Most American newspapers published prior to the American Revolution were weeklies, though a few printers did experiment with producing and disseminating two or three issues per week.  Daily newspapers did not emerge until after the Revolution.  That meant that printers strategically chose which days to publish their newspapers.  Most selected Mondays and Thursdays.  Holt’s competitor, Hugh Gaine, published the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on Mondays, thus allowing readers in New York two opportunities to peruse “the freshest ADVICES, both FOREIGN and DOMESTIC” throughout the week.  Some newspapers published in smaller towns in New England appeared on Tuesdays or Fridays or Wednesdays or Saturdays, one or two days after newspapers in Boston and New York.  That allowed printers to acquire the newest editions and reprint items of interest.

Sundays were the only day that printers did not distribute their latest issues anywhere in the colonies.  In the twentieth century, the Sunday newspaper became the most coveted edition, the one that contained the most sections of specialized content as well as advertising supplements.  Today, the Sunday edition remains a distinct entity, the only issue that many readers acquire and read.  That represents an evolution in publication and reading habits.  Once a week, the Adverts 250 Project examines a newspaper advertisement published 250 years ago that week instead of 250 years ago that day because printers did not produce Sunday editions in the eighteenth century.  That remained the case even for the dailies published in the largest cities after the Revolution.

February 14

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-London Gazette (February 14, 1772).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS … will be received by T. & J. Fleet, in Boston, T. Green in New-London, and by the other Printers in Connecticut.”

When a “Gentleman in England, of Distinguished character for many munificent deeds to the Publick,” supposedly wished to sponsor publication of “a second Volume of Collection of Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts Bay” in 1772, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the first volume, set about promoting the project.  Advertisements initially appeared in newspapers published in Boston, but eventually ran in other newspapers as well.

An advertisement nearly identical to one in the January 23, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter appeared in the New-London Gazette on February 14.  It featured the same introduction that gave the story of the “Gentleman in England” and cautioned that “None will be printed for Sale” except those reserved by subscribers in advance.  It also included the primary justification intended to persuade colonizers to support the project: “As most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless preserved by Printing, it is hoped that a sufficient Number of Subscribers will soon appear, from a regard to the Public.”  Readers had a duty “for the Benefit of Posterity,” the advertisement underscored, to participate in the preservation of important documents through printing them so widely that they would always remain accessible.

The version of the advertisement that ran in the New-London Gazette did have some variations.  Timothy Green, the printer of that newspaper, reserved space for other content by significantly reducing the list of local agents who worked with the Fleets.  “SUBSCRIPTIONS to encourage the Printing of this Collection,” the advertisement instructed, “will be received by T. & J. Fleet, in Boston, T. Green in New-London, and by the other Printers in Connecticut.”  The original version listed local agents in nearly a dozen cities and towns in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.  It also concluded with a note that “A few of the first Volumes of Collection of Papers, may be had at the Heart and Crown.”  Compared to readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, readers of the New-London Gazettewere less likely to know that a sign depicting a heart and crown marked the location of the Fleets’ printing office.  Green edited that final note to advise readers of his newspaper that “A few of the first Volume of Collection of Papers may be had of T. & J. Fleet, in Boston.”

Green participated in an extensive network of local agents, comprised primarily of printers, who accepted subscriptions for the proposed “second Volume of Collection of Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts Bay.”  His responsibilities included marketing as well as collecting names of colonizers who wished to reserve copies.  He published advertisements consistent with those distributed by the printers in charge of the project, but edited them to suit his own purposes and to provide clarifications for readers of his newspaper.  That resulted in an advertising largely consistent from newspapers in one town to another, but with minor variations.

January 28

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 28, 1772).

“Those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications flourish in AMERICA.”

Robert Bell worked to create an American literary marketplace in the second half of the eighteenth century.  The flamboyant bookseller, publisher, and auctioneer commenced his efforts before the American Revolution, sponsoring the publication of American editions of popular titles that other booksellers imported.  His strategy included extensive advertising campaigns in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  He established a network of local agents, many of them printers, who inserted subscription notices in newspapers, accepted advance orders, and sold the books after they went to press.

Those subscription notices often featured identical copy from newspaper to newspaper.  For instance, Bell attempted to drum up interest in William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in 1772.  Advertisements that appeared in the Providence Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and other newspapers all included a headline that proclaimed, “LITERATURE.”  Bell and his agents tailored the advertisements for local audiences, addressing the “Gentlemen of Rhode-Island” in the Providence Gazette and the “Gentlemen of SOUTH-CAROLINA” in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  In each instance, though, they encouraged prospective subscribers to think of themselves as a much larger community of readers by extending the salutation to include “all of those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications flourish in AMERICA.”

Bell aimed to cultivate a community of American consumers, readers, and supporters of goods produced in the colonies, offering colonizers American editions of Blackstone’s Commentaries and other works “Printed on American Paper.”  Given the rate that printers reprinted items from one newspaper to another, readers already participated in communities of readers that extended from New England to Georgia, but Bell’s advertisements extended the experience beyond the news and into the advertisements.  He invited colonizers to further codify a unified community of geographically-dispersed readers and consumers who shared common interests when it came to both “LITERATURE” and “the Advancement” of domestic manufactures.  To do so, they needed to purchase his publications.

January 23

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (January 23, 1772).

Most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless preserved by Printing.”

On behalf of posterity, printers and consumers in Massachusetts worked to preserve documents that told the story of the colony.  In 1769, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, distributed subscription notices for “A COLLECTION of Original PAPERS, which are intended to support and elucidate the principal Facts related in the first Part of the HISTORY of MASSACHUSETTS BAY.”  The printers promoted that volume as an appendix to the first volume of Thomas Hutchinson’s History of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay, published in 1764.

In 1772, the Fleets promoted a similar project, though an advertisement in the January 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter declared that a “Gentleman in England, of distinguished character for many munificent deeds to the Publick,” envisioned “printing a second Volume of Collection of Papers relative to the History of Massachusetts-Bay.”  An ideal companion for the earlier work, the new book would be “about the same size … at the same price” as the earlier one.  Acquiring copies of this proposed volume required subscribing.  It would not go to press until “Subscribers sufficient to defrey the Expence shall appear.”  In addition, “None will be printed for Sale,” only those reserved in advance.  Subscribers could submit their names to local agents, most of them printers, in eleven cities and towns in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The “Gentleman in England” who supposedly initiated this project with an initial of subscription of “Ten Guineas” (or ten pounds and ten shillings) claimed to be motivated by “the Preservation of these Papers for the Benefit of Posterity.”  Printing the papers served as one means of preserving them, creating so many copies that the contents would survive even if the original documents did not.  A note near the end of the advertisement warned that “most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless preserved by Printing.”  That meant that prospective subscribers had an obligation to invest in this enterprise “from a regard to the Public as well as for the sake of their particular Entertainment.”  Consumers had an opportunity to participate in historic preservation, not through tending to original sources but instead by purchasing so many copies of the volumes that anthologized those sources to make them always accessible to subsequent generations.

January 10

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Journal (January 10, 1772).

“ROYAL SPIRITUAL MAGAZINE.”

Among the advertisements placed by local merchants and shopkeepers in the January 10, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, readers encountered a subscription notice for “The ROYAL SPIRITUAL MAGAZINE: OR, THE CHRISTIAN’s GRAND TREASURE,” a magazine published in Philadelphia.  Joseph Crukshank printed the magazine for John McGibbons, who also invited readers to subscribe to “The WORKS of Flavius Josephus, In Four Volumes.”  McGibbons instructed “GENTLEMEN who are pleased to exemplify and encourage” the Royal Spiritual Magazine to submit their names to the printers of the Connecticut Journal or one of several other local agents.  McGibbons also noted he published one issue a month, with the “Fourth Number … already published, and the Fifth in the Press.”  The promise of forthcoming issues did not meet with the success that the publisher hoped.  The Royal Spiritual Magazine soon folded.  Rather than publish magazines in the colonies, printers and booksellers imported magazines from London, often listing them among the various titles available at their shops.

According to Frank Luther Mott’s “Chronological List of Magazines,” the Royal Spiritual Magazine was only the fourteenth magazine attempted in the colonies.[1]  Most previous efforts lasted less than a year, some only a few issues.  The most successful, the American Magazine and Historical Chronicle published by Rogers and Fowle in Boston, ran for just over three years from September 1743 to December 1746.  Mott mentions the Royal Spiritual Magazine only twice in A History of American Magazine, 1741-1850.  In addition to including it in the “Chronological List,” he states that “from 1760 to 1774 there were only three magazines started, the least unsuccessful of which was a nine months’ wonder.”[2]  A footnote indicates that the Royal Spiritual Magazine was one of them.

McGibbons did not effectively deploy advertising to promote the Royal Spiritual Magazine and attract subscribers.  Even though he advertised in the Connecticut Journal and established a network of local agents to receive subscriptions, he did not place similar advertisements for the magazine in other newspapers simultaneously.  He did not target prospective subscribers in the largest cities, Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Given the lackluster performance of magazines published in the colonies, a more robust advertising campaign would not necessarily have yielded greater success for the Royal Spiritual Magazine.  Yet McGibbons did seem to appreciate the value of advertising widely when it came to his other project.  The January 9 edition of the New-York Journal featured an extensive subscription notice for “The Works of FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS” that included local agents in six cities and towns in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.  Why did he settle on the Connecticut Journal as the only newspaper for promoting the Royal Spiritual Magazine, especially when other printers and publishers placed subscription notices for other works in multiple newspapers simultaneously and cultivated networks of local agents throughout the colonies?

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[1] Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1939), 787.

[2] Mott, History of American Magazines, 26.

January 6

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Newport Mercury (January 6, 1772).

“Subscriptions are taken in by the Priner hereof, and a Number of Gentlemen in different Parts of the Country.”

In December 1771 and continuing into 1772, Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, ran subscription notices for “Col. Church’s HISTORY OF K. Philip’s Indian WAR, Which began in the Month of June, 1675.”  The project did not originate with Southwick; instead, he indicated “A Number of Gentlemen [were] desirous of having Reprinted” an account by Benjamin Church previously published in Boston in 1716.  Neither Southwick nor the “Number of Gentlemen” assumed the risk for publishing this new edition without first gauging broader interest in the book.

Such was the purpose of a subscription notice.  Subscribers reserved copies in advance, giving printers and publishers an idea of how many copies to print.  If they did not acquire a sufficient number of subscribers to make a project viable, they could abandon it rather than lose money on the venture.  In some cases, printers and publishers required subscribers to make payments in advance to help defray the costs of production, but in this instance Southwick specified that subscribers would pay three shilling “on Delivery of the Books.”  To entice prospective subscribers, especially booksellers and other retailers who might purchase multiple copies to sell, Southwick stated, “Those who subscribe for Six Books, to have a Seventh Gratis.”

Southwick accepted subscriptions, but he also relied on a network of associates to assist in the endeavor.  He informed readers that “a Number of Gentlemen in different Parts of the Country, to whom Subscription Papers have been sent,” also accepted orders for the book.  Those subscription papers included the proposal and conditions for subscribing as well as space for subscribers to sign their names and indicate how many copies they wanted.  Subsequent subscribers could peruse the list to see the company they kept, a factor that may have helped convince some potential subscribers that they indeed desired a copy … or at least desired seeing their names listed among those who supported the project.

Not all subscription proposals that ran in early American newspapers generated enough interest to proceed, but in this case Southwick garnered sufficient support to reprint The Entertaining History of King Philip’s WarThis edition included portraits of Benjamin Church and King Philip (Metacom, a Wampanoag leader) engraved by Paul Revere.  Southwick did not mention the images that would accompany the book as a means of promoting interest in the subscription notice.  Other subscription notices highlighted images, but perhaps Southwick had not yet made arrangements for that particular aspect of the publication.  Even without promising portraits of Church and Metacom, the subscription notices helped generate interest in the new edition.

November 1

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-London Gazette (November 1, 1771).

“Subscriptions are taken in by T. GREEN.”

When John Dunlap distributed subscription proposals in advance of publishing the Pennsylvania Packet, he expressed his intention to disseminate the new newspaper widely.  He lined up local agents from a variety of occupations in towns in Pennsylvania and far beyond.  They included “James Wilson, Esq; Attorney at Law, Carlisle,” Pennsylvania, “Richard Thomas, Esq; Sheriff, Charlestown,” Maryland, “Rev. William Dunlap, King and Queen county, Virginia.”  He also enlisted booksellers Noel and Hazard in New York as well as printers in the major port cities.  Some of them published their own newspapers, yet they assisted a fellow printer in another town launch his own publication.  They likely received complimentary copies of the Pennsylvania Packet, part of an exchange network that allowed printers to liberally reprint content from one newspaper to another.  From Cape May, Massachusetts, to Charleston, South Carolina, local agents stood ready to receive subscriptions to the Pennsylvania Packet.  Beyond the continent, “Messrs. Esmand and Walker, Printers in Bridgetown, Barbados” also accepted subscriptions on Dunlap’s behalf.

In addition to that extensive list, the proposals ended with a note that “many other Gentlemen, whose names will be particularized in our first Number” also served as local agents in other towns.  Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette was one of those local agents.  His newspaper carried the same subscription proposals for the Pennsylvania Packet that ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, though Green trimmed the list of local agents.  The final line simply stated, “Subscriptions are taken in by T. GREEN.”  When it came to local subscribers, Green probably did not worry too much about the Pennsylvania Packet competing with the New-London Gazette.  Given the time required to deliver it from Philadelphia to Connecticut, its contents supplemented rather than replaced the “freshest ADVICES, both FOREIGN and DOMESTICK” that the masthead of the New-London Gazette promised.  In addition, Green’s newspaper exclusively carried certain content, including local advertisements, legal notices, and shipping news from the custom house.  Colonial printers served as editors, selecting items from multiple newspapers to reprint, but some readers also acted as their own editors through consulting several newspapers on their own, deciding for themselves which “ADVICES” they considered most important.  When they served as local agents for newspapers published in other towns, printers like Green facilitated that process.