May 29

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

Boston-Gazette (May 27, 1771).

“Encouraged by several gentlemen of eminence in the different provinces, to undertake the publication of the following litterary works, in America.”

Robert Bell, one of the most influential booksellers and publishers in eighteenth-century America, cultivated a distinctly American market for the production and consumption of books, both before and after the American Revolution.  Although American printers produced some titles, they were relatively few compared to those imported from Britain.  Bell sought to change that, advertising widely rather than only in newspapers published in his own town.

For instance, in an advertisement in the May 27, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, Bell listed “the late Union Library in Third-street, Philadelphia” as his location.  Yet prospective customers interested in any of the titles included in his advertisement did not need to contact him there.  Instead, they could deal with Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette.  Bell proclaimed that he supplied Edes and Gill with “printed proposals, with speciments annexed” for “HUME’s elegeant HISTORY of ENGLAND, … BLACKSTONE’s splendid COMMENTARIES on the LAWS of ENGLAND, … Also, FERGUSON’s celebrated ESSAY on the HISTORY of CIVIL SOCIETY.”  As local agents acting on behalf of Bell, Edes and Gill distributed the proposals, collected the “names & residence” of subscribers, and sent the lists to Bell.  The enterprising bookseller and publisher enlisted many other local agents, instructing prospective “purchasers, of any of the fore mentioned litterary works” to contact “any of the Booksellers and Printers on this continent.”  Advertisements in other newspapers from New England to South Carolina indicated that Bell established an extensive network of associates and local agents.

In another way, this was not Bell’s endeavor alone.  He claimed that many others supported his efforts to create an America market for books printed in America.  He proclaimed that he had been “encouraged by several gentlemen of eminence in the different provinces, to undertake the publication” of several notable works “in America.”  Others, he declared, shared his vision.  Bell extended an invitation to even more readers to join them, addressing “Gentlemen who wish prosperity to the means for the enlargement of the human understanding in America.”  Such explicit reference to the edification and refinement of readers did not, however, did not tell the entire story.  Subscribers also implicitly made political statements about American identity and expressed support for American commerce.  Americans did not need to think of themselves or the books they produced and consumed as inferior to those imported from Britain.  Bell promised that “BLACKSTONE’s famous COMMENTARIES” compared favorably “page for page with the London edition.”  Prospective subscribers could conform the quality of the books by examining the proposals and, especially, the specimens entrusted to Bell’s local agents.

Bell commenced his advertisement with an announcement that “THE THIRD VOLUME OF ROBERTSON’s splendid History of CHARLES the Fifth, with compleat Indexes, is now finished for the Subscribers.”  He previously advertised all three volumes widely, starting with subscription notices before taking the work to press and providing updates and seeking additional subscribers along the way.  Alerting readers that the project came to a successful conclusion served as a testimonial to the vision that Bell and “several gentlemen of eminence in the different provinces” shared.  Achieving that vision and moving forward with the publication of American editions of other significant works required continued support from readers who committed to becoming subscribers.  Their decisions about consumption, Bell suggested, had ramifications beyond acquiring books for their own reference.

March 26

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 26, 1771).

“The Publisher will give two Copies gratis to such as shall collect One Dozen of Subscribers.”

When John Fleeming of Boston set about publishing what he billed as “The first Bible ever printed in America” he advertised widely in the colonial press.  He launched his marketing efforts in newspapers published in Boston and other towns in New England, but over time his subscription notices also ran in newspapers in far distant cities.  One version appeared in the March 26, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Though lengthy, it was not as extensive as some variants of the advertisement.  It did not include a testimonial from George Whitefield concerning an earlier English edition that incorporated “Annotations and Parallel Scriptures, By the late Rev. SAMUEL CLARKE.”  Fleeming intended to include the same supplementary material in his American edition.

In order to make this enterprise viable, Fleeming sought subscribers who reserved copies in advance.  To that end, he cultivated networks of local agents.  The publisher started with newspaper printers who ran his advertisement, but he also encouraged others to join his efforts.  He offered premiums to those who accepted his invitation.  “In order to encourage Booksellers, Country Traders, &c. to promote Subscriptions for this grand and useful Work,” Fleeming declared, “the Publisher will give two Copies gratis to such as shall collect One Dozen of Subscribers.”  Fleeming also expected these local agents to distribute copies to their subscribers and collect payment.

In addition to placing newspaper advertisements that laid out the terms of subscribing, he also printed separately subscription papers for local agents.  Those “Proposal” likely included the same conditions as appeared in newspaper advertisements and Whitefield’s endorsement as well as space for subscribers to add their names.  In turn, subscribers and prospective subscribers could examine the list to see the company they kept or could keep by supporting the project.  Some local agents may have posted subscription papers in their shops, putting them on display before the community.  The proposals also specified that “Subscribers Names will be printed.”  Fleeming asked booksellers, country traders, and others interested in becoming local agents to contact him for copies of the proposals.  In the version of the advertisement that ran in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he named Robert Wells, printer of that newspaper, in Charleston and James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, in Savannah as local agents who collected subscriptions.

Fleeming promoted this annotated “FAMILY BIBLE” as a “laudable Undertaking.”  It was certainly an undertaking that required coordination with others before going to press.  The publisher advertised widely and established networks of local agents.  To increase the number of subscribers, he offered premiums to local agents who met the threshold of getting commitments from at least a dozen subscribers.  Fleeming did not envision this endeavor as a Boston edition for residents of Boston but instead as an American edition for readers and consumers throughout the colonies.

March 15

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

New-London Gazette (March 15, 1771).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING.”

Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal in New Haven, planned to publish “A careful and strict Examination of the external Covenant, and of the Principles by which it is supported.  A REPLY To the Rev. Mr. Moses Mather’s Piece, intitled, The Visible Church on Covenant with God, further illustrated” in the spring of 1771.  Before taking the book to press, however, they sought to gauge demand in order to determine how many copies to print.  To that end, they distributed subscription notices, including “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING” in the March 15, 1771, edition of the New-London Gazette.  The Greens requested that those interested in reserving copies become “Subscribers” by submitting their names by May 1.  In turn, the Greens guaranteed the price of the book to those who ordered copies in advance.  Other customers who purchased surplus copies risked paying higher prices.

In addition to seeking subscribers in New Haven, the Greens attempted to incite demand in other towns.  Timothy Green, printer of the New-London Gazette, not only inserted the “PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING” in his newspaper but likely also served as a local agent who collected subscriptions and sent the list to the printing office in New Haven.  The Greens devoted most of subscription notice to the lengthy title of the book and a list of its contents, demonstrating to prospective subscribers the various theological arguments presented by Joseph Bellamy.  They also listed the price, one shilling and four pence, contingent on how many pages were in the book.  They anticipated printing on twelve sheets, but would adjust the price higher or lower if they used more or less paper.  The Greens also established a timeline for receiving subscriptions and printing the book, stating that subscribers and local agents should contact them by May 1 so “it may be known how many Books shall be ready for the Subscribers at the next Commencement in New-Haven.”  The Greens planned to distribute the book at the same time as graduates of Yale College gathered.

Colonial printers often relied on networks of booksellers, local agents, and fellow printers in the marketing and distribution of books they printed.  Two other notices in the same edition of the New-London Gazette concluded with such lists.  One, another subscription notice, listed seven local agents in seven towns in Connecticut.  The other, an advertisement for a book already published, named eleven local agents in seven towns as well as a postrider who served several of those places.  Subscription notices and local agents played a vital role in determining the viability of proposed books in eighteenth-century America.

February 26

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

Essex Gazette (February 26, 1771).

“Subscriptions are taken in by I. Thomas, Printer and Publisher … M.J. Hiller, Watch-maker in Salem.”

As Isaiah Thomas prepared to relaunch the Massachusetts Spy after a brief hiatus, he placed advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston.  On February 18, 1771, he inserted a notice in all three newspapers published that day, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In that notice, he revised the plan of publication he previously outlined.  Instead of publishing the Spy on Tuesdays, the day after new editions of the Evening-Post, Gazette, and Gazette and Post-Boy, he moved the day to Thursdays in order to take advantage of the post arriving from Hartford with newspapers and letters on Wednesdays.  That would allow him to disseminate whatever news arrived from the west.

With his original plan, he would have been the only printer in Boston who circulated a newspaper in Boston on Tuesdays.  The revised plan, however, put him in direct competition with the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Despite that fact, the Gazette and News-Letter carried Thomas’s advertisement for the Spy on February 21.  That notice featured copy identical to the advertisements in the other three newspapers except for the additions of a headline that labeled it “ANOTHER THURDAY’S PAPER” and “Mr. M. Belcher, in Bridgwater” as a local agent who collected subscriptions on Thomas’s behalf.

Thomas did not confine his marketing of the revamped Spy to Boston’s newspapers.  The day after it first appeared, the printer inserted the advertisement in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  The notice about the Spy ran for several weeks in each newspaper that carried it, a strategy likely intended to create momentum in acquiring subscribers leading up to the relaunch on March 7.  Thomas carefully coordinated that advertising campaign.  Notices usually ran for three weeks for a set fee, with an additional charge for each subsequent insertion.  Thomas planned the appearance of his advertisements to occur in the three weeks prior to commencing publication of the improved Spy.  Those advertisements did not appear in other newspapers again on or after March 7.  Instead, new issues of the Spy did the work of advertising the newspaper as they circulated in Boston and beyond.

February 18

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 18, 1771).

“Massachusetts-Spy.”

Just over six months after the Massachusetts Spy commenced publication in July 1770, printer Isaiah Thomas temporarily suspended the newspaper in early February 1771.  Thomas warned both current and prospective subscribers of the hiatus in a series of notices in the Spy, pledging that he would relaunch the newspaper, with improvements, in March.  He hoped that the plans he outlined would attract new subscribers.

During the time that Thomas suspended publication, he turned to other newspapers to promote the Spy and seek subscribers.  On February 18, he placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In each, he addressed “all LOVERS of NEWS, POLITICKS, TRUE LIBERTY, and the FREEDOM of the PRESS.”  He also declared that the Spy was “open to ALL Parties, but influenced by None,” though Thomas became an increasingly vocal supporter of the patriot cause.  Indeed, four years later he fled to the relative safety of Worcester and set up his press there because he feared retribution from British officials angered by coverage in his newspaper if he remained in Boston.

Rather than focus on politics in this advertisement, however, Thomas described the plan for publishing the improved Spy.  He originally intended to publish it on Tuesdays, the day after the newspaper that carried his advertisement, but reported that he would instead publish it on Thursdays “at the Request of a great Number of the Subscribers.”  In appearing to give the customers what they wanted, Thomas further enhanced the Spy by gaining “the Advantage of inserting what News may be brought by the Hartford-Post, who arrives on Wednesday Evenings.”  Like other newspapers, the Spy featured extracts of letters and items reprinted directly from other newspapers.

Thomas also listed other details, including the size and appearance of the newspaper and subscription rates.  The revitalized Spy “will be printed on Demy Paper, every Number to contain four Pages large Folio, and every Page four columns.”  While a couple of newspapers published in other towns at that time featured four columns per page, none of those published in Boston did.  In this manner, Thomas sought to distinguish his newspaper from the local competition.  If printers mentioned subscriptions rates in print at all, they most often did so in the plan of publication.  Thomas set the price at six shillings and eight pence per year, with half to be paid on delivery of the first issue and the other half paid at the end of the year.  Like other printers, he extended credit to subscribers.

The enterprising printer also gave instructions for subscribing, inviting “All those who are kind enough to encourage this Undertaking … to give in their Names as soon as they conveniently can.”  Thomas accepted subscriptions himself, but he also specified several agents in Boston.  They included fellow booksellers and printers, though none of the printers of other newspapers published in Boston.  He also had local agents in nearby Charlestown as well as the more distant Salem.  Thomas would eventually collect the “Subscription Papers” from his various agents and collate the names into a single subscription list.

Thomas envisioned significant improvements to the Massachusetts Spy, but he needed the support of subscribers to put his plans into effect.  He first outlined new aspects of his newspaper in the Spy before it temporarily halted publication, but then he turned to advertising in other newspapers to seek subscribers (and presumably advertisers) and generate interest as the public anticipated publication of the new Massachusetts Spy.

February 1

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 1, 1771).

“If they will now Subscribe and pay Twelve Shillings, they shall have a Book at the same price of the Government.”

Advertisements helped to incite demand, but in the case of subscription notices they also helped to gauge demand.  Before taking books to press, printers distributed subscription notices in which they asked customers (or subscribers) to indicate the number of copies they wished to purchase and make a deposit in advance.  That allowed printers to estimate the total number to print, allowing for some surplus to sell to meet further demand among those who neglected to subscribe, but not so much as to cut into revenues too dramatically.  The deposits also helped to defray the costs of printing, thus making ventures less risky for printers.

Such was the case when Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted a subscription notice for “a NEW EDITION of the PROVINCE LAWS” in the February 1, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The Fowles proclaimed that the books “have been ordered by the Government to be publish’d; and a certain Number to be printed.”  While that order was secure, the Fowles anticipated additional demand for this publication, stating that they believed those ordered “by the Government” likely “will not be sufficient for supplying every particular Person, who may be desirous of having a LAW BOOK.”  In their subscription notice, they called on other prospective customers to “now Subscribe and pay Twelve Shillings” in order to have a Book at the same price of the Government.”

The Fowles also issued a warning to interested parties who did not act quickly.  “Those who neglect giving in their Names and paying their Part at the Time of Subscribing,” the printers cautioned, “will not only run the risqué of not having a set, as very few will be printed, exclusive of what the Court and others take off, but also have a quarter part more to pay for those few, than Subscribers.”  In other words, the Fowles planned to print only a limited number of additional copies, creating a scarcity in the market after fulfilling the orders received in advance.  They also planned to charge a higher price, fifteen shillings instead of twelve, for those surplus copies.  Subscribers received a discount by ordering in advance so the Fowles would know how many copies to print.

The Fowles sought to achieve two goals simultaneously.  They hoped to incite demand in the book they would soon publish while also estimating demand in order to make informed decisions about how many copies to print.  Subscription notices allowed printers to conduct a rudimentary form of market research in the eighteenth century.

December 25

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

Essex Gazette (December 25, 1770).

The most judicious, sensible and learned Gentlemen … have already subscribed.”

Subscription notices were a common form of advertising in early American newspapers.  Printers managed the risk and expense associated with publishing books by first distributing subscription notices to incite demand and gauge interest in particular titles.  They announced their intention to print a book, but only if a sufficient number of subscribers indicated that they would purchase it.  Printers often asked subscribers to confirm their commitment by making a deposit, often half of the final price.  Those funds helped to defray expenses incurred in the production process.  If a proposed title achieved a sufficient number of subscribers, the printer took it to press.  If it did not, the printer abandoned the project before losing money on it.

Samuel Hall sought subscribers for “A Tract, wrote by the Rev’d Mr. JOHN NELSON, a Presbyterian Minister, late of Ballykelly in Ireland, in form of a Letter to his People” in 1770, aiming to reprint a book published in Belfast in 1766.  As the year drew to a close, Hall believed that he had almost enough subscribers “to commit this Piece to the Press.”  On December 25, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to advise prospective subscribers that “[t]he greater Part of the most judicious, sensible and learned Gentlemen in Salem and Newbury-Port have already subscribed for reprinting this Book.”  That being the case Hall requested “that those who are desirous of becoming Subscribers, and have not yet had an Opportunity, would not be speedy in sending in their Names.”  He suspected that this would generate enough advance orders to justify printing the book during the first week of January 1771.  Hall inserted the advertisement once again on January 1.  He apparently attracted the necessary number of subscribers to publish his American edition in 1771.

In noting that “the most judicious, sensible and learned Gentleman” in Salem and nearby towns had already subscribed for a copy of the book, Hall hoped to play on prospective subscribers’ sense of community and anxieties about being excluded.  Subscription notices often specified that books would include a list of subscribers, a roll call of supporters who made the work possible.  Even if prospective subscribers had little or no interest in a book, they might have wanted to see their name listed among the ranks of prominent subscribers and other members of their community.  In this case, Hall made it clear that those who did not subscribe might not be considered judicious or sensible or learned.  He suggested that not subscribing could be harmful to one’s reputation.  To keep in good standing or to improve their status in the community, those who had not yet subscribed need to remedy that oversight.

December 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (December 7, 1770).

“The late Rev. and pious Mr. Whitefield favoured the World a few years ago with his opinion of this work.”

In December 1770, John Fleeming distributed subscription notices for a publication that he described as “The First BIBLE ever printed in America.”  The proposed work included “the OLD and NEW TESTAMENTS” as well as “Annotations and Parallel Scriptures By the late Rev. SAMUEL CLARK.”  Fleeming outlined the conditions, a standard part of any subscription notice, providing an overview of the type, paper, and publication schedule.  He also offered premiums to “Booksellers, Country Traders,” and others who collected at least one dozen subscriptions on his behalf and later distributed the bibles to the subscribers.  In addition, Fleeming informed prospective subscribers that their names “will be printed” among the ancillary materials that accompanied the bible, thus testifying to their commitment to the project and their role in making it possible.

Yet Fleeming devoted the greatest portion of his subscription notice to an innovative marketing strategy.  He included a lengthy testimonial from George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  Fleeming noted that the “pious Mr. Whitefield favoured the World a few years ago with his opinion of this work, and a character of the Author,” Samuel Clark, “in a preface which he prefixed to an edition then publishing.”  Fleeming then quoted extensively from Whitefield, filling almost an entire column.  Indeed, the entire subscription notice filled two of three columns on the first page of the December 7 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.

This was yet another instance of printers and booksellers seeking to capitalize on Whitefield’s death a few months earlier on September 30.  Since that time, newspaper printers published a steady stream of articles about the minister’s death and reactions throughout the colonies.  Even as those news items slowed down, they continued to print and reprint poems that eulogized Whitefield.  Almost as soon as the public received news of the minister’s death, printers and booksellers began hawking books and hymnals written by Whitefield as well as commemorative items that memorialized the minister.  Along with publishing poems in his memory, the commodification of Whitefield’s death continued after news reached even the most distant colonies.  Mobilizing the deceased minister’s preface from another edition in order to deliver a posthumous testimonial in a subscription notice that began circulating two months after his death was another means of combining outlets for expressing grief and opportunities to generate revenues.

December 2

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

Maryland Gazette (November 29, 1770).

“Requested the Favour of the following Gentlemen to take in Subscriptions.”

When Charles Leonard of Alexandria, Virginia, wished to publish “Six elegant Pieces of Musick” that he composed, he distributed a subscription notice that included the terms and listed local agents who accepted subscriptions on his behalf.  In an advertisement that ran in the November 29, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette, Leonard enumerated only two terms of publication.  In the first, he stated, “This Work is to be neatly engraved in the Copper-Plate Method, or in Manuscript; and ready to be delivered to Subscribers in Eighteen Months from this Date.”  The second term outlined the pricing structure.  Each copy cost two dollars, one paid at the time of subscribing and the other on delivery.  Publishing by subscription allowed Leonard to assess interest to determine whether moving forward with the venture was viable.  The advance payments defrayed expenses while keeping subscribers committed to the project.

Leonard devoted as much space in his advertisement to listing local agents who accepted subscriptions as he did to outlining the terms.  In Virginia, he identified four in Alexandria, two in Dunfries, one in Georgetown, and three in Bladensburg.  Another five represented him in Maryland, including two in Upper Marlborough and one each in Piscataway, Port Tobacco, and Annapolis.  Leonard also had two local agents who accepted subscriptions in Philadelphia.  In total, eighteen “Gentlemen … take in Subscriptions” in three colonies.  Leonard created an extensive network, hoping that this would garner success in attracting sufficient subscribers for publishing his book of music.

In addition to newspaper advertisements, Leonard may have also had subscription papers printed and distributed to his local agents.  Subscription papers included both the terms of publication and space for subscribers to sign their names and indicate the number of copies they wished to order.  Local agents sometimes displayed subscription papers, allowing prospective subscribers to see who else had already committed to the project.  No matter the means of keeping records of subscribers, local agents eventually sent their lists to Leonard to collate and determine how many copies to publish.  His newspaper advertisement was only one part of a larger coordinated campaign designed to generate interest in publishing his “Six elegant Pieces of Musick.”

November 17

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

Providence Gazette (November 17, 1770).

“A Collection of HYMNS for social Worship … By that eminent and illustrious Servant of Christ, the late Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

In the weeks after George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, printers, booksellers, and others supplied the grieving public with commemorative items that honored the memory of one of the most influential ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  The commodification of Whitefield’s death was widespread.  Advertisements for broadsides and books appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  As colonists joined together in mourning the minister, they also joined together to participate in a culture of consumption inspired by his death.

Garrat Noel, a bookseller in New York, advertised titles by Whitefield already in his inventory.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to turn a profit by reprinting Whitefield’s popular Collection of Hymns for Social Worship.  He inserted a subscription notice in the November 17 edition of the Providence Gazette, calling on prospective buyers to indicate their interest by “subscribing” for their own copies.  Subscription notices helped printers assess demand for proposed publications.  As Carter explained in his advertisement, “As soon as a Sufficiency of Subscriptions are obtained barely to defray the Charge of Printing, the Work will be prepared for the Press.”  If he did not attract enough subscribers then he would not lose money on the enterprise.  As a means of confirming their commitment, Carter asked subscribers to pay half “at subscribing” and the other half upon delivery.

Carter made several marketing appeals to entice subscribers to reserve their copies.  They should acquire it, he argued, as a means of religious edification.  “This valuable Work,” the printer stated, “forms of itself a Body of Divinity, and ought to be in the Hands of every Christian.”  Furthermore, it was a bargain.  The previous twelve editions printed in London sold for twice as much as Carter charged for his American edition.  If that was not reason enough, then prospective subscribers needed to take into account the politics of making this purchase.  Carter asserted that the hymnal would be printed on “good Paper, of the Manufacture of America,” rather than imported paper that had been subject to duties under the Townshend Acts until only very recently.  Subscribers could demonstrate their righteousness in honoring the memory of Whitefield while simultaneously encouraging domestic production that served as an alternative to relying on imported goods.