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.

October 14

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 14, 1771).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION, A WEEKLY NEWS-PAPER.”

Philadelphia was the most populous city among Britain’s mainland colonies in the early 1770s, large enough that John Dunlap determined that the market could support an additional newspaper in the fall of 1771.  Local readers already had access to the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, and the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, but in early October Dunlap began distributing subscription notices for another weekly newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, to commence on November 25.

Like subscription notices for other publications, whether books, magazines, or newspapers, Dunlap’s notice included both an overview of the purpose and a list of conditions.  Those conditions specified subscription prices and advertising fees that many printers rarely published after launching their newspapers, though some regularly incorporated one or both into their colophon alongside other details of publication.  “The Price to Subscribers,” Dunlap informed readers, “will be Ten Shillings per year.”  In addition, “Advertisements, of a moderate length, will be inserted at Three Shillings each for one week, and One Shilling for each continuance.”  In that regard, Dunlap deviated from the standard pricing structure; most printers set the base price to include inserting advertisements for either three or four weeks before charging for “each continuance.”    Dunlap did adopt the familiar practice of charging more for longer advertisements, stating that “those of greater length” would appear “at such proportionable prices as may be reasonable.”

As was the case for other newspapers, advertisements for the Pennsylvania Packet were relatively expensive compared to subscriptions.  Three advertisements running for just one week cost nearly as much as a single subscription.  Paid notices represented significant revenue for most colonial printers who published newspapers.  That may have influenced Dunlap to list advertising fees ahead of subscription prices in the conditions in his subscription notice.  Although the advertisement ended with a list of local agents who accepted subscriptions on Dunlap’s behalf in several towns, he sought advertisers for his new endeavor as well as subscribers.  He needed both kinds of support for the Pennsylvania Packet to become a successful enterprise.

September 18

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

Final page of Robert Bell’s subscription notice for Blackstone’s Commentaries that may (or may not) have been distributed with the September 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

“Peaceable, yet active Patriotism.”

Yesterday, the Adverts 250 Project featured Robert Bell’s subscription notice for Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England that Accessible Archives included with the September 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and addressed the difficulty of determining whether the subscription notice originally accompanied the newspaper.  Today, the marketing strategies deployed by Bell merit consideration.

First, however, consider the format of the subscription notice, a four-page flier.  On the first page, addressed “TO THE AMERICAN WORLD,” Bell encouraged prospective customers throughout the colonies to purchase American editions rather than imported books.  It could also have been published separately as a handbill, similar to the second page featuring two advertisements for books “Lately Published” by Bell, “YORICK’S Sentimental Journal Through FRANCE and ITALY” by Laurence Stern and “HISTORY OF BELISARIUS, THE HEROIC AND HUMANE ROMAN GENERAL” by Jean-François Marmontel.  On the third and fourth pages, Bell promoted William Robertson’s “HISTORY of CHARLES the FIFTH, EMPEROR of GERMANY,” a work he widely advertised in newspapers throughout the colonies, and other American editions.  The flier concluded with a note defending “the legality of literary publications in America.”

Both before and after the American Revolution, Bell established a reputation as one of the most vocal proponents of creating a distinctly American literary market served by printers and publishers in the colonies and, later, the new nation.  Bell advanced both political, economic, and cultural arguments in favor of an American book trade during the imperial crisis.  He opened his address “TO THE AMERICAN WORLD” by proclaiming that “THE inhabitants of this continent have now an easy, and advantageous opportunity of effectually establishing literary manufactures … the establishment of which will absolutely and eventually produce mental improvement, and commercial expansion.”  In addition, purchasing books published in America would result in “saving thousands of pounds” by consumers as well as keep the money on that side of the Atlantic.  Colonists could pay lower prices and, in the process, what they did spend would be “distributed among manufacturers and traders, whose residence upon the continent of course causeth the money to circulate from neighbour to neighbour, and by this circulation in America there is a great probability of its revolving to the very hands from which it originally migrated.”  Supporting domestic manufactures, including American publications, would create stronger local economies, Bell argued.

“American Gentlemen or Ladies” had a patriotic duty to lend their “auspicious patronage” to such projects by informing their local bookseller or printer that they wished to become “intentional purchasers of any of the literary works now in contemplation to be reprinted by subscription in America.”  In so doing, they would “render an essential service to the community, by encouraging native manufactures.  In turn, they “deserve[d] … grateful remembrance—By their country—By posterity.”  These subscribers would also contribute to the enlightenment of the entire community, the “MAN of the WOODS” as well as the “MAN of the COURT.”  In the hyperbolic prose he so often used in his marketing materials, Bell declared that “Americans, do certainly know, if universal encouragement is afforded, to a few publications of literary excellence … they will assuredly create sublime sensations, and effectually expand the human mind towards this most rational, and most dignified of all temporal enjoyments.”  In addition, he described himself and other American printers and publishers as engaging in “peaceable, yet active Patriotism” in making inexpensive American editions of several “literary WORKS” available to consumers.

Bell frequently inserted advertisements with similar messages into newspapers from New England to South Carolina, but those were not his only means of encouraging “THE AMERICAN WORLD” to support domestic manufactures and the creation of an American literary market that would result in self-improvement among readers far and wide.  In subscription notices (which may have been distributed with newspapers on occasion), book catalogs, and broadsides, he advanced the same arguments much more extensively than space in newspapers allowed.

September 17

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

First page of Robert Bell’s subscription notice for Blackstone’s Commentaries that may (or may not) have been distributed with the September 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

“SUBSCRIPTIONS for Hume, Blackstone, and Ferguson, are received by said Bell … and by the Booksellers and Printers in America.”

Digitization makes primary sources more widely available, but digital surrogates sometimes introduce questions about those sources that might be more easily answered by examining the originals.  Consider the September 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette made available by Accessible Archives.  That company provides nine pages associated with that issue.  The first four comprise the standard issue, two pages printed on each side of a broadsheet then folded in half.

Another page filled entirely with advertising lacks a masthead, but does have the title, “THE SOUTH CAROLINA & AMERICAN GENERAL GAZETTE, for 1771,” and date “Sept. 10-17” running across the top.  It also features a page number, 192, in the upper left corner as well as a colophon at the bottom of the last column.  This may have been a one-page supplement, but paper was such a precious commodity that printers tended to fill both sides when they distributed supplements.  The page numbering for the standard issue went from 187 to 190.  Did the printer skip 191 in order to have the next issue begin, as usual, with an odd number?  Or, is the first page of a two-page supplement missing from the digital edition?  It is impossible to simply flip over the page with a digital edition, making it difficult to answer a question that likely would not even have been an issue when examining the original.

The final four pages associated with that issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette look like a subscription notice distributed by Robert Bell, a bookseller and publisher in Philadelphia.  The digital images suggest they were on a sheet of a much smaller size than either the standard issue or the supplement, but specific information about the relative sizes of these pages disappeared when remediating them to photographs and digital files.  How did this subscription notice become associated with that issue of the newspaper?  Bell incorporated Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, into his network of local agents who advertised and received subscriptions for Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England on his behalf.  An advertisement for that volume appeared on the final page of the standard issue as well as the first page of the subscription notice.  Perhaps Wells distributed Bell’s subscription notice with his newspaper.  On the other hand, the subscription notice may have been added to the collection of newspapers at a later time by the printer, a contemporary reader, a later collector, or an archivist.  Modern readers could ask a librarian or cataloger about the provenance when working with the original.  Even though that might or might not reveal an answer, it is an opportunity that readers consulting digital sources may not pursue, at least not easily.

On the whole, digitization has revolutionized access to primary sources, making them more widely available rather than confined to research libraries and historical societies.  Yet digital copies are not replacements for originals.  They sometimes introduce questions that either would not have been part of working with original copies or would have been more easily answered.  Even the most enthusiastic proponents of digitization readily recognize that digital surrogates are best considered complements to, rather than replacements for, original primary sources.

September 2

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 2, 1771).

“Those who have taken subscriptions of others, [send] their lists … to the Publisher.”

In the course of just a few days late in the summer of 1771, readers in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina encountered the same advertisement in their local newspapers.  John Dunlap, a printer in Philadelphia, distributed subscription notices for his current project, “ALL THE POETICAL WRITINGS, AND SOME OTHER PIECES, of the Rev. NATHANIEL EVANS,” in order to entice customers in distant places to reserve copies of the forthcoming work.  On September 2, Dunlap’s advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Four days earlier, the same advertisement ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Pennsylvania Journal.

With one exception, the advertisements featured identical copy with minor variations in format, the copy being the domain of the advertiser and decisions about design at the discretion of the compositor.  The exception concerned the directions issued to prospective subscribers for submitting their names.  In the newspapers published in Philadelphia, Dunlap requested “that all who are desirous of encouraging this publication, and who may not yet have subscribed, will send their names” to him directly.  In addition, he asked that “those who have taken subscriptions of others,” acting as agents on Dunlap’s behalf, dispatch “their lists without loss of time to the Publisher.”  In the advertisements in the other newspapers, however, he instructed subscribers to submit their names “to the Printer hereof.”  Newspaper printers in other cities served as his local agents, including Richard Draper in Boston and Hugh Gaine in New York.  Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, underscored that he was Dunlap’s local agents, revising the copy in his newspaper to instruct subscribers to “send in their Names, without Loss of Time, to ROBERT WELLS.”

Dunlap did not rely merely on generating demand among local customers when he published “THE POETICAL WRITINGS … of the Rev. NATHANIEL EVANS.”  Instead, he inserted subscription notices in newspapers published in the largest cities in the colonies, hoping to incite greater interest in the project and attract additional buyers.  In the process, he recruited other printers to act as local agents who collected subscriptions on his behalf.  He created a network of associates that extended from New England to South Carolina as part of his marketing campaign.

September 1

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 29, 1771).

“The List of Subscribers will be committed to the Press in a few Weeks.”

When John Dunlap set about publishing “ALL THE POETICAL WRITINGS, AND SOME OTHER PIECES, OF THE REV. NATHANIEL EVANS” at “the Newest Printing Office in Market-Street, Philadelphia,” he looked beyond the city in his efforts to cultivate customers.  On August 29, 1771, he advertised the book in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in hopes of selling copies to readers in New England.  In so doing, Dunlap pursued marketing practices already familiar in the colonies.  In the eighteenth-century, American printers often distributed subscription notices for their projects.  They inserted advertisements in newspapers published in multiple cities, inviting “subscribers” to order copies in advance.  Some supplemented those advertisements with handbills and circular letters.  Others even printed forms with blanks for local agents, usually booksellers and printers, to fill in the names of customers who reserved copies.

In recognition of their commitment to a project, subscribers received a premium in the form of having their names published.  Printers marketed subscription lists as valuable items intended to be bound into books along with title pages, frontispieces, tables of contents, copperplate engravings, indexes, and other ancillary materials.  Each subscription list represented a community of readers and benefactors who supported a project.  Within those printed lists, subscribers found themselves in the company of others who shared their interests, gaining status through the association.  Those who chose not to subscribe missed opportunities for public acclaim.  For his part, Dunlap made it clear that prospective subscribers had only a limited time to see their names among the ranks of those who supported “THE POETICAL WRITINGS … OF THE REV. NATHANIEL EVANS.”  Even though the book already went to press, he had not yet printed the subscription list.  Instead, he warned that “the Lost of the Subscribers will be committed to the Press in a few Week” so “all who are desirous of encouraging this Publication, and who may not yet have subscribed” should “sent their Names, without Loss of Time” to his local agents in Boston.  Dunlap sought to create a sense of urgency to convince prospective subscribers to submit their names and commit to purchasing copies of the book.

July 17

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

Boston-Gazette (July 15, 1771).

“PROPOSALS For PRINTING by SUBSCRIPTION.”

In the summer of 1771, James Humphreys wished to publish an American edition of William Robertson’s History of Scotland during the Reigns of Queen Mary and of King James VI, perhaps inspired in part by Robert Bell’s efforts to publish an American edition of Robertson’s History of the Reign of Charles the Fifth, Emperor of Germany.  To that end, Humphreys adopted a method pursued by Bell and other printers and publishers when they wished to gauge interest and incite demand for a publication.  He distributed a subscription notice, calling on subscribers to reserve copies in advance.  The number of subscribers determined the viability of a publication.

Such endeavors depended on regional, rather than local, markets.  Humphreys promoted the project in his own city, Philadelphia, but he also placed “PROPOSALS For PRINTING by SUBSCRIPTION” in newspapers published elsewhere, including in the July 15, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  He listed the printers of that newspaper, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, as local agents who accepted subscriptions, but also noted that “the different Printers and Stationers on the continent” handled subscriptions in other places.  Such projects often depended on cultivating networks of local agents.

In the “CONDITIONS,” Humphreys specified that the two volumes of Robertson’s History would go to press “as soon as three hundred subscribers have given their names.”  To entice prospective buyers, he pledged that the “names of the subscribers [would] be printed in the beginning of the first volume.”  As a result, subscribers received more than just the books; they also received recognition as members of a learned community who simultaneously supported American publications as alternatives to imported books.  Humphreys charged one dollar per volume, two dollars total, as well as the “expense of sending them to distant places.”  Unlike some other subscription projects, however, he did not collect money in advance to secure the commitments made by subscribers and offset initial costs for producing the books.  Instead, he declared, “No money is expected but on delivery of the books.”  He likely hoped to attract more subscribers by not requiring a down payment.

Unfortunately for Humphreys, his marketing efforts apparently did not yield the necessary number of subscribers to move forward with the project.  He acknowledged Bell’s “lately published beautiful History of CHARLES V. Emperor of Germany” in the subscription notice.  Rather than creating an opening for another printer to publish an American edition of one of Robertson’s other works, Bell and his aggressive marketing campaign in newspapers throughout the colonies may have saturated the market.

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.