October 17

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

Oct 17 - 10:17:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 17, 1769).

“JUST PUBLISHED … A Volume of Curious Papers.”

A brief advertisement in the October 17, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette (published in Salem) announced that “A Volume of Curious Papers collected by His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, which may serve as an Appendix to his History of Massachusets Bay” had gone to press and was “now ready to be delivered to the Subscribers by T. and J. FLEET, Printers in Boston.” This notice was a variation on advertisements that ran in newspapers throughout New England during the previous week. One variation ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette (published in Portsmouth) on Friday, October 13 and in the Providence Gazette on Saturday, October 14. The Fleets inserted a slightly different version in their own newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post, on Monday, October 16. That same day, variations ran in the Boston-Gazette, the Connecticut Courant (published in Hartford), and the Newport Mercury. Following publication in the Essex Gazette on October 17, a similar notice appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on Thursday, October 19. Over the course of a week, the Fleets inserted notices about the publication of this “Volume of Curious Papers” in eight newspapers printed in six cities and towns in four colonies.

This meant that readers in Boston, Hartford, Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, Salem, and beyond encountered similar advertisements for the same product, a book about the history of Massachusetts, as they perused their local newspapers. Although most advertisers were not so enterprising when it came to publishing notices in multiple colonies, members of the book trades often relied on subscription notices distributed widely as a means of creating markets for books they wished to publish. Printers published proposals in several newspapers and, later, published updates for subscribers who pre-ordered books, including, ultimately, announcements informing both subscribers and the general public when they published a proposed work.

These advertisements contributed to the formation of what Benedict Anderson termed “imagined communities” of geographically dispersed people drawn together through the experience of simultaneously reading the same content in newspapers. In the eighteenth century, most of this content consisted of news and editorials, especially since colonial printers liberally reprinted material from one newspaper to another. T.H. Breen has argued that colonists also formed imagined communities around consumption practices, demonstrating that the same sorts of goods appeared in newspaper advertisements from New England to Georgia. Subscription notices and subsequent advertisements, however, did not merely expose readers to similar wares. Like the news and editorials reprinted from one newspaper to another, they replicated content associated with particular products, in this case a “Volume of Curious Papers” about the history of Massachusetts. Print helped to knit together colonists in the era of the American Revolution, but the print that did so was not limited to newspaper reports or political pamphlets distributed far and wide. Sometimes advertising also contributed to the formation of imagined communities in early America.

October 14

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

Oct 14 - 10:14:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 14, 1769).

“Subscribers are desired to send for their Books.”

The day after a notice concerning the publication of “A COLLECTION of Original PAPERS, which are intended to support and elucidate the principal Facts related to the first Part of the HISTORY of MASSACHUSETTS BAY” ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, a nearly identical advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette. Some spelling and punctuation varied, as did the typography throughout the notice, but for all intents and purposes the two newspapers published the same advertisement. The notice in the Providence Gazette, like the one in the New-Hampshire Gazette, provided instructions for customers who had pre-ordered a copy of the “Collection of original Papers” to “send for their Books.” Those customers were known as subscribers because they had responded to subscription notices distributed to incite demand and gauge interest in the book before T. and J. Fleet committed to publishing it. The Fleets obtained enough subscribers to make the venture viable and now called on those customers to collect their books.

The advertisement occupied a privileged place in the October 14, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Of the several advertisements in that issue, it appeared first, immediately below local news. John Carter, the printer and proprietor of the Providence Gazette, may have instructed the compositor to place it there when setting the type for the issue. This courtesy extended to fellow printers could have enhanced the visibility of the advertisement, increasing the likelihood that subscribers would take note. The compositor also included a manicule to draw attention, deploying a device that did not often appear in the Providence Gazette. Carter may not have charged the Fleets for inserting the advertisement, running it as an in-kind service for fellow printers in another city who did not directly compete the work he did at the printing office in Providence. Although this advertisement did not explicitly state that was the case, others published in connection to subscription notices sometimes called on fellow printers to give notices space gratis.

October 13

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

Oct 13 - 11:13:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 13, 1769).

Subscribers are desired to send for their Books.”

Subscription notices for books regularly appeared in colonial newspapers, but not all proposed publications eventually went to press. Printers used subscription notices to gauge the market for books they considered printing. Only when sufficient numbers of customers “subscribed” – reserved a copy in advance and, in some cases, made a deposit – did printers produce books advertised in subscription notices. In some cases, they also specified that they would not print surplus copies but instead limit publication to copies for subscribers exclusively. This mediated risk for printers, publishers, and booksellers in eighteenth-century America.

An advertisement in the October 13, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette provided an update for “subscribers” who had responded to a subscription notice that appeared in the same newspaper several months earlier. That notice, dated “Boston, July 2d, 1769,” presented “PROPOSALS for Printing by Subscription, A Volume of curious Papers, to serve as an Appendix to Lieutenant-Governor HUTCHINGSON’S History of Massachusetts-Bay.” The new advertisement indicated that the proposed work indeed went to press. “JUST PUBLISHED,” it proclaimed.

The original notice called on subscribers to submit their names to “T. & J. FLEET, Printers in Boston, D. & R. FOWLE at Portsmouth, & Bulkeley Emerson, at Newbury-Port.” The printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette collaborated with other printers in encouraging the project. The subsequent advertisement, however, suggested the limits of their responsibilities as local agents for a project that originated in Boston. T. & J. Fleet printed the octavo tome there. They also assumed the lead in distributing it to subscribers. The notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette stated, “Subscribers are desired to send for their Books to T. and J. FLEET, at the Heart and Crown, in Cornhill, Boston.” The Fleets apparently did not send copies to Portsmouth for local distribution by the Fowles. Instead, the Fowles fulfilled their obligations to the project by running an advertisement in their newspaper. The participation required of local agents when printing books by subscription varied from publication to publication.

August 11

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

Aug 11 - 8:11:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 11, 1769).

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

During the summer of 1769, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, cooperated with other printers to incite demand for “a Volume of curious Papers, to serve as an Appendix to Lieutenant-Governor HUTCHINSON’S History of Massachusetts-Bay,” a work frequently advertised in newspapers in Boston and other parts of New England. To that end, the Fowles inserted a subscription notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Printers had dual purposes in circulating such “PROPOSALS” as newspaper advertisements and, sometimes, separate subscription papers. They aimed to stimulate demand, but they also conducted market research by assessing demand. They did not move forward with projects if consumers did not express sufficient demand. Such was the case with this “Volume of curious Papers.” The subscription notice starkly stated that the “Work will begin as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers appear to defrey the Expence.” Those who wished to reserve a copy needed to submit their names to T. and J. Fleet in Boston, Bulkeley Emerson in Newburyport, or the Fowles in Portsmouth.

In their efforts to encourage colonists to subscribe to the work, the printers vowed that “No more Books will be printed than what are subscribed for.” This created a sense of urgency for prospective subscribers, warning that if they did not make a commitment soon that eventually it would be too late to acquire a copy so they better not waver. The printers also presented a challenge that made colonists responsible for preserving the history and heritage of New England. The subscription notice concluded with a short paragraph that outlined their duty: “As most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing, it is hoped that a sufficient Number of Subscribers will soon appear, from a regard to the Public, as well as for the sake of their particular Entertainment.” The printers did not envision carefully storing the original documents as a means of safeguarding them for future generations. Instead, the best form of preservation occurred through multiplication. Taking the volume to press would guarantee that the contents of those “curious Papers” would survive long beyond the originals becoming “irrecoverably lost” through deterioration or mishap over the years. Colonists had a civic duty, “a regard to the Public,” to play a role in preventing that loss, according to the printers. Rather than thinking about purchasing and reading the “Volume of curious Papers” as a form of “particular Entertainment” only for themselves, the subscription notice challenged colonists to think of it as a service to their community. Consumption need not be frivolous; it could also serve a purpose in the interests of the greater good.