What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Gentlemen who please to favour us with their Subscriptions, shall have their Names carefully published in an alphabetical List.”
Like many books, maps were often published by subscription in the eighteenth-century. Mapmakers published subscription notices to incite demand as well as gauge interest in their projects. Doing so also allowed them to avoid some of the risk inherent in the enterprise. Upon attracting a sufficient number of subscribers, they moved forward with confidence in the financial viability of the project. On occasions that they lacked subscribers, they knew that it was not worth the time and resources required to publish a book or print a map. Subscription lists also gave them a sense of how many copies to produce in order to avoid producing a large quantity that did not sell and counted against the financial success of the venture.
In the summer of 1770, James Cook and Tacitus Gaillard published “PROPOSALS FOR SUBSCRIPTIONS FOR THE DRAUGHTS Of SOUTH-CAROLOINA,” their subscription notice for a map of the colony. They presented this undertaking as a community endeavor, first noting that their work “has met with the Approbation of the Honourable the COMMONS HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY” and stating that they hoped their “Proposals will merit the Favour of the Public.” Subscribers did not need to contact Cook and Gaillard directly. Instead, they designated local agents who gathered names on their behalf, listing them at the conclusion of the advertisement. Those agents included several prominent merchants and planters as well as Peter Timothy, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette. In addition, “sundry other Gentlemen of each Parish” also accepted subscriptions and reported them to Cook and Gaillard. The mapmakers gave the impression that their project already had the support – and the financial backing through subscriptions of their own – of some of the most prominent men in the colony.
Cook and Gaillard offered subscribers an opportunity to join the ranks of those prominent men … and to enjoy public recognition that they had done so. “The Gentlemen who please to favour us with their Subscriptions,” the mapmakers promised, “shall have their Names carefully published in an alphabetical List, unless they desire the contrary.” Books and maps published by subscription often featured such lists that acknowledged the benefactors that made the projects possible. Publishing subscription lists drew together in one place all the members of the community that supported these projects, giving subscribers the chance to associate with others in a manner that remained visible to the public long after they subscribed, paid for, and collected their books and maps. These lists became lasting records of which colonists supported the publication of books and maps. Cook and Gaillard’s marketing strategy suggested that securing a spot on their subscription list was nearly as alluring as acquiring a copy of their beautifully rendered map. Subscribers purchased prestige along with the map.