What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The following BOOKS, many of them late publications.”
During the week of August 15, 1771, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford had more content than would fit in the four pages of a standard issue of the Pennsylvania Journal. To solve that dilemma, they distributed a two-page supplement composed entirely of advertising. One side consisted primarily of twenty-two paid notices submitted by residents of Philadelphia and nearby towns, though the Bradfords interspersed five advertisements for books published and available at their printing office among them. The other side, however, promoted books sold by the Bradfords exclusively. In effect, they published a full-page advertisement, one that resembled a broadside catalog and could have been produced and distributed separately if they wished.
Although the list of books filled an entire page, the advertisement featured only fifty-five titles. In most instances, the Bradfords provided more than the names of the authors and short titles of the books. Instead, they offered blurbs that previewed the contents for prospective customers. For instance, one entry described “Salmon’s New Geographical and Historical Grammar, or the present state of the several kingdoms of the world, containing their situation and extent, cities, chief towns, history, present state, form of government, forces, revenues, taxes, revolutions, and memorable events; together with an account of the air, soil, produce, traffic, arms, curiosities, religion, languages, &c. &c. illustrated with a new set of maps and other copper-plates.” In crafting the blurbs, the Bradfords drew heavily from the extensive subtitles of the books and the tables of contents, but they also noted any ancillary items that added value, such as the maps and images that accompanied Thomas Salmon’s Geographical and Historical Grammar. For works divided into multiple volumes, they also listed how many were included in a complete set.
Publishing this book catalog as part of an advertising supplement for their newspaper presented an opportunity for the Bradfords to market “A New Publication,” an imported History of France during the Reigns of Francis II and Charles IXby Walter Anderson, as well as hawk other titles among their inventory. The fees they collected from other advertisers whose notices appeared on the other side of the supplement reduced or eliminated the expense of publishing and distributing a full-page advertisement.