August 18

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (August 15, 1771).

“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.

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (August 15, 1771).

April 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (April 11, 1771).

“A POEM. By Doctor GOLDSMITH, author of THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD and THE TRAVELLER.”

In the spring of 1771, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers in Philadelphia, published the first American edition of “The Deserted Village,” a poem penned by Oliver Goldsmith.  Later that year, John Holt published another edition in New York.  As they prepared their edition for press, the Bradfords also alerted the public that they would soon have copies available for sale at their printing office.  They placed an advertisement to that effect in the April 14 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the newspaper they published.

As many printers did when they inserted advertisements for other goods and services in their own newspapers, the Bradfords took advantage of their position to give their notice about “The Deserted Village” a privileged place.  It was the first advertisement in the April 14 issue, appearing immediately below the shipping news that listed vessels that arrived and departed in the past week.  That increased the likelihood that readers interested primarily in news would at least skim the advertisement even if they passed over the rest of the paid notices that appeared on the same page.  That the title of the poem ran in large capital letters, surrounded with plentiful white spice compared to the dense text in most other advertisements, most likely also drew eyes to the Bradfords’ notice.

The printers did not offer much additional information about this publication.  They did not describe the material qualities of the paper or type used in production, nor did they incorporate blurbs promoting the work to refined readers.  Some booksellers adopted those strategies in their advertisements, but many did not.  To incite demand, the Bradfords did introduce one innovation intended to resonate with consumers.  They noted that Goldsmith was also the “author of THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD,” a popular novel, and “THE TRAVELLER,” another poem.  Both works enjoyed great popularity on both sides of the Atlantic.  Perhaps the Bradfords did not consider it necessary to elaborate on their edition of “The Deserted Village,” but instead expected Goldsmith’s popularity sufficient recommendation for prospective customers to acquire their own copies of the poem.

March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:1:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (March 1, 1770).

“MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store.”

The colophon on the final page of the Pennsylvania Journal stated that the newspapers was “Printed and Sold byWILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD, at the Corner of Front and Market-Streets” in Philadelphia.  Like other eighteenth-century printers, the Bradfords cultivated multiple revenue streams.  They sold subscriptions and advertising space in the Pennsylvania Journal, did job printing, and sold books and stationery wares.  They also peddled patent medicines, another supplementary enterprise undertaken by many printer-booksellers.  An eighteenth-century version of over-the-counter medications, patent medicines likely yielded additional revenue without requiring significant time, labor, or expertise from those who worked in printing offices and book stores.

In a brief advertisement in the March 1, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the Bradfords informed prospective customers that they carried patent medicines: “A few Bottles of MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store of William and Thomas Bradford.”  Once again, the Bradfords followed a precedent set by other eighteenth-century printers, exercising their privilege as publishers of a newspaper to use it to incite demand for other goods they offered for sale.  Yet they did not merely set aside space that might otherwise have been used for either news for subscribers or notices placed by paying customers.

It appears that the Bradfords may have engineered the placement of their advertisement for patent medicines on the page.  It ran immediately below a lengthy advertisement for “YELLOW SPRINGS,” a property for sale in Chester County.  The notice proclaimed that the “Medicinal virtues of the springs … for the cure of many disorders inwardly and outwardly are so well known to the public, that it is thought unnecessary to mention them here.”  The advertisement than offered descriptions of the springs and the buildings and baths constructed to take advantage of their palliative qualities.

That advertisement primed readers of the Pennsylvania Journal to think about health and their own maladies.  Most were unlikely to travel to Yellow Springs, much less purchase the property, yet patent medicines were within easy reach.  Compositors often placed shorter advertisements for other goods and services offered by printers at the bottom of the column, filling in leftover space.  That the Bradfords’ advertisement appeared in the middle of a column, immediately below the advertisement for Yellow Springs, suggests that someone in the printing office made a savvy decision about where to place the two advertisements in relation to each other.

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 18, 1769).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS for the American General Magazine, or General Repository.”

By the late 1760s, American booksellers had long imported magazines published in London to sell to consumers in the colonies. Yet very few printers attempted to publish American magazines. When Lewis Nicola, publisher, and William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers, placed a subscription notice for the American Magazine, or General Repository in the New-York Journal in the spring of 1769, they promoted a product that had few domestic antecedents in the colonies.

According to the chronological list in Frank Luther Mott’s History of American Magazines, 1741-1850, only twelve American titles came before the American Magazine.[1] The first two appeared in Philadelphia in February 1741 (though dated January) as rivals Andrew Bradford and Benjamin Franklin raced to publish magazines they began advertising to the public months earlier. Bradford’s American Magazine, or Monthly View narrowly edged out Franklin’s General Magazine and Historical Chronicle by only three days to earn distinction as America’s first magazine. Despite this victory, the American Magazine survived for only three issues; the General Magazine did not last much longer, folding in June with its sixth issue. The first American magazines all had short runs. Of the twelve published before 1769, eight lasted less than a year, some for only a couple of months. Two maintained publication for an entire year, but only two others extended their runs for longer durations. The New American Magazine, published by Samuel Nevill (former editor of London’s Evening Post) in Woodbridge, New Jersey, ran for just over two years, from January 1758 to March 1760. The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle, published in Boston, met with slightly more success. Several printers, publishers, and editors played a part in operating this magazine for more than three years, commencing in September 1743 and concluding in December 1746.

Nicola and the Bradfords hoped to achieve more with the American Magazine, or General Repository. Produced in Philadelphia, it was a publication intended for consumption throughout the colonies. Nicola and the Bradfords enlisted others in the printing and book trades to assist in the promotion and circulation of their magazine. In addition to running advertisements in various newspapers, they advised that “SUBSCRIPTIONS … are taken in by the Printer of this Paper.” Networks that prioritized exchanging information for republication from newspaper to newspaper also allowed for cooperation on new ventures that did not amount to direct competition. Despite their efforts to attract subscribers in Philadelphia and beyond, they were unable to create a market that would sustain their publication, despite great interest in promoting “domestic manufactures” of other goods as a means of economic and commercial resistance to the Townshend Acts. Founded in January 1769, the American Magazine, or General Repository ceased publication with the September issue that same year.

[1] Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939), 787.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:17:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (November 17, 1768).

“Will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE.”

Resorting to creative typography, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Journal managed to squeeze two additional advertisements into the November 17, 1768, edition by running them in the outer margins of the second and third pages. Running the length of the page, one proclaimed, “To be sold by WILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD—–BOHEA TEA by the Chest; PEPPER in Bales; CONGO TEA in Canisters; FRONTINIACK in Bottles; And a few Firkins of LARD.” The other advised readers that “BY AUTHORITY. By the American Company, at the Theatre in Southwark, TOMORROW, being FRIDAY, will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE. To which will be added, By Desire, a PANTOMIME ENTERTAINMENT.”

The placement of these advertisements likely increased their visibility by prompting curious readers to investigate what sort of content merited being printed in the margins. Rather than being easier to overlook because they did not appear in the regular columns with the rest of the content, these advertisements may have benefited from the novelty of their position on the page. The advertisement for grocery items sold by the Bradfords ran along a column of other advertisements, perhaps immediately suggesting that it was yet another commercial notice, but the advertisement for the performance at the theater in Southwark appeared on a page devoted exclusively to news. Some readers may have engaged with the advertisement to confirm whether it offered a continuation or clarification of any of the stories from Europe and elsewhere in the colonies printed on that page.

The length of these advertisements facilitated their placement in the margins, but another factor likely played a part in selecting the Bradfords’ notice for such treatment. The Bradfords were not merchants or shopkeepers. They were the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal. Reserving their advertisement for the margins did not indicate that its inclusion was an afterthought. Instead, it may have been a deliberate strategy to differentiate it from others in the issue. As printers, they exercised certain privileges when it came to the format of their newspaper. That enhanced their ability to participate in commercial activities beyond job printing and publishing the Pennsylvania Journal.