July 1

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

Boston-Gazette (June 29, 1772).

“The Gentlemen who subscribed … for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries … are desired to apply for the second Volume.”

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, inserted a brief notice at the bottom of the final column of the June 29, 1772, edition.  “The Gentlemen who subscribed with Edes and Gill for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries on the Laws of England,” they announced, are desired to apply for the second Volume.”  In addition, “A few of the First Volume may be had by applying as above.”  Edes and Gill did not publish this “American Edition.”  Instead, they served as local agents for Robert Bell, a printer and bookseller based in Philadelphia.

Over the course of many months, Bell inserted subscription notices for an American edition of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  He also distributed handbills to promote the project.  Bell sought to cultivate an American literary market that supplied American readers with American editions instead of books imported from London.  In addition to Blackstone’s Commentaries, he advertised an American edition of David Hume’s History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688.  Bell suggested that consumers had a civic obligation to purchase these volumes, addressing his subscription notices to “all those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications in AMERICA.”

Bell also stated that those who assisted him in this venture engaged in “peaceable, yet active Patriotism.”  In case that was not enough to recruit local agents like Edes and Gill in Boston, he also pledged that “All Persons who collect the Names and Residence, and deliver the Books to twelve Subscribers, have a Claim of Right, and are allowed fourteen to the Dozen for their Assiduity.”  In other words, local agents received two copies gratis for each dozen they sold to subscribers.  The copies of the first volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries that Edes and Gill offered for sale when they announced that subscribers could pick up the second volume may have been copies they received for gathering subscriptions in Boston.  Bell devised marketing strategies to entice both reader-consumers and local agents.

January 28

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 28, 1772).

“Those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications flourish in AMERICA.”

Robert Bell worked to create an American literary marketplace in the second half of the eighteenth century.  The flamboyant bookseller, publisher, and auctioneer commenced his efforts before the American Revolution, sponsoring the publication of American editions of popular titles that other booksellers imported.  His strategy included extensive advertising campaigns in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  He established a network of local agents, many of them printers, who inserted subscription notices in newspapers, accepted advance orders, and sold the books after they went to press.

Those subscription notices often featured identical copy from newspaper to newspaper.  For instance, Bell attempted to drum up interest in William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in 1772.  Advertisements that appeared in the Providence Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and other newspapers all included a headline that proclaimed, “LITERATURE.”  Bell and his agents tailored the advertisements for local audiences, addressing the “Gentlemen of Rhode-Island” in the Providence Gazette and the “Gentlemen of SOUTH-CAROLINA” in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  In each instance, though, they encouraged prospective subscribers to think of themselves as a much larger community of readers by extending the salutation to include “all of those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications flourish in AMERICA.”

Bell aimed to cultivate a community of American consumers, readers, and supporters of goods produced in the colonies, offering colonizers American editions of Blackstone’s Commentaries and other works “Printed on American Paper.”  Given the rate that printers reprinted items from one newspaper to another, readers already participated in communities of readers that extended from New England to Georgia, but Bell’s advertisements extended the experience beyond the news and into the advertisements.  He invited colonizers to further codify a unified community of geographically-dispersed readers and consumers who shared common interests when it came to both “LITERATURE” and “the Advancement” of domestic manufactures.  To do so, they needed to purchase his publications.

January 11

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

Providence Gazette (January 11, 1772).

“The Names of the Subscribers to any of the above will be printed.”

Robert Bell, one of the most influential booksellers of the eighteenth century, worked to create an American literary market both before and after the American Revolution.  In the early 1770s, he published an American edition of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.  He promoted this project to supporters of “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies.

In an advertisement in the January 11, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, he addressed the “Gentlemen of Rhode-Island, and all those who are animated by the Wish of seeing NATIVE FABRICATIONS flourish in AMERICA.”  Such “FABRICATIONS” included not only printing an American edition but doing so “on American Paper.”  That eliminated two kinds of imported goods, “the last British Edition” that Bell consulted in producing his American edition and paper produced in England.  In turn, this provided employment for papermakers and printers in the colonies.  In addition, those who purchased the American edition acquired it for a bargain price.  Bell indicated that the first volume of the British Edition “is sold for above Six Dollars,” but he charged “the small Price of Two Dollars” for the American edition.  The enterprising bookseller also hawked an “American Edition of ROBERTSON’s History of Charles the Fifth” and accepted subscriptions for another proposed project, “HUME’s History of ENGLAND.”  Colonizers could support the local economy by stocking their libraries with a significant number of American editions.

In the process, they could also receive recognition for their support of “NATIVE FABRICATIONS.”  Bell concluded his advertisement with a note that the “Names of the Subscribers to any of the above will be printed.”  Buyers had the chance to see their names in print in good company with others who had the good taste and intellectual acumen to read (or at least purchase) these works by Blackstone, Robertson, and Hume.  While relatively few friends and acquaintances might see any of these volumes in subscribers’ homes or offices, anyone who perused the lists, often bound into the books, would see who purchased copies of their own.  Bell hoped that a desire to support domestic manufactures would convince colonizers to buy his American editions, but he hedged his bets by also offering the opportunity to have such support publicly acknowledged.