Chapter 11 Mercury as Merchant: The Advertisement of Novels in Eighteenth-Century Provincial English Newspapers

In: Travelling Chronicles: News and Newspapers from the Early Modern Period to the Eighteenth Century
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Figure 11.1
Figure 11.1

Advertisement for Phebe; or, Distressed Innocence, in the Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday 11 January 1788.

The advertisement of Phebe; or, Distressed Innocence in the Chelmsford Chronicle is a small notice of a now forgotten novel in a provincial newspaper that no longer exists (see Figure 11.1). But despite this obscurity, this promotional text can prompt a number of queries: why was a newspaper such as the Chelmsford Chronicle interested in including an advertisement for a novel? How did this novel travel from its place of origin, London, and end up advertised in the Chelmsford Chronicle? Who was W. Clacher, the bookseller listed in this advertisement, and how did he go about distributing the novel to the customers in the Chelmsford area? What was the relationship between the London booksellers listed in this advertisement and the provincial one? And, finally, what is the relationship between novels and news in the eighteenth century, and how can small advertising texts in local newspapers serve as windows into the history of two interrelated mediums?

Such questions need to be posed, for one reason above all others: most of them have not been asked before. In spite of a scholarly acknowledgement of, on the one hand, the significance of the provincial newspaper press alongside the London newspapers, and on the other hand, the importance of the commercialisation of fiction within the rise of the novel as an art form, an account of the newspaper text which most conspicuously represents the intersection of these two issues has yet to be written. There are several factors which may explain why attention has not been paid to advertisements of novels in the provincial press. First, there is the matter of availability. Up until very recently, the scholar looking for something specific in provincial newspapers had to seek out the physical collections, scattered in numerous libraries across England and beyond. Over the last years, the issue of access has changed dramatically with the advent of digital newspaper databases. Although far from complete, the British Newspaper Archive is set to be the most expansive digitisation project of provincial British newspapers, allowing scholars to study generic newspaper texts such as advertisements across multiple newspaper issues and titles.1

A second reason why nobody has attempted to write a full account of the advertisements of novels in the provincial press might be that the country trade in books appears minor and marginal when compared with the London book market. If a study of newspaper book advertisements reflects the market for books in a specific geographical area at a specific period in time, then the eighteenth-century provincial market for books emerges as peripheral in comparison with the metropolitan book trade. But as this chapter will argue, the minor role of novel advertisements in the provincial press needs to be treated as an important phenomenon in itself – even if one then becomes guilty of reproducing some of the commonsensical prejudices about the relationship between centre and fringe criticised by recent scholars. Furthermore, as texts about texts, advertisements have little to offer literary scholars compared with the period’s other major journalistic engagement with literature: the periodical reviews. Where the latter offer rich and sometimes extensive commentaries on literary works, advertisements can seem short and formulaic in comparison. But suffice to say, this is no reason to ignore these small texts: if reviews represent the immediate afterlife of novels in this period, then advertisements are the heralds announcing what is to come, and a study of newspaper announcements contributes to an understanding of the life cycle of novels in the early modern period.

An account of novel advertisements may also have been (wisely) shunned by scholars since such an account needs to take into consideration a challenging and complex list of enterprises and agents: the newspaper press, and the relationship between the London newspapers and the provincial ones; the business of book publishing – the production and distribution of books – and the often complex associations between the London booksellers and the provincial agents; the double role of newspaper proprietors as booksellers, and the relationship between the newspapers and the review periodicals; the procedures of jobbing printing and the history of advertising prior to newspaper marketing. Importantly, though, these complex levels make it even more significant to study novel or book advertising in general, and provincial book advertising in particular. Frank Felsenstein writes that “A comprehensive investigation of English provincial book trade advertisement of the eighteenth century deserves to be written, for it will help us to uncover the significance of print within a wider culture outside London”.2 The following will not provide a comprehensive investigation (given the vast material unleashed by databases still in the making, such an undertaking is a book-length study for the future), but this chapter aims to present some initial observations on the advertisements of novels in provincial newspapers. Although the main bulk of material is necessarily from the last part of the eighteenth century, I have tried to provide representative examples of advertisements from several decades, from a variety of provincial newspapers as well as advertisements of different kinds of novels, both well-known ones and more minor productions of the period.

A Brief History of the Emergence of the British Provincial Newspaper, the Development of the Book Market, and the Rise of Newspaper Advertising

Over the past fifty years scholars have pointed to a variety of important features of the eighteenth-century provincial newspapers and their relationship to the metropolitan newspaper press. For one thing, the provincial press catered to a larger proportion of the British population in the period. “To understand the eight-ninths of English society who did not live in London in the eighteenth century, examination of the provincial newspaper press is a good place to start”, Victoria Gardner dryly remarks in the most recent study of the provincial press, with a clear critique of earlier scholarship’s focus on London newspapers.3 Then there is the geographical spread. From Newcastle in the North to Exeter in the Southwest, the provincial towns in the most distant parts of England increasingly came to have their own newspaper. In these widespread communities, the newspaper was far more important – both for acquiring news from the world and for obtaining information about local events and goods for sale – than was the case in London. The early history of the provincial newspaper is more remarkable than the metropolitan counterpart for the simple fact that most local presses were reliant upon an extraordinarily sophisticated and complex system of distribution and circulation, involving a swarm of news-carriers employed in distributing fresh news to the far-flung people of England. Then there are the political implications. As Gardner has shown, “provincial newspapers were more powerful within the press-politics nexus than has been previously recognized”, partly because the provincial newspapers made a larger total contribution in advertising duties paid to the government than the London ones.4

The one factor that disrupts the argument of the prominence of the provincial newspaper alongside the metropolitan press is the late starting date of these more peripheral journalistic enterprises. Whereas London newspapers can be traced back to the early seventeenth century, the provincial equivalents emerged later. This is because until the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1695, printing was illegal in the provinces. Most scholars agree that there was no regular newspaper outside of London until the first decade of the eighteenth century, but by 1712 about fifteen provincial newspapers had been established.5 R.M. Wiles notes that the earliest ventures in the printing of local papers were made in towns on main roads far away from London: after Norwich, Exeter and Bristol – the first places where newspapers were launched in the years 1701–1704 – the next towns to get their newspapers in the second decade of the eighteenth century were Worcester, Stamford, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Liverpool.6 In the earliest history of the wider English news press, then, the distance from the metropolis decided whether it was worth starting a newspaper – a stark reminder of the way in which London both served as a model for all provincial newspapers whilst at the same time jeopardising regional journalistic enterprises. Although at a distance from London, the dominance of the metropolis was strongly felt in these earliest provincial newspapers. As Christine Ferdinand reminds us, the first provincial newspapers were printed and distributed locally, but they had the same format as the London papers, and the news came largely from the metropolis, consisting of selections from the London press.7 What, then, constituted local material in the early local newspapers? The answer is: advertisements.

A modern reader opening an eighteenth-century newspaper, either metropolitan or provincial, will be struck by the number of advertisements therein, and the way in which these notices, perhaps better than any other newspaper text, reflect the everyday life of the people of this period: their needs and their desires, their sorrows and joys, their professional and private lives. The advertising columns of the eighteenth-century newspapers marketed land and properties, comestibles, sanitary products, medicines, stationery and books; they carried announcements for jobs wanted and jobs waiting to be filled; they advertised for lost servants and promised rewards for eloping wives. The expanse of advertising happened in spite of government taxation.8 The Stamp Act of 1712 included a duty on advertising, requiring that newspapers pay 1 shilling per advertisement – a sum which increased steadily throughout the century.9 Merchants wanting to advertise had to pay both a printer’s fee and government duty, making it expensive to advertise. What, then, was the benefit of newspaper advertising?

Since printers charged advertisers a higher charge than advertising duty alone, advertisements provided the main income for most newspapers.10 Andrew Pettegree makes the important point that advertisements were more crucial for the development of a provincial press than the metropolitan one, since “with far more limited pools of potential customers who were prepared to pay two pence for a weekly news-sheet, it was hard to envisage turning a profit from the cover price alone”.11 To this we might add that, unlike the urban customers, the people of the provinces were often completely dependent upon newspaper advertisements for learning about goods and services for sale, and the routes of distribution of the newspaper were inevitably also the routes of distribution of books and other goods. As Ian Jackson has argued, most of the local advertisements in provincial newspapers did not come from towns, but from hamlets, villages and rural areas, which implies that “advertising was more, not less, useful for non-urban traders and vendors”.12 Partly thanks to the revenue from advertising, by the mid-century there was, according to Wiles, “no corner of England in which at least one attempt to found a local paper had not been made”.13

In total, the advertisements of books and novels took up a relatively small place in these columns. Gardner writes that in most provincial newspapers, local material such as properties, shops, lost or stolen goods, services and leisure events took up about 80%, whilst national advertisements – i.e. advertisements for books and medicines, schools, lotteries and insurance – constituted about 20%.14 But the marketing of reading material nevertheless holds a special place in the history of advertising and the history of the development of the newspaper. When Andrew Pettegree traces the first appearance of newspaper advertisements back to the early 1620s Dutch Republic and, some years later, England, he shows that in their earliest incarnation they were predominantly announcements of books for sale.15 The particular relationship between the print medium, advertising and books is also suggested in various categories of jobbing printing which served as precursors to the newspaper advertisement, such as handbills, printed circulars, single sheet flyers, trade cards, posters, and, perhaps most importantly, the bookseller’s ‘term catalogues’. However, the most important innovation in the history of marketing of books is undoubtedly the emergence of the newspaper advertisements.

Heterogeneous Mercury: Advertising the Novel in the Eighteenth-Century Provincial Press

As the number of printing presses in the provinces grew throughout the century, and the double role of the newspaper proprietor as a bookseller became customary, advertisements of novels for sale started appearing in the provincial newspapers. The Stamford Mercury, the second oldest surviving provincial newspaper in Britain, was among the first papers to carry advertisements of novels. On 26 December 1723, Eliza Haywood’s The Rash Resolve was advertised as the only novel title in a long list of books, and this modest advertisement – mentioning title only – is the first trace I have found thus far of a novel being marketed in a provincial newspaper. The list of books ends with the standard informative note that the books are “Sold at the Printers hereof, and by the Men that carry the Stamford Mercury”.16 The inclusion of fiction within a list of other books sold by one or several booksellers is quite typical for provincial novel advertising in this early phase. Unlike a number of London newspapers, some of which carried individual announcements of new or recently published novels on a daily basis, the appearance of novels for marketing purposes in the provincial press before 1750 was usually in the form of stock lists.

This procedure in the earliest period of the eighteenth century made perfect sense, for several reasons. The trade in novels had yet to become a specialised one, and the provincial booksellers would most certainly have been dependent upon marketing a variety of genres in one advertisement. As Ferdinand suggests, local booksellers stocked a basic collection made up of one or more copies of those titles actually advertised as available from named retailers.17 Moreover, the listing of several recently published books can be regarded as a continuation of the most important precursor to the newspaper advertisements, the ‘Term Catalogues’, i.e. booksellers’ trade catalogues designed to inform book traders and customers about new publications. ‘Term’ in the title refers to the dates of the fairs where traders would meet and exchange their wares, and the first successful term catalogues in Britain were published in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. The book lists were arranged according to subject, and they identified where the books could be purchased, giving the names of shops or coffeehouses. The earliest lists were primarily aimed at booksellers and trades people, but when the descendants of these term catalogues started appearing in the smaller and less formalised form of newspaper advertisements for books, they were most certainly aimed for a broader audience.

Under the heading “BOOKS for AUCTION” in the Newcastle Courant of 14 September 1728, Gulliver’s Travels as well as collections of novels are announced for sale with information about the time and place, and we read that “catalogues may be had at the Place of sale; and Money for any Library, or Parcel of Books to their full Value, during the Time of the Auction by two London Book-sellers”.18 In the same newspaper some decades later, in 1752, it was announced that “JAMES FLEMING, Bookseller, At the BIBLE under the Magazine-gate on Tyne Bridge, Newcastle” sells “several thousand” books as well as “a CATALOGUE of which may bee seen daily at the said shop” (see Figure 11.2).19

Figure 11.2
Figure 11.2

Advertisement for the bookshop of James Fleming, in the Newcastle Courant, 4 July 1752.

In the provinces, the announcements of books for sale in the newspapers retain this heterogeneous quality throughout the century, with advertisements involving multiple agents and exhibiting a variety of goods. Most importantly, many booksellers and newspaper proprietors relied on combining announcements of books with advertisements for stationery. The above-mentioned James Fleming of Newcastle was not only a bookseller; he also sold “all kinds of STATIONARY WARES at the very lowest PRICES”.20 Felsenstein argues that for many booksellers and newspaper proprietors, particularly in the provinces, “stationer” becomes the “portmanteau term” used by numerous members of the English provincial book trades to describe their occupation as a sort of jack-of-all-trades.21 In addition to stationery, many book advertisements also contain announcements for more or less trustworthy medicines – a tradition going back to at least the seventeenth century. In the Ipswich Journal of 11 March 1749, Elizabeth Rogers styles herself “Bookseller and Stationer”, selling “at the most reasonable Rates, BOOKS of all sorts … Writing and Course Paper, Pens, fine Japan Ink for Records, common Pencils, Letter Cases, and all other sorts of Stationary Wares” – but she can also offer “Daffy’s and Squire’s Elixirs, Scotch Pills, Stoughton’s Drops, Golden, Plain Spirits of Scurvy”.22

This heterogeneity was also common in the advertising columns of the London newspapers, carrying as they did notices of several books in one article, or combining the puffing of novels with marketing of stationery and medicines. But the important distinction between the metropolitan and provincial press in terms of the marketing of books is that several London newspapers would also carry what we might, for a lack of a better term, call single-novel advertisements: announcements of individual novel titles carrying the name of one or several booksellers with meticulous information about the whereabouts of the publisher-booksellers, and often accurate dates of publication. It is these single-novel advertisements that constitute the main bulk of book advertisements in the period, and my research has shown that in the period 1700–1800, almost every novel title was announced for sale in one or several London newspapers.23

The relative absence of these single-novel advertisements in early provincial newspapers is indicative of the main difference between the metropolitan and provincial market for books. Whilst the London market for books could be based on a regular supply of the very freshest novel titles – which is conspicuous in the insistence in London newspapers on dates of publication (discussed in more detail below) – the book-buying customers in the towns and villages remote from London would have to wait patiently before a novel would be available from their local bookseller. From their provincial newspaper they would gather information about which novels were available, and how they could obtain it. When most advertisements of novels in the provincial press in this early period comes in the form of lists, this suggests that provincial distributors would order batches of new titles rather than single ones, and that quantity and choice was, perhaps, more important than speed.

After 1750, advertisements of individual novel titles resembling the London ones started appearing in the provincial press – the advertisement of Phebe; or, Distressed Innocence that introduced this chapter is an example of such an advertisement. But unlike the metropolitan papers, this never became a regular feature of the local newspapers in the eighteenth century. Most novels continued to be marketed in lists of recent and less recent titles. It is tempting to assume that when an individual title did get advertised in a provincial newspaper, this was due to its originality or because of the specific status of the author. However, my preliminary research gives little evidence to suggest that provincial newspapers contributed greatly to the canonising process of the major works of the period. In fact, there seems to be little, if any, difference between the marketing of a novel by Richardson, Smollett or Sterne, and the marketing of the novels that have been left in oblivion, such as Phebe; or, Distressed Innocence. Importantly, this lack of distinction in the provincial newspapers between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ works follows the overall logic of the metropolitan newspapers, where the minor works of the period were just as likely to be subject to campaigning as novels by already established authors, or works which were in the process of becoming famous.

Mercury’s Names: Proprietors and Booksellers in the Provinces

A modern reader looking for advertisements of books may be surprised to find that few book announcements flaunt the name of the author. This, however, is in line with the custom of anonymous publishing in the eighteenth century, dominating the book market until well into the nineteenth century. In book advertisements, the only names to appear on a regular basis are those of the booksellers, placed either directly below the heading or making up the last line of the advertisement. Apart from the fact that publishers’ names (as well as addresses of bookshops) were the only way to provide readers with necessary information about where and from whom they could obtain a book, the prominence given to booksellers in advertisements may also be because many of these were, in fact, also the newspaper proprietors. According to Gardner, more than half of the eighteenth-century newspaper proprietors in the provinces were also booksellers.24 Why did this combination become such an established one in the period? First, it has to do with practicalities of production. Since newspapers inevitably required a print press and at least one printer, there were large sums to be saved from combining trade in books and newspapers.25 Second, it has to do with distribution. Gardner writes that the book trade was the “bedrock” of the provincial newspaper trade, offering as it did “opportunities to maximise upon business and customer demand”; many of these offered a “one-stop-shop for the production, sale and delivery of printed materials”.26 Third, there is the propensity for collaboration rather than competition, both between the London print press and the provincial press, and between various provincial agents. For Gardner, the strong tendency to favour teamwork serves as the most crucial explanation for the success and importance of the provincial proprietors in this period, since it was collaboration that “underlay the growing power of the provincial press as a collective force”.27

In terms of advertising, this collaboration is conspicuous in two important pieces of information given in almost all advertisements of novels for sale in this period: the line announcing where the novel in question is published, and who distributes it. An overwhelming majority of the novels from this period were subject to what John Feather calls “national distribution”: they were printed and published in London – with London appearing on the imprint and in advertisements – and distributed to country bookshops.28 Thus, the London addresses given in almost all provincial novel advertisements tells tales about a close collaboration between London publishers and their colleagues in the districts outside London. As Feather reminds us, newspapers proprietors represented “a ready-made system of deep market penetration” which gave the newspapers a crucial role in the provincial trade: the majority of papers were printed in regional capitals with easy and established communication with London, and the newspaper owners had good credit and connections with their London partners.29

For the provincial bookseller, however, it was not enough to develop strong links with the London agents; they also had to convince their own audience that it was more convenient to order their books locally, and they had to keep within the same price range as the London booksellers. Thus, many provincial book advertisements as well as newspaper imprint lines throughout the period point out that the novels in question can be had “as cheap as in London”, and they often boast of wide ranging routes of distribution. Far from being a sign of inferiority, then, the persistent model of national publication and provincial distribution suggests successful collaboration – a point which is further strengthened if we consider that the model has, to a great extent, continued into our time, where books are still predominantly published in the larger towns and distributed to the provinces.

Equally conspicuous, if less consistent, is the listing of conglomerates of provincial publishers in announcements of novels for sale. Some advertisements could be general, announcing that the novel in question was sold “by all Booksellers in Town and Country”; others were more specific, listing the names and addresses of anything between one and several dozen booksellers. The power relationship between the London booksellers and the provincial distributors is often revealed in the order of names in the advertisements, where the first provincial bookseller mentioned refers to the main distributor, and in many cases the first name would also be that of a newspaper proprietor.

Let us consider some examples of the way in which various provincial newspapers dealt with the listing of booksellers and distributors by looking at the advertisements of a late edition of a popular novel in the period, Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). In December 1769, advertisements of the fourth edition of the novel appears in several provincial newspapers. The Bath Chronicle (Figure 11.3) and the Oxford Journal (Figure 11.4) have advance advertisements of this novel in late November and early December, announcing that “On Saturday, December 9, will be published. In Two Vols. Price 6s, bound, The FOURTH EDITION of THE VICAR of WAKEFIELD. A Tale”.30 Both of the advertisements announce that the novel is “Printed for Carnan and Newbury, at No.65, in St. Paul’s Church Yard”, and the Bath Chronicle then states that the novel is “sold by the Booksellers in Bath and Bristol; T. Burrough, Devizes; J. Smith, Marlbro’; E. Easton, Salisbury; G. Cass, Bridgewater; M. Anderdon, Taunton; and T. Peters, Calne”. None of the booksellers listed here were proprietors of the newspaper (whose name is R. Cruttwell), but the imprint line of the front page informs the readers that “advertisements are taken in by Mr. Newbury” in London, signifying a specific collaboration between a London publisher and the printer of the Bath Chronicle. The imprint line goes on to list some, but not all, of the booksellers named in the advertisement of The Vicar of Wakefield, suggesting that a selection of the newspaper distributors in the Bath and Bristol area chose to distribute Goldsmith’s novels, whilst others refrained from doing so. The Oxford Journal informs its readers that the novel is “sold by W. Jackson, in Oxford; C. Badham, in Hereford; T. Price, and T. Dunn in Gloucester; and by the Oxford Newsmen”. In this newspaper, the clue to ownership is in the newspaper title itself: the Oxford Journal was originally titled Jackson’s Oxford Journal and the imprint line (printed at the bottom of the last page) confirms that the first mentioned name in the novel advertisement is the proprietor of the newspaper, and that he deals in books and other printed matters as well as stationery. None of the other booksellers are mentioned as newspaper distributors in the imprint line – possibly because Oxford’s proximity to London narrowed its distribution routes – but the advertisement itself nevertheless suggests cooperation between the proprietor of the newspaper and booksellers in the Oxford area.

Figure 11.3
Figure 11.3

Advertisement for The Vicar of Wakefield in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 30 November 1769.

Figure 11.4
Figure 11.4

Advertisement for The Vicar of Wakefield in the Oxford Journal, 2 December 1769.

Whereas the advertisements cited above suggest collaboration between the newspaper proprietors and multiple booksellers in the vicinity, the announcement of The Vicar of Wakefield in the Salisbury Journal (Figure 11.5) tells a different story. The novel was advertised as “this day is published” on 11 December, naming two agents only: the London based publisher (Newbury) and “Benjamin Collins, in Salisbury”.31 Collins (1715–1785) was the most important editor of the Salisbury Journal, and he was a dominant figure both in regional newspaper production and the book trade. Alongside a handful of others in the period, he was a provincial shareholder of several copyrights, and through his close cooperation with the London-based publisher John Newbury, he made both successful and unsuccessful purchases of copyrights from the 1750s onwards. According to Ferdinand, the one-third copyright Collins purchased from Oliver Goldsmith in 1762 (the other two shares were held by Newbury, and the famous London-based Scottish publisher, William Strahan), was one of his few bad investments – whilst the copyright shares of other novels, like the tenth edition of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela as well as some of Smollett’s novels proved more profitable.32 On 13 January 1752, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle was advertised in his journal with his name appearing alone, whilst many other novel advertisements include the names of both himself and other distributors.33 Because of his close connections to the London book trade, Gardner observes that his newspaper contained considerably more advertisements of books than was common in provincial newspapers, making the Salisbury Journal a good place to start for those wishing to study provincial advertisements of novels.34

Figure 11.5
Figure 11.5

Advertisement for The Vicar of Wakefield in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 11 December 1769.

Another factor that affected the number of distributors involved in bookselling through newspaper advertising was vicinity to London. When The History of Harry Herald (1754) was advertised in the provincial press, the Oxford Journal referred solely to the London booksellers (R. Griffiths, and F. and J. Noble), whilst the Manchester Mercury gave some information about the whereabouts of local distributors of the novel.35 This tendency seems to be stable throughout the period. When William Lane’s famous Minerva Library was marketed in the provincial press in 1790, the advertisements in the Chester Chronicle lists 19 local bookseller-distributors; the Bath Chronicle lists 6, the Northampton Mercury lists 5; the Derby Mercury lists 3, the Leeds Intelligencer lists 5 – but when the same advertisement appears in the Reading Mercury it carries no references to local distributors. The absence of indications of local book distribution in newspapers like the Reading Mercury and the Oxford Journal is not a constant – indeed there are several examples of novel advertisements throughout the period appearing with full reference to local distribution networks in these newspapers too – but they appear less frequently than is the case with provincial newspapers remote from London.36

Mercury Rapid and Slow: The Distribution of Newspapers and Novels in the Provinces

The most complex but also interesting aspect of novel advertisements in the provincial press is the issue of distribution. As Wiles points out, the sine qua non of survival in the newspaper business was wide circulation, because “without wide distribution, regional rather than purely local, few provincial newspapers could carry on”.37 Wide distribution was not only more important to the profitability of the provincial newspapers than the metropolitan counterparts; it was also a prerequisite for the readers: where the London audience could seek out newsagents or hawkers on the street to procure fresh papers, the country readers living at a distance from a town centre were reliant upon the apparatus of distribution offered by the newspaper in question. Importantly, the same thing can be said about procuring a book, and it is by studying the logistics and networks of distribution that we can discover the degree to which the book trade and the provincial newspaper trade were deeply intertwined in this period. And, again, the advertisements provide the main ‘maps’ directing us towards new knowledge about the way in which books were presented and delivered to provincial readers.

As we have seen above, the most common way of announcing local distributors would be to list their names and locations after the London publisher. Advertisements for novels in the provincial newspapers were frequently much larger than their metropolitan counterparts: in addition to presenting a list of books, an advertisement could also contain not only the names but also the whereabouts of a number of local distributors. Another and more space-saving variant of book advertising was to refer the reader to the booksellers and/or proprietors mentioned in the imprint of the paper. According to Wiles, the newspaper imprint represents the “most valuable sources of information about distribution”.38 And indeed, these imprints – usually appearing in small type at the bottom of the last page – would often contain a long list of distributors and places of distribution, as well as detailed information about the procedures for distribution, how to place an advertisement and so on.

Some newspapers advertised books without reference to publisher or bookseller in the advertisement itself. In the Derby Mercury of 21 June 1739, Penelope Aubin’s A Collection of Entertaning Histories and Novels is, unusually for the period, advertised on the front page, and without reference to a publisher or to the imprint of the newspaper. The implication is that the local reader of the Derby Mercury would know exactly where to look: at the bottom of page four we are told that the newspaper is “Printed and sold by Sam. Drery”, and the imprint names eight other booksellers from the Derby district, all of whom, it is assumed, sell Aubin’s novel collection.39 In some cases, an advertisement of a novel would inform the readers of several options for procuring a book.

Figure 11.6
Figure 11.6

Advertisement for The Scotchman; or The World As It Goes, in the Kentish Gazette, 18 August 1770.

When The Scotchman; or The World As It Goes, by the notorious author of sentimental ficton, Mr. Treyssac de Vergy, was marketed in the Kentish Gazette of 1770 (see Figure 11.6), the advertisements announced that it was “sold by SIMMONS and KIRKBY, Printers, Booksellers and Stationers, at the King’s Arms Printing-Office, CANTERBURY – By the Booksellers mentioned at the End of the Paper – And may be had of the NEWSMEN who deliver the KENTISH GAZETTE”.40 In addition to the imprint – in which 21 Kent-based booksellers are listed – the readers of the Kentish Gazette could also use “the NEWSMEN” to procure Vergy’s book. Who were these, and what role did they play in the provincial distribution of novels and newspapers in the period?

The message that a novel could be had by “the Men who carry the News” was a recurring one in provincial book advertisements of the period. As Ian Jackson has shown, the newspaper distribution network was well suited to the delivery of products such as medicines or books, and “people could place orders with their newsman, and then have the remedy or printed product delivered with the next week’s paper”.41 If this scheme – an early version of the Amazon delivery service – sounds too good to be true, it is important to remember that the jack-of-all-trades model of business was crucial for the survival of many provincial proprietors: the newspapers served as intermediaries between the sellers and buyers of goods such as books and medicines – not only in the sense that they advertised the wares, but also because they were in charge of distributing them to the customers. In fact, the role of the newspaper agents as Mercuries of goods beyond the newspapers was what made it possible for the newspapers to sustain a wide circulation. As pointed out by Wiles, the main reason why it was beneficial to have a newspaper delivered at the doorstep of a customer living far distant from a distribution centre, is that they also delivered more goods, and “without this second string to their bows the printers of the country newspapers could not have shot their arrows much beyond the limits of their own towns”.42 Thus, the business of distributing books (among other commodities) was deeply entangled in the expansion and sustainment of newspapers. As Wiles writes, “Provincial journalism developed rapidly because men on horseback or on foot could easily carry more than the weekly budget of news”.43

Who, then, were these men or women “on horseback or on foot” who were weighed down by books, medicines and other goods? We know that some newspapers and books were sent by the post, and that local postmasters assisted in the distribution – as stated in a number of provincial newspapers. But even more common for provincial newspaper proprietors were the local or even long distance ‘carrier’ or ‘Messenger’, also known as the ‘Running Footmen’, who transported goods of all sorts to people living along his or her route and who typically operated from a local inn which would serve as headquarters or a calling station (and was also often listed in the imprint of many provincial newspapers).44 According to Wiles, the regular practice was that “the printers sent bundles of papers to their main local agents in nearby towns”, which means that many newsmen basically served as travelling salesmen.45 These newsmen would also take new orders as well as advertisements back from the customer in what appears to have been a systematised circuit of delivery and ordering. An advertisement for books, medicines and stationery in the Stamford Mercury on 14 January 1725 assures interested customers, that “any Person (who) Orders by the Messengers that carry the Stamford Mercury, may have it delivered at their own houses”.46 Suffice to say, a special delivery at one’s doorstep would not, in general, come free. According to Wiles, it was always the subscriber or buyer who paid for the delivery, and the further away from the headquarters, the more the customers would have to pay for delivery.47 But there also exist advertisements which suggest that this service could sometimes be offered for free. When The Test of Filial Duty was advertised in the Kentish Gazette of 1 January 1772, the paper announced that the novel “may be had (Carriage-free) of all the Newsmen who deliver the Kentish Gazette” – a remarkably service-minded approach which might have boosted sales of both newspapers and novels for those who lived at a distance from a bookshop or circulating library.48

Another important aspect of distribution of newspapers and books in the provinces is the issue of time: how long did it take for a newspaper to reach a customer remote from a centre of distribution; what was the average span of time for a London-printed novel to reach the bookseller and/or proprietor in the provinces; how many days would pass between the advertisement of novels in the metropolitan and the provincial press; and when could a provincial reader expect to procure a novel advertised in the provincial press? Although these four questions are all equally important, the following brief account will have to revolve around the only stage for which the newspaper can provide clues, namely the distance in time between the advertisement in a London and a provincial newspaper.

The most common heading in eighteenth-century advertisements for books, in metropolitan and provincial newspapers alike, is the phrase “This day is published” (or “was” or “were” published), a recognisable heading tapping into the newspapers’ general preoccupation with immediacy, providing the readers with the most up-to-date material, including the freshest print items. The advertisers also created a sense of anticipation with the use of advance notices, particularly in the London newspapers, announcing that “Next week will be published”, or “tomorrow will be published” – sometimes with references to specific days or dates (“Next Thursday will be published”). My research for the London newspapers has shown that the sentence “this day is published” is very reliable following its first appearance after an advance notice: “Next week”, “next Thursday”, or “Tomorrow” of the advance notices meant exactly that. However, the heading “this day was published” was often deployed to continue promoting a ‘new’ title that could sometimes have been on the market for many months. One of the reasons for the frequency of this phrase is thus that it was usually repeated beyond its initial appearance.

What, then, about the provincial newspaper and speed of advertising vis-à-vis the metropolitan ‘press release’ of novels? John Feather suggests that “speed was not usually important in the distribution of books” in the eighteenth century.49 But some of my findings suggest that many booksellers must have had wind beneath the wings of mercury to give their readers the opportunity to buy the latest London-printed novels.50 If we look again at Haywood’s The Rash Resolve, cited above as one of the earliest examples of a novel advertisement in the provincial press, it is declared published in the London newspapers around 16 December, after a series of advance announcements which can verify the course of the publication of this title, and a fairly accurate publication date for this novel.51 On 26 December, the advertisement in which Haywood’s novel appears in a list is printed in the Stamford Mercury, indicating that the novel travelled from the London booksellers to the Stamford printing office in ten days. The novel Siberian Anecdotes was advertised in the London Chronicle on 26–28 December 1782 (and in the 7–9 January issue of the St. James Post), and as early as 7 January 1783 it appeared in the Manchester Mercury, as well as in the Northampton Mercury on 20 January, and the Bath Chronicle on 23 January. Similarly, when Burney’s Cecilia, or Memoirs of a Heiress was presented as “this day is published” in the Northampton Mercury on Monday 15 July 1782, this was only a few days after the novel was announced as published in the St. James Post of 11–13 July.

These and other examples show that anything from a few days to a couple of weeks was the normal ‘travel time’ for a London-published novel to reach advertising columns of the provincial press. The variety of times here might be related to different levels of collaboration between the London publishers and their distributor-colleagues in the provinces – with some novels being sent directly to local booksellers at the time of their metropolitan releases, whilst some novels had to be picked up by provincial agents working in London. In the cases when the London booksellers themselves chose to advertise their titles in the provincial newspapers, the provincial readers could learn about the publication more or less simultaneously with the London readers. The Memoirs of the Countess of Berci (“by the author of the Female Quixote”), was advertised as “printed for A. Millar, in the Strand, and sold by the Booksellers in Town and Country” in the Manchester Mercury of 6 April 1756 – coinciding with the London advertisements of the same publication.52

Most of the advertisements discussed above confirm the general impression that there was a close cooperation between the London booksellers and their country colleagues, a collaboration which was, as we have seen, fundamental to the movement of a novel from its publication in London, to the reader in the provinces. The provincial trade in novels may have been first and foremost on the side of distribution rather than production – but far from being a sign of inferiority, this only serves to prove the importance of newspaper advertising and the provincial book trade in the chain of production and publication. For what, after all, is the point of producing a novel, or a newspaper, unless it reaches a wide audience? In comparison with other printed genres such as conduct books or political tracts, most novels had a fairly low print run and readership in the period. But the eighteenth century is nevertheless the most important era for the rise and spread of the novel en masse just as much as the rise of individual famous authors, and every part of the machinery plays a crucial part in explaining the success of the genre, including the way in which it was marketed for a non-urban audience in the newspaper.


When the British Newspaper Archive (British Library/findmypast) is complete in 2020 it will be the only major database containing non-metropolitan newspapers: provincial newspapers, Irish newspapers and Scottish newspapers. The other major database, the Gale Cengage Burney Collection contains but few issues of a small selection of English newspapers printed outside London, and the undergoing digitisation of the John Nichols collection from the Bodleian Library (Gale Cengage) will primarily contain London newspapers from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century.


Frank Felsenstein, ‘Some Eighteenth-Century English Provincial Book Advertisements’, Library Review, 44:3 (1995), pp. 32–43 (43).


Victoria M. Gardner, The Business of News in England, 1760–1820 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), p. 4.


Gardner, The Business of News, p. 6.


Scholars have proposed several candidates for the first provincial newspapers starting in the seventeenth century, but in Freshest Advices: Early Provincial Newspapers in England, R.M. Wiles soundly reject most of the earliest contenders: both the Oxford Djurnall (1643, later Mercurius Aulicus) and the Oxford Gazette (1665) were printed outside London, but the printing place was only temporary, as the Court was evacuated out of London because of the plague; the two mentioned Oxford newspapers were both official publications of the government, relating no local news. Likewise, Wiles rejects both an unnamed and now lost Newcastle News Bulletin (1639) for being irregular and short-lived, whilst the Colchester Spie (1648) was probably printed in London. Wiles allocates three newspapers to share “the honor of being the pioneers in English provincial journalism”: the Norwich Post (earliest extant issue is from 1707, but it probably started in 1701); the Bristol Post Boy (first surviving issue is from 1704, but it probably started in 1702); and Sam. Farley’s Exeter Post-Man; or Weekly Intelligence (earliest surviving issue is from 1711, but it probably started in 1704). See R.M. Wiles, Freshest Advices: Early Provincial Newspapers in England (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1965), pp. 11–16.


Wiles, Freshest Advices, p. 23.


Christine Ferdinand, Benjamin Collins and the Provincial Newspaper Trade in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 11.


Already from the first decade of the century, an early newspaper like the Norwich Gazette filled more than a quarter of the newspaper with advertisements, and both the Stamford Mercury as well as the Newcastle Courant regularly carried dozens of advertisements in each issue (Wiles, Freshest Advices, p. 152). Moreover, the number of advertisements in the provincial press grew steadily throughout the period. Jeremy Black gives the example of the Sherbourne Mercury, where the number of advertisements grew from about 1,000 in 1740 to about 4,000 in 1790; see Jeremy Black, The English Press 1621–1861 (London: Sutton Publishing, 2001), p. 119. Ferdinand has collected the numbers for the Salisbury Journal, showing that the newspaper inserted about 1,000 advertisements a year in the 1750s, 2,000 by the 1760s, and more than 3,400 advertisements by the 1770s (Ferdinand, Benjamin Collins, p. 192). Gardner gives examples from several newspapers, including the Newcastle Courant, which contained 238 advertisements in 1711, rising to 1,878 in 1761 and 4,211 in 1801 (Gardner, The Business of News, p. 48).


Advertising duty increased in 1757, 1780, 1789 and by 1815 each advertisement cost 3s 6d. (Gardner, The Business of News, p. 18).


Gardner, The Business of News, p. 18.


Andrew Pettegree, The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014), p. 303.


Ian Jackson, ‘The Geographies of Promotion: a Survey of Advertising in Two Eighteenth-Century English Newspapers’, in John Hinks and Catherine Armstrong (eds.), Printing Places: Locations of Book Production and Distribution since 1500 (London: Oak Knoll Press/British Library, 2005), pp. 65–80 (70).


Wiles, Freshest Advices, p. 26.


Gardner, The Business of News, pp. 48–49.


Pettegree, The Invention of News, p. 300.


Stamford Mercury, 26 December 1723. Other examples of provincial newspapers in the 1720s carrying advertisements of novels with some regularity are the Newcastle Courant from 1724 and the Gloucester Journal from 1727.


Ferdinand, Benjamin Collins, p. 205.


Newcastle Courant, 14 September 1728.


Newcastle Courant, 4 July 1752.




Felsenstein, ‘Some Eighteenth-Century English Provincial Book Advertisements’, pp. 35–38.


Ipswich Journal, 11 March 1749.


The research referred to here is part of the work-in-progress of a book tentatively entitled Novel Advertising in Eighteenth-Century Newspapers: Marketing a Genre in Britain, Ireland and North America.


Gardner, The Business of News, p. 75.




Ibid., pp. 91 and 76.


Ibid., p. 9.


John Feather, ‘The Country Trade in Books’, in Robin Myers and Michael Harris (eds.), Spreading the Word: The Distribution Networks of Print, 1550–1850 (Winchester: St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1990), pp. 165–183 (165).


John Feather, The Provincial Book Trade in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 65.


Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 30 November 1769, and the Oxford Journal, 2 December 1769.


Salibury and Winchester Journal, 11 December 1769.


Ferdinand, Benjamin Collins, pp. 49–50. See the same pages in Ferdinand for prices and profits of Collins’ purchasing of copyright of books. London booksellers would normally have monopolies on the copyrights or shares of copyrights of best-sellers in this period, but according to Ferdinand, Collins was able to obtain his shares by “purchasing them directly from colleagues, some of whom acted as his agent at the sales” (Ferdinand, Benjamin Collins, p. 38).


“This day is published (in four pocket volumes), Price bound 12 s, in Boards, 10s., 6d. THE ADVENTURES OF PEREGRINE PICKLE … Printed for the author, and sold by D. Wilson, at Plato’s Head, near Round-Court, in the Strand, and B. Collins in Salisbury” (Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 13 January 1752).


Gardner, The Business of News, p. 51.


Oxford Journal, 21 December 1754. The advertisement in the Manchester Mercury relates that the novel is “Sold by Joseph Harrop, Printer in Manchester, and by the Men who carry the News” (Manchester Mercury, 11 February 1755).


Closeness to the metropolis affected not only the organisation of book distribution networks; it could also determine the level of success of the newspaper itself. According to Jeremy Black, the development of the newspapers in the Home Counties was “limited by the ready accessibility of the London papers”, and some of the metropolitan papers “were designed to tap nearby markets” (Black, The English Press 1621–1861, p. 114). Thus, several London newspapers frequently listed for example grain prices of the areas close to the urban centre – and although books were luxury goods, interesting only for a minority of the public, we can safely conclude that proximity to London affected the level of engagement in the distribution of books.


Wiles, Freshest Advices, pp. 112–113.


Ibid., p. 117.


Derby Mercury, 21 June 1739.


Kentish Gazette, 18 August 1770.


Jackson, ‘The Geographies of Promotion’, p. 77.


Wiles, Freshest Advices, pp. 130–131.


Ibid., p. 131.


Ibid., p. 119.


Ibid., pp. 126 and 131.


Stamford Mercury, 14 January 1725.


Wiles, Freshest Advices, pp. 128–129.


Kentish Gazette, 1 January 1772.


John Feather, The Provincial Book Trade in Eighteenth-century England, p. 62.


Here, too, it is difficult to establish accurate data since many of the advertisements declaring a novel to be “this day published” might be repeat advertisements; moreover, we have no way of knowing whether an announcement of the published novel meant that it had actually arrived at the bookseller in question – it might have been a way of attracting browsers. With the provincial advertisements we also have to look for advance marketing and follow-up “this day”-advertisements in the London press before establishing a correct publication date. With these limitations in mind, a few examples can nevertheless provide a suggestion that a novel’s time of travelling between center and periphery could be fairly short, and increasingly so throughout the period.


The first advance advertisement of The Rash Resolve appears in the Daily Journal of 27 November 1723 where the novel is announced below the main advertisement for Lasselia, or the Self-abandon’d, with the heading “From whom, next Week will be publish’d (being the last Novel of Mrs. Haywood)”. The next advance advertisement appears on 7 December, declaring that “On Tuesday next will be published” (In the London Journal and several other newspapers). The novel is then declared as “This day is published” from 16 December (in the Daily Journal and other newspapers).


Manchester Mercury, 6 April 1756. The advance advertisement appears in the Public Advertiser of 1 April, suggesting that the novel will be published “next week”.

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