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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Getting on the pony to promote The Gin Lane Gazette to the wider world has made me think a little about advertising and subscription in the 1700s.

The most prolific self-promoters by far were the quack doctors - known pejoratively as 'advertising professors' - who flogged their pills, potions and nostrums via the many newspapers and journals to a hypochondriac readership. Indeed, the quacks and the hacks frequently struck bargains whereby medicines could be purchased and collected from newspaper premises. Most of these products had gloriously bonkers names, such as 'Becket's Sovereign Restorative Drops for Barrenness' and 'Daffy's Genuine Elixir', and doubtless were of little or no use whatsoever. In fact, many of them probably caused irreparable harm.

Newspaper advertising became big business, and the great Hogarth himself used to sell prints by subscription via journals such as The London Chronicle. Thomas Chippendale flogged The Gentleman's and Cabinet-Maker's Director in the same periodical, making it clear in August 1760 that 'The Price of this Work, when completed, will be raised to Non-Subscribers. No Copies will be sold under Three Guineas in Sheets.'

In a venture which anticipated Unbound 220 years ago, the actress, author, and former mistress of the Prince of Wales and Charles James Fox, Mary 'Perdita' Robinson, sold a collection of poems to 600 subscribers, who were all listed as such in the book. The volume was 'deservedly patronised by the FASHIONABLE WORLD.'

As you are now a discerning and generous patron of writers yourself, I congratulate you warmly on becoming part of such a long and noble tradition.

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