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Selling Space



As newspapers became more established, and their authors more professional, it was increasingly common for them to sell advertisements as a means of raising money. These ads promoted a variety of products, services, and cultural events, and provided a forum for personal notices. Both informative and entertaining, they shed important light upon the culture of the time, the impact of commercial expansion and the development of capitalism.



London, Lincoln's Inn Fields. Troilus and Cressida. Playbill, 1697

The emergence of London as a wealthy commercial powerhouse in the late seventeenth century is mirrored in the newspaper advertisements of the time. A Perfect Diurnall was one of the first newspapers to experiment with advertisements, which were initially dominated by announcements regarding the publication of new books of a serious and scholarly nature. Later ads included not only learned sermons, but also guidebooks for the extermination of vermin, quack medical cures, and beverages such as “Dr Butler’s Ale” and Hinde’s “famous and never-failing cordial drink,” which claim to have remarkable properties. 

 

Newpaper pioneer Marchamont Nedham  contributed significantly to newspaper advertising in the 1650s, furthering his image as a mercenary who sought profit alone. His paper, Mercurius Politicus, promoted new books, including biographies of the recently deceased Oliver Cromwell, as well as medicinal lozenges.

 

The Athenian Mercury, which was designed to answer readers’ queries on any subject, was run by the leading Whig bookseller and publisher, John Dunton. Among advertisements for snuff, elixirs, and medicines, Dunton promoted his book about the trials of Whig rebels at the so-called “bloody assizes,” the trials presided over by the brutal Judge Jeffreys, as well as a book about the Salem witch trials.

 

Advertisements were not only inserted into newspapers but also produced as single sheets that could be displayed publicly, handed out, or even scattered about the streets. Playbills like the one above, advertising a 1697revival of John Dryden’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, are extremely rare due to their ephemeral nature.

 

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Perfect diurnall of the passages in Parliament. London, 1642



The Athenian gazette: or Casuistical mercury. London, 1693



The Athenian gazette: or Casuistical mercury. London, 17 January 1693



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