Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondBooksellers in the early modern period use various strategies to ensure that their books sold. We know that they often used title pages as handbills, which could be hung up on poles around town, advertising new titles as widely as possible. Title pages not only drew attention to new books on offer, they also, by including the address of the bookshop, aimed to draw the public to the shop and sell even more books. Handbills of this kind were intended to be throwaway items, and because of this, unfortunately, few survive in libraries today. But by looking closely at title pages, we can see how they worked as advertising tools. Some concentrated on the reputation of the author, others emphasised innovation as a selling point.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 secondsOne important element in advertising is establishing brand identity. Early modern printers used printers' marks also known as devices in their books to do this often using the sign of their bookshop as their logo. Some devices, such as that of the Estienne printing house, became famous as a sign of printing excellence. It was also important to establish the identity of the author and his or her outputs. Authors and booksellers did this in a number of ways. But the most usual was to include a letter or advertisement to the reader. This not only contained an outline of the book, but also focused on the reputation and expertise of the author as a means of selling it.

Skip to 1 minute and 25 secondsBoth these strategies focused on selling an individual book. As time went by, booksellers began to include a catalogue of their most recent publications in the books themselves. This example, from the London bookseller John Sharkey, was more detailed than most, since Sharkey divided up his stock in subject order. Most booksellers concentrated on a brief listing of their most recent titles emphasising any new editions. This type of advertisement could also be used to draw attention to books yet to be printed and hopefully attract advance sales. Booksellers were also aware that eye catching images on title pages made more of an impact.

Skip to 2 minutes and 7 secondsThe use of this type of advertising tool is readily apparent in the 16th century, where woodcuts were used to draw attention to books and pamphlets. By the end of the 16th century, a new phenomenon had emerged, which revolutionised the way books were sold, the rise of the auction. These were initially developed in the Netherlands and soon became popular as auctions and book sales offered booksellers a simple way of selling second hand material. Again, the title pages of auction catalogues were used to advertise the auction as widely as possible. Another invention of the 17th century provided booksellers with an even greater advertising tool, the newspaper. Newspapers could be used to advertise forthcoming books to a much wider market.

Skip to 2 minutes and 52 secondsThey were also used to advertise book sales and auctions, where and when they would take place, and what type of books might be on sale. Sometimes the advertisements for these auctions are the only records we have that they took place.

Advertising books

Let’s take a look at two different advertisements used to sell books. Take some time to read the two advertisements below, and in the comment section below, share your thoughts on these questions:

  • What strategies were used to sell the books?
  • What differences are there between the two advertisements?

George Cheyne’s ‘Advertisement to the Reader’ in his An Essay on the True Nature and due method of Treating the Gout, written for the use of RICHARD TENNISON Esq; (Dublin, 1725)

This small Treatise was originally intended for a private Paper on Instructions to the GENTLEMAN, whose name it bears, to direct him how to manage himself under the Gout. It is, indeed, an Abstract of a larger one, on the same Subject, which has lain by me these seven Years; which, yet, I have not had Leisure or Humour to finish.

Several Copies of this having got abroad, and the pitiful Condescendence of pyrating Book-sellers, even to such Trifles as these, have constrain’d me to let it come out in Print, as it is, to prevent its coming out from them. The Gentlemen of the Profession may easily perceive, by the Grossness of the Philosophy, and the low Detail of the Pharmacy, it was not design’d for them. If any shall think fit to dispute or criticise on the Doctrine here laid down, they may do it securely, as if the Author were as much dead, as these his Labours will shortly be: I hope I know the Value of Time and Pains, and the Vanity of all human Speculations better to employ them in defending such Trifles.

All I undertake for them, is, That the Facts may be depended upon for their Truth: And the Method and Medicines for their Efficacy, towards the End, in the Circumstances propos’d. If any Person under them, shall either amuse himself, by reading this Paper; or lighten his Pain, by following its Directions, I shall have obtain’d all I propos’d by it.

As to the Account of the Bath-Waters given here, it came naturally in the Way of my Subject; and is such as the Observations I have made suggested to me. I scarce know, and have taken no Notice of what others may have written or observ’d on these Waters; nor, indeed, had it been possible for me, in my present Situation being without my Books confin’d to Bounds, by the Nature of my Design.

I have often observ’d, with Admiration, the Wisdom and Goodness of Providence, in furnishing so wonderful an Antidote, to almost all the Chronical Distempers of an English Constitution and Climate, which are chiefly owing to Errors of Diet, or rather, as a sacred Writer expresses it, To Idleness and Fulness of Bread. The Rankness of the Soil; the Richness of the Provisions; the living so much on flesh Meat; the inconstancy of the Weather, and the indulging in sedentary Amusements, or specultative Studies directly leading thereto.

To remedy all which, kind Heaven has provided Bath-Waters as the most Sovereign Restorative in all the Weaknesses of the Concoctive Powers. Bath, July, 1720.


Dudley Davis’s ‘The Book-Seller to the Reader’ from Sir William Dugdale’s The antient usage in hearing such ensigns of honour as are commonlhy calle’d arms (Dublin, 1682), pp 165-7.

The frequent complaints I have heard, from several learned and Ingenuous persons, of the errors and defects in all the Catalogues, of late Printed, of the Nobility in his Majesties Dominions, created in me a belief, that the publication of exact and correct Catalogues thereof, wou’d be very acceptable to the publick. And this induced me, to attempt it. In order whereunto, I obtained the preceding Catalogue of the Nobility of England, from the Author of the aforegoing Treatise, a person who by reason of his Office of Garter, is best enabled to publish it most correctly and Authenickly.

And in August last (the Parliament of Scotland then sitting) by the favour of a friend there. I procured a copy, of the then Lord Register his Role of the Nobility of Scotland. But their Christian names not being inserted therein, my Correspondent was so careful and industrious, as to inform himself thereof, either from the several Noblemen themselves, then assembled into Parliament, or from the near Relations, or intimate acquaintances of those absent; and for those few Christian names, of which he could receive no certain information, he hath left blanks; and having thus procured it, he transmitted it to me.

Since when it hath been communicated to several, very intelligent persons in the affairs of that Kingdom, who have very well approved thereof, so that I may with a modest assurance affirm this present Catalogue to be more accurate then most of this nature hitherto publish’d. And yet I will not confidently averr that there are no errors therein, for I am told the Nobility of Scotland are no more careful, then the Nobiity of England, to Register their descents and successions; the defect of which doth almost occasion an impossibility, with an accurate exactness to publish any Catalogue of this nature.

But if any person shall perceive any error or defect therein, or any Nobleman judges himself injured, either by any omission or misrecitall of his name or title, if he shall be pleased to notify it to me, with directions how it ought to be corrected and supplyed, or to inform therein Mr. Robert Meine Post-Master of (Edinburgh) I shall take all possible care that in the next edition all the errors may accordingly be amended, and all due right don to every individual Nobleman.

To the present Catalogue, is annexed a list of all the Shires and Royal Burroughs in Scotland, with the number of Barons, Commissioners, and Burghesses, they do respectively retaine to serve in Parliament. Which I have done in the same manner, as in compliance with the desires of several persons, I have published the precededing Alphabetical Catalogue of all the Shires, Cities, Burroughs and Cinque-Ports in England and Wales.


Dr Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian, The Edward Worth Library, Dublin.

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The History of the Book in the Early Modern Period: 1450 to 1800

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