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Advertisements in the Proceedings

The Rise and Fall of Advertising in the Back Pages

Advertisements were an important part of the Proceedings for only a relatively short period. They do not appear until the late 1680s and in the first few decades comprise only a few short paragraphs at the end of each sessions. By the late 1710s they had begun to grow, with whole pages being given over to puffs for a mix of quack remedies, salacious books, and self-help guides. By the 1750s, however, only a very narrow range of advertisements remained, and by the early nineteenth century advertising had disappeared completely. These changes reflect the shifting readership of the Proceedings.

Contents of this Article

Infallible Remedies for Toothache and Venereal Disease

Henry Eyre’s advertisement for imported spa waters from Bristol.  Reproduced from the end page of the Proceedings for 3 December 1729. Advertisement for Spa Waters, Proceedings, 3 December 1729.

The first advertisement to appear in the Proceedings was for the services of a quack physician, Mr Elmy, who promised to cure deafness. Between 1689 and the early 1710s Mr Elmy's advertisements were joined by others for books, ceremonial gowns, and other quack remedies. By the 1710s the number of advertisements included had begun to grow, and the back page came to be dominated by an eclectic mix of detailed squibs recounting the virtues of the "Famous Anodyne Necklace" (a cure for teething), next to "infallible" remedies for toothache and venereal disease. Throughout the 1720s, advertisements for pamphlets such as Onania, on the ill-effects of masturbation, The Young Man's Guide, on how to draw for pleasure and profit, and Le Plume Volante, on the newest form of shorthand, could all be found on the back page of the Proceedings.

Catechisms and Treatises on Religious Harmony

A full-frontal portrait of a round-faced man in a full wig.  The portrait is in an oval, and there are books, papers, a pen and ink below.  The words 'Thomas Gurney' are engraved at the bottom of the image. Thomas Gurney (1705-177), shorthand stenographer and publisher of the Proceedings.

By the mid-1730s these advertisements had been largely replaced by ones for more respectable products, including catechisms, books of psalms, and treatises on religious harmony. By the end of the 1730s, even these rather worthy advertisements were themselves replaced either by blank paper, or advertisements for the services and products of the shorthand specialist and printer who produced the Proceedings. From 1750, this post was filled first by Thomas Gurney, then his son Joseph, and later by E. Hodgson, self proclaimed professor of shorthand. For the rest of the eighteenth century, the back page is reserved almost exclusively for advertisements lauding the virtues of Thomas Gurney's Art of Brachygraphy (1750), and later, Hodgson's Treatise on Shorthand (1785). By the nineteenth century even this small piece of self-promotion on the part of the printer and creator of the Proceedings had disappeared.

The history of advertising in the Proceedings precisely mirrors its intended audience. During the second and third decades of the eighteenth century the Proceedings sought a wide and popular audience, and were able to attract diverse advertisers as a result. But from the late 1730s onwards they evolved into a more serious and comprehensive form, and eventually became, by the 1770s, essentially a publication of record used only by judicial officials. For information on the changing audience of the Proceedings, see their Publishing History.

Introductory Reading

  • Black, Jeremy, The English Press in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1987)
  • Harris, Michael, London Newspapers in the Age of Walpole: A Study of the Origins of the Modern English Press (London, 1987)

For more secondary literature on this subject see the Bibliography.

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