William Caxton (Born c. 1422, Kent; Died 1492, London), widely regarded as the first English printer, printed ads for a book he had published and stuck them to church doors in England.
Caxton, who doubled as translator and publisher and exerted considerable influence on English literature, was, however, no adman. But Caxton was a canny man and pioneered what was to become during the millennium a medium of mass publicity and advertising.
The single sheet of paper (seen above), printed by Caxton in 1477, hails a book he had just produced. The book was called Sarum Ordinal, a manual for priests. The tiny sheet of paper goes on to describe the book and says “you can get a copy at Red Pale (name of his shop) at Almonry in Westminster, London. In a piece of classic ad-speak, Caxton says that the reader wouldn’t be disappointed as the book is “good and cheap”.
This modest, sepia-tinted sheet of antique paper takes the onerous honour of being the first-known piece of printed advertisement in the English language. There is a quaint request (in Latin) at the end of the printed matter asking people to not remove the notice. So those were the times, a little over 550 years ago.
Caxton printed books of history, philosophy, romance, and an encyclopedia and, in fact, went on to print most of the contemporary English literature, including Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. He printed 107 works, including 74 books.
Caxton died in 1492.