January 29

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jan 29 - 1:28:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (January 18, 1766)

“At the Sight of the Mathematical Instruments, next Door to the Golden Eagle, in Thames-Street.”

Sometimes the directions for locating a business are just as interesting as the merchandise offered for sale, at least to someone observing from a distance of 250 years.  I’ve commented fairly regularly about various modes of identifying where a business happened to be located, especially when such directions crowded out appeals that could have marketed goods and services to potential customers.  (On the other hand, advertisers couldn’t sell anything if customers couldn’t find them.)  Last week I even made sport of an attorney who provided unnecessarily convoluted and legalistic directions to his office.  Providing adequate directions was a part of doing business in the days before standardized street numbers (an innovation that appeared in many American cities around the final decade of the century).

This advertisement does not make reference to cross streets or counting the number of doors after arriving at an intersection.  It simply states that this shop is located “At the Sight of the Mathematical Instruments, next Door to the Golden Eagle, in Thames-Street.”  Contemporary visual images of streetscapes in colonial American cities are relatively rare, but advertisements like this one help to envision what colonists would have seen as they went about their daily business.

Contemplating “the Sight of the Mathematical Instruments” or “the Golden Eagle” evokes days gone by.  It might even seem quaint, but I’m not certain that the American consumer landscape has changed as significantly as we might like to imagine.  After all, how many people actually know the street address of the fast food restaurant where they grab a quick lunch or the store where they buy everything from bread to toys to clothes?  I’m guessing that most people look for golden arches or a big red target rather than a street number.

Also, note what kinds of merchandise Benjamin King sells and the sign that announces the location of his shop to potential customers.  Clever.

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