September 20

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

sept-20-9201766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (September 20, 1766).

“To be RUN … by any Horse, Mare, or Gelding.”

Yesterday’s advertisement promoted a lottery for “SUNDRY Millinery Goods” at Joseph Calvert’s vendue house in Williamsburg. After weighing the risks and taking a chance, participants acquired an assortment of goods that they could keep for their own use or resell to others, further extending networks of commerce and distribution of goods in the colonies.

Today’s advertisement also invited readers to take a chance and perhaps win a prize, “a good pinchbeck WATCH, valued at Sixteen Dollars” awarded to the owner of “any Horse, Mare, or Gelding, in the County of Providence” that won a race to be held a little over a week later. Unlike the advertisement for Calvert’s lottery sale, this notice did not – and could not – indicate participants’ odds of winning the prize. It all depended on which horses (and how) many entered. The sponsors required that each entrant “pay one Dollar, upon entering his Horse,” presumably hoping to attract more than enough to balance the value of the watch to be given as the prize.

During the second half of the eighteenth century advertisements for goods and services increasingly placed consumption within a culture of entertainment, especially for those with sufficient wealth and leisure. Although this advertisement did not sell any particular merchandise or services, it did inform colonists of opportunities to be entertained. Those who owned fast horses could participate, but many others could also gather in Cranston to watch the run. The race and anticipation of which horse would win the prize for its owner offered the most excitement, but the entire event offered an entertaining experience, an opportunity to socialize with others and to see and be seen before and after the horses and riders competed. Anyone hoping to win the pinchbeck watch was most likely attired in the sorts of fashionable clothing and accouterments advertised elsewhere in the same issue of the newspaper. Gathering for this event allowed for consumption to become even more conspicuous.

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