What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“BEST Bohea Tea for 5s. and 4d. per Pound.”
Nicholas Tillinghast’s short advertisement for “Bohea Tea,” “an Assortment of Nails, and sundry other Goods” was one of the few advertisements in the December 13, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette. Only six advertisements appeared in that issue. Four of them promoted consumer goods and services: Tillinghast’s notice, a modified advertisement for the New-England Almanack (with the second half outlining a dispute with printers from Boston removed, presumably for lack of space), an announcement of a vendue sale (or auction) of household goods and books from the estate of Samuel Pierpoint, and Joseph and William Russell’s full-page advertisement (making its third appearance). One of the other advertisements described a “House, Wharf, and Cooper’s Shop” for sale, while the final one offered to “carry Freight at half price” aboard the General Conway when it sailed for New York (this time set within a column rather than tilted in the margin).
In terms of numbers, readers of the Providence Gazette were exposed to very few advertisements in the December 13 issue. Every since the publication had been revived the previous August it carried relatively few advertisements, especially compared to newspaper printed in the larger port cities, Boston, Charleston, Philadelphia, and New York. Yet the Providence Gazette steadily gained advertisers during the fall of 1766, making the relatively low number of six, one of them placed by the printers themselves, rather anomalous.
The numbers, however, do not tell the entire story. In terms of column inches or proportion of the issue devoted to advertising, the December 13 edition held steady with recent issues. After all, the Russells’ full-page advertisement took up a quarter of the issue by itself, raising intriguing questions. Did that oversized advertisement displace other advertising that might otherwise have appeared? Did Sarah Goddard and Company continue to insert that advertisement because they lacked for others to publish? Nearly a dozen advertisements of varying lengths appeared on the final page of the previous issue, suggesting that other merchants and shopkeepers in Providence wished to market their wares in the local newspaper. Did the Russells pay such handsome fees for their full-page advertisement that the printers dismissed other advertisements, at least for an issue or two? (Significantly, they did not reduce the amount of space given to news coverage or print a supplement to disseminate a backlog of advertising). Did the repeated inclusion of a full-page advertisement generate prestige for the newspaper or serve as an advertisement for inserting more advertising, thus making it worth temporarily displacing other commercial notices? To what extent did Joseph and William Russell’s full-page advertisement reshape other advertising within the Providence Gazette and beyond?