What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JUST IMPORTED, AND TO BE SOLD AT THE CHEAPEST RATE FOR CASH, BY Thompson and Arnold.”
Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement for “a fresh and general Assortment of English and India GOODS” filled the entire final page of the December 27, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette. It was not the first full-page advertisement that appeared in that publication: shopkeepers Joseph and William Russell ran a full-page advertisement on November 22, five weeks earlier, and inserted it almost every week since then. The Russells’ oversized advertisement ran on November 29 and December 13 and 20. Except for the December 6 issue of the Providence Gazette, a full-page advertisement on the final page became a regular feature of that publication.
Thompson and Arnold’s full-page advertisement was not the first of its kind, but that did not mean that it lacked significance. At the very least, purchasing the entire final page bolstered the shopkeepers’ prestige, but it also demonstrated that they paid attention to the marketing strategies deployed by their competitors and adopted them to promote their own enterprises. (Keep in mind that Thompson and Arnold previously experimented with oversized advertisements that resembled trade cards, rather than broadsides. Some of their competitors adopted this form in subsequent issues.) Running a full-page advertisement could have been a gimmick limited only to the Joseph and William Russell, a stunt that quickly dissolved into obscurity. The Russells’ advertisement, however, was not merely ephemeral. Other entrepreneurs experimented with the same form. Sarah Goddard and Company, the printers, also may have encouraged regular advertisers to upgrade to full-page advertisements. Clearly both advertisers and the printers of the Providence Gazette engaged with the possibilities offered by the full-page advertisement, a broadside distributed as the final page of the port’s weekly newspaper. In the first issue of 1767, shopkeeper James Green joined the ranks of local retailers who invested in full-page advertisements.
I have not yet had the opportunity to examine subsequent issues of the Providence Gazette published in 1767 too see how long full-page advertisements continued to appear, but I will continue to track this aspect of that newspaper as the Adverts 250 Project progresses through the new year. I do not know exactly what to expect, given the eagerness to experiment with oversized advertisements of various sorts exhibited by Sarah Goddard and Company. That being said, full-page advertisements did not become a staple of marketing notices in American newspapers in the second half of the eighteenth century. Indeed, most historians of both printing and advertising date the origin of full-page advertisements to the middle of the nineteenth century. Even though full-page advertisements did not become a standard feature of newspapers in the 1760s, those that appeared in the Providence Gazette – promoting the businesses of several different retailers – comprise a milestone of innovation and experimentation with marketing that merits additional investigation.