January 3

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

Providence Gazette (January 3, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD BY JAMES GREEN, At his Shop at the Sign of the Elephant.”

In the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in 1767, James Green became the third retailer over the course of two months, joining Joseph and William Russell and Thompson and Arnold. Such advertisements required collaboration between printers and advertisers. They also likely derived from competition and imitation among shopkeepers. In recent weeks I have questioned who was responsible for these advertisements and what motivated them to experiment with such an innovative (and presumably expensive) format. After all, at least one other advertiser complained about the high cost of the lengthy list advertisements that were standard parts of eighteenth-century newspaper advertising.

The January 3, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette provides another clue about what might have contributed to the appearance of some, but perhaps not all, of the recently published full-page advertisements. The fourth page of the issue was given over to Green’s (nearly) full-page advertisement and the colophon immediately beneath it. The third page concluded with this announcement:

“Our Readers are desired to excuse the late Publication of our Paper, for this Fortnight past, which has been entirely owing to the Western Post not being arrived; for whom we have waited, expecting that we should be able to oblige them with something more Material, than we are at Present able to furnish them with.”

The past fortnight encompassed the issues that included full-page advertisements by Thompson and Arnold and, now, James Green. If necessity was the mother of invention, then perhaps Sarah Goddard and Company, the printers of the Providence Gazette, played the lead role in devising full-page advertisements for Thompson and Arnold and James Green as a means of producing sufficient content to fill recent issues. Both advertisements adapted previous advertisements. The printers already had relationships with these retailers. Eager to fill the pages of their publication, they may even have offered reduced rates for these advertisements. Goddard and Company may have regretted the dearth of new news items to insert in recent issues, but they offset that shortcoming with the visual sensation of full-page advertising that likely attracted readers and additional advertisers.

Even if this accounts for the full-page advertisements published by Thompson and Arnold and James Green, it does not explain the initial and three subsequent appearances of full-page advertisements by Joseph and William Russell. The string of full-page advertisements that appeared in the Providence Gazette in the 1760s did not arise from a single cause.

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