What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WANTS to buy a Quantity of good and well clean’d FLAX-SEED.”
Advertisers typically had a single purpose for placing notices in colonial newspapers, but such was not the case for Robert Taylor when he inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette during the late summer and early fall of 1767. Taylor, however, did appear to have a primary goal: acquiring flaxseed. Most eighteenth-century advertisements did not include headlines as we think of them today. Taylor’s advertisement, on the other hand, offered a summary in capital letters, “HARD MONEY for FLAX-SEED,” and then reiterated the offer in more detail in the body of the notice. Taylor wished to acquire “a Quantity of good and well clean’d FLAX-SEED, for which he will give a good Price.”
Having decided to place an advertisement, Taylor determined to put the space in the local newspaper to good use. He also needed other commodities that he either planned to use in his own business or exchange with other traders, so he informed readers that he “likewise wants to buy a Quantity of RAW HIDES.”
Yet Taylor’s notice did not focus exclusively on acquiring goods. He also attempted to incite demand for the boots and shoes “He still continues to make … in the neastest and best Manner” at his shop located on the west side of the Great Bridge in Providence. Like many other artisans and shopkeepers, he promoted not only his goods for sale but also the quality of customer service they could expect to experience. He pledged to serve “Gentlemen … with Fidelity and Dispatch.” An arrangement of three small stars marked this new portion of the advertisement, both calling attention to the retail component and distinguishing it from the calls for acquisition that preceded it.
Finally, Taylor also seized an opportunity to settle accounts. In a nota bene, he issued a request for “all Persons indebted to him to make speedy Payment.” To demonstrate that he meant business, he also warned that if they paid their bills then “they would avoid being put to further Trouble.” Taylor politely threatened former customers with legal action if that was what it would take to balance his ledgers. While not a standard element of all eighteenth-century advertisements, the contents of his nota bene were not uncommon either. Advertisers regularly appended similar requests to notices about buying and selling consumer goods and other commodities. Many advertisers also placed separate notices exclusively devoted to settling accounts.
Robert Taylor sought to accomplish four distinct goals in a single advertisement: acquiring flaxseed, acquiring hides, selling boots and shoes, and settling accounts. In so doing, he offered glimpses of several different aspects of operating his business and earning a living in colonial Providence. He did not merely labor away in his shop but instead interacted with other colonists along multiple trajectories as he participated in shaping the local market.