What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WILLIAM RUSSELL is just arrived from London.”
Joseph Russell and William Russell frequently placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette after Sarah Goddard and her partners revived that publication in the late 1760s. The Russells ran advertisements innovative for both their appeals and their length, including a full-page advertisement that inspired other local shopkeepers to publish their own full-page advertisements. Yet the boldness and creativity of the Russells’ marketing efforts seemed to decline over time, possibly indicating that they might not have considered the returns worth the investment when it came to developing and paying for cutting-edge newspaper advertisements.
Then they once again published a full-page advertisement in the November 7, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. Like their earlier full-page advertisements, it invited prospective customers to visit “their STORE, the Sign of the GOLDEN EAGLE, near the Court-House” and promised low prices for a “large, neat, and compleat Assortment of English, India and Hard-Ware GOODS.”
Yet this advertisement featured one significant difference compared to all of their previous paid notices in the local newspaper. It informed consumers that “WILLIAM RUSSELL is just arrived from London,” where he had personally selected the merchandise now stocked at the Sign of the Golden Eagle. Given the time required to cross the Atlantic (twice!), William had been away from Providence for at least three months. He presumably spent some time in London, meeting with business associates and getting a sense of current tastes in the cosmopolitan center of the empire as well as visiting friends or relatives.
In William’s absence, Joseph oversaw their enterprises in Providence, including their advertising. This may explain why their advertisements became less bold and distinctive, if William was the partner more gifted and willing to take risks when it came to marketing. Joseph could have been a caretaker when it came to that aspect of their business, advertising only when necessary and following the standards already well established for advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. William, on the other hand, may have infused new vigor into their marketing when he returned from his long trip. Taking out a full-page advertisement in a four-page publication was a bold way to announce his homecoming and draw attention to the family business.