May 20

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

May 20 - 5:20:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 20, 1769).

“Coy and Waterman do all Manner of Painting, Gilding, Drawing, and Writing upon Signs.”

Like many others who advertised in eighteenth-century newspapers, Coy and Waterman helped prospective customers locate their shop both by identifying a landmark and a describing their sign. They advised that they could be found “At their Shop, the Sign of the Painter’s Arms, opposite Moses Brown’s, Esq; in Providence,” where they sold “A Compleat Assortment of Painters Colours.”

Their sign, the Painter’s Arms, served not only as an advertisement for their wares but also as a testament to the quality of a service they also offered. After listing the several varieties of “Painters Colours” in stock, Coy and Waterman stated that they “do all Manner of Painting, Gilding, Drawing, and Writing upon Signs, in the most neat and genteel Manner.” They invited shopkeepers, merchants, artisans, tavernkeepers, and others to commission signs to mark their places of business, promote the goods and services they provided, and distinguish them from their competitors. Posting a sign played a part in creating a memorable identity for practically any enterprise. For instance, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, gave his location as the “PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in the colophon of every issue.

Coy and Waterman’s advertisement suggests that the market for producing and maintaining signs in the late 1760s was vibrant enough that they needed to address the competition. The painters pledged to “work as cheap for Cash, or Country Produce, as any Person in Town, Newport or Boston.” Apparently prospective clients had several choices in a regional market.

Print played an important role in eighteenth-century marketing, but newspapers, trade cards, catalogs, and other printed media were not the only means for promoting commerce and consumption. Shop signs became synonymous with purveyors of goods and services, a precursor to creating brands, logos, and trademarks consistently associated with particular businesses. They have not survived in nearly the same numbers as eighteenth-century newspapers, but many of the advertisements in those newspapers suggest that colonists regularly glimpsed “the Sign of the Painter’s Arms,” “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head,” and many other shop signs as they navigated the streets of Providence and other cities and towns.

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