What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE.”
An advertisement in the February 24, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette advised readers of “CHOICE FRESH LEMMONS To be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE, in Providence.” The advertiser realized that many prospective customers, especially those who resided in Providence, did not need additional information to locate the shop with the lemons. Simply stating the name of the sign that adorned the location was sufficient to allow readers to make their way to the shop operated by Joseph Russell and William Russell. In other advertisements they noted that their “Store and Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle” was “near the Court-House, Providence,” but they frequently listed their location solely as “the GOLDEN EAGLE.”
In so doing the Russells created a brand to represent their business. The “Sign of the Golden Eagle” did more than merely mark a location in Providence. The Golden Eagle was not fixed in place, tied to a specific building or street, but instead circulated as an idea, a depiction of the Russells, their “Store and Shop,” and the goods they sold to colonial consumers. The proprietors considered it such a powerful symbol that they did not even deem it necessary to include their names in many of their advertisements. “To be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE” communicated to prospective customers all that they needed to know, not only about the location of the goods but also the reputation of the purveyors of those goods.
The Russells were not alone in adopting a shop sign as a representation of their enterprise in eighteenth-century America, but they were on the leading edge when it came to completely substituting their sign for themselves. In the late 1760s and early 1770s, few other advertisers so regularly ran notices that eliminated their names in favor of solely invoking the image that they had chosen to depict their business.