February 15

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

Providence Gazette (February 15, 1772).

“Choice Bohea Tea, which for Smell and Flavour exceeds almost any ever imported.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell were among the most prominent merchants in Providence in the era of the American Revolution.  The brothers were so successful that in 1772 they built what is now the “earliest extant and most impressive of the cubical, three-story houses that symbolized wealth and social standing in Providence for several generation beginning at the eve of the Revolution,” according to the Providence Preservation Society’s Guide to Providence Architecture.  The building stands at 118 North Main Street (formerly King Street), though its original interiors were removed and installed in several museums a century ago.  In addition, the building “was raised to insert a storefront” in the middle of the nineteenth century, resulting in the original entrance, “taken from the English architectural pattern book Builder’s Compleat Assistant (1750) by Battey Langley,” appearing to adorn the second floor rather than opening onto the street.

The Russells frequently advertised in the Providence Gazette in the 1760s and 1770s.  Perhaps their marketing efforts contributed, at least in part, to their mercantile success.  As they embarked on building their new house in 1772, the brothers advertised a variety of commodities on February 15.  They focused primarily on grocery items in that notice, though in others they promoted a vast array of textile, housewares, hardware, and other goods imported from England.  Among the groceries they offered to consumers, the Russells listed “Nutmegs, Cinnamon, Mace, and Cloves” as well as “Pepper by the Bag” and “Chocolate by the Box.”  They concluded their advertisement with “Choice Bohea Tea.”  Most advertisers did not offer much commentary about that popular commodity, but in this instance the Russells elaborated on what made their tea “Choice” for consumers.  They proclaimed that the “Smell and Flavour exceeds almost any ever imported.”  In conjuring such associations with their tea at the conclusion of their advertisement, the Russells may have incited greater interest in all of the groceries they sold.  Sales of “Choice Bohea Tea” and so many other goods helped finance the house they built in 1772.  The Russells almost certainly enjoyed “Choice Bohea Tea” in the parlor of their new home, partaking in popular social rituals with family and guests.

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