What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“At the Sign of the Greyhound.”
Nathaniel Wheaton sold a “new Assortment of English and India GOODS, of almost every Kind,” as well as “West-India Goods” at his shop on Williams Street in Providence. In an advertisement that ran in the Providence Gazette for several weeks in November 1772, he thanked his current customers and invited new ones to examine his merchandise, pledging that all of “their Favours will be gratefully acknowledged.”
To help readers find his shop, Wheaton noted that “the Sign of the Greyhound” marked his location. A woodcut depicting a greyhound, sitting on its haunches and its town hanging out, adorned the advertisement. The image may have replicated the shop sign. Even if Wheaton had not been that precise, he still resorted to some sort of depiction of a greyhound to encourage consumers to associate that emblem with his shop. Like other eighteenth-century newspaper advertisers who published images that correlated to their shop signs, Wheaton devised a marketing strategy that could be considered a precursor to branding his business. The woodcut encouraged readers to associate the greyhound with Wheaton’s shop, especially when considered in combination with the sign displayed on Williams Street.
The image also directed attention to Wheaton’s advertisement. Except for the image of a lion and a unicorn flanking a crown and shield in the masthead, the greyhound was the only image in the November 21 edition of the Providence Gazette. Readers could not have missed it! Wheaton incurred additional expense to achieve that. He paid for the woodcut and he paid for the space it occupied. Newspaper advertisers paid for the amount of space required to publish their notices, not by the number of words, so both larger fonts and images increased the costs of running advertisements. Wheaton devoted as much space to the image of the greyhound as he did to advertising copy, doubling the price of his notice compared to what he would have paid if he published solely text. He likely considered the additional expense a good investment to distinguish his advertisement from those of his competitors. After all, it was not the first time he incorporated the image into his newspaper advertisements.