May 8

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

Providence Gazette (May 8, 1773).

“At the Sign of the GREYHOUND.”

Some of the advertisers who placed notices in the May 8, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette described the shop signs that marked the locations of their businesses.  Thurber and Cahoon, for instance, informed readers that they stocked an “Assortment as compleat as in any Shop or Store in New-England” at the “Sign of the Bunch of Grapes.”  Samuel Young once again declared that he sold a “fine ASSORTMENT of Spring and Summer GOODS … cheaper than he has ever done” at his store at the “Sign of the Black Boy.”  Nathaniel Wheaton also offered low prices for a “new supply of Spring and Summer GOODS,” proclaiming that he “sells cheaper than any one, after all is said and done” at his shop at the “Sign of the GREYHOUND.”  Even the printer, John Carter, noted in the colophon that he operated a printing office at “Shakespear’s Head, … where all manner of Printing-Work is performed with Care and Expedition.”

No advertisers adorned their notices with visual images.  Thurber and Cahoon, Young, and Wheaton did not enhance their advertisements with depictions of their shop signs, but one of them had previously done so.  Within the past year, Wheaton had twice published advertisements that featured a profile view of a greyhound sitting on its hind legs with its tongue sticking out of its mouth, first for several weeks in May 1772 and again for several weeks in November 1772.  He presumably still had access to the woodcut, yet chose not to incorporate it into his new round of advertising in the Providence Gazette.  He already invested in commissioning the woodcut for his exclusive use, but perhaps he did not wish to purchase the additional space required to include an image in his advertisements in the spring of 1773.  After all, the woodcut would have doubled the amount of space occupied by Wheaton’s advertisement, doubling the price as well.  Perhaps Wheaton believed that residents of Providence glimpsed his sign often enough as they went about their daily business that merely mentioning his sign would be enough to evoke images of it for many readers of the Providence Gazette.  It served as a brand or trademark that consumers did not need to see in order to imagine it for themselves.

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