September 7

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

Providence Gazette (September 7, 1771).

“Sell at least as low as they were ever sold on the Continent of America.”

Some merchants and shopkeepers named their businesses after the signs that marked their locations, but relatively few chose other sorts of names.  E. Bridgham of Boston was one of those exceptions, advertising that he operated the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse” on King Street in Boston.  Bridgham sold, as the name suggested, goods imported “directly from the several Manufacturers in Staffordshire and Liverpool,” including “China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware.”

Bridgham was an enterprising entrepreneur in other ways as well.  He sought to cultivate customers from beyond Boston and the surrounding towns.  He placed his advertisement for the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse in the September 7, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  With the exception of printers looking to drum up business for proposed publications via subscription notices inserted in newspapers published in multiple colonies, most purveyors of goods confined their advertising to local newspapers.  At the time, Bridgham had five newspapers to choose among in Boston, all of them distributed beyond the bustling port.

Yet Bridgham imagined a larger market for his merchandise, placing himself in competition with merchants and shopkeepers in Providence as well as Boston.  To convince prospective customers in Rhode Island that they should purchase from him rather than shop more locally, he proclaimed that he was “able, and fully inclined, to sell at least as low” as similar imported goods “were ever sold on the Continent of America.”  He attempted to use low prices to lure customers, promising bargains that compared not only to any they might encounter in Boston or Providence but also New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and everywhere else.  Bridgham suggested he set prices low enough to justify the additional effort of acquiring goods from his shop in Boston for those who resided at a distance and had other options in their vicinity.

The Providence Gazette regularly carried advertisements for shops located in Rhode Island, western Connecticut, and southeastern Massachusetts, but rarely did merchants and shopkeepers from Boston advertise in that newspaper.  E. Bridgam apparently felt that the four shillings the printer charged to run the advertisement for three weeks might yield a return on his investment by enhancing the visibility of the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse and attracting new customers from Providence.

February 7

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

Feb 7 - 2:1:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 1, 1768).

“Joshua Hacker … has two swift sailing small Sloops, which ply constantly between Providence and Newport.”

In the late 1760s Joshua Hacker provided ferry and freight service between Providence and Newport. His “two swift sailing small Sloops” competed with the “Stage-Boats” operated by Thomas and Benjamin Lindsey. That competition took place on the waterways but also on the pages of colonial newspapers. Hacker and the Lindseys both placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette, the terminus of their route. The Lindseys even updated their advertising to promote expanded services in order to compete with Hacker. In turn, Hacker countered by publishing his advertisement in an additional newspaper, widening the market of potential clients.

When it appeared in the February 1, 1768, edition of the Boston Post-Boy, Hacker’s advertisement included the same copy that ran in the Providence Gazette, from comments about the “exceeding good Accomodations for Passengers” to promoting his “ten Years” of experience” to listing prices for shipping all sorts of freight down to “A Box of Candles.” The version in the Boston Post-Boy did introduce the alternate spelling of “Accomodations,” but Hacker did not revise or abbreviate his lengthy advertisement before submitting it to Green and Russell for publication in their newspaper.

Providence and Newport were busy ports in the late 1760s, but Boston was an even larger and busier port. Hacker realized that many merchants and others who did business in Boston might also have cause to travel between Providence and Newport or transport goods between the two locations. Having established himself in Rhode Island and facing an increasingly aggressive rivalry with the Lindseys for local clients, he attempted to drum up new business from prospective customers in a nearby market that had not been recently exposed to his advertisements. The notice in the Boston Post-Boy may have been an attempt to gauge whether such efforts were worth the investment. If Hacker experienced increased business from residents of Boston he could consider placing advertisements in other newspapers, including the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette. On the other hand, if the advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy did not seem to yield additional clients Hacker could decide that advertising in other newspapers would not result in a sufficient return on the investment.