What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Shop of Holden and Grainger, Taylors, was broke open.”
Advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers sometimes served as precursors to police blotters that recorded crimes in later centuries. In particular, they most often provided details about burglaries, in part because the victims offered rewards for the return of stolen goods and the conviction of the culprits.
Two burglaries occurred in Providence on the night of September 22, 1772. Perhaps the same “Thief or Thieves” perpetrated both crimes. William Barton reported his shop “was broke open, and robbed of … five new Beaver Hats, not coloured; one second handed Hat, cut in the new Fashion; and one Cloth coloured Surtout, with Basket Buttons.” Similarly, tailors Holden and Grainger declared that their shop “was broke open” and an even greater array of items taken. The details that the tailors provided would have made it easy to identify the stolen goods, including “one Suit of Claret coloured Broadcloth, not finished, the Lining nearly of the same Colour, with Leather Pockets, a Pocket in the Lining of the left Forebody, having Gold Basket Buttons, and Gold Knee-straps, the Breeches not lined” and “a light grey Broadcloth lapelled Jacket, with Basket Buttons of the same Colour, partly worn, having new Lining to the Skirts, and Tow-cloth Pockets.” Holden and Grainger also stated that “the same Shop was broke open” near the end of August. Unfortunately for Barton, that had been the case for his shop as well. The “Thief or Thieves” may have kept some or all of the stolen items for themselves, but they more likely fenced them. The articles then entered what Serena Zabin has called an “informal economy” that made participating in the consumer revolution more accessible to the lower sorts – free, indentured, and enslaved – who did not have the means to purchase new goods directly from shopkeepers who retailed them or artisans who produced them.
Barton offered a reward of fifteen dollars for apprehending the burglars or five dollars for recovering the stolen articles. Similarly, Holden and Grainger promised twelve dollars to “Whoever apprehends the Thief or Thieves” and six dollars for the stolen items. They also decided to take advantage of placing their notice in the Providence Gazette by concluding with a nota bene that informed the public that they “have for Sale choice Deer Skins, and ready made Breeches, cheap for Cash or Grain.” Like many other advertisers, they placed an advertisement with more than one purpose. As long as they had the public’s attention, they figured they could benefit from promoting their services in addition to seeking assistance in recovering their stolen goods.