January 9

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

Jan 9 - 1:9:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 9, 1768).

“At their New Shop and Store, the sign of the Bunch of Grapes.”

Benjamin Thurber and Daniel Cahoon informed residents of Providence and its hinterland that they had formed a partnership in an advertisement that ran in the Providence Gazette in the fall of 1767. In their initial notice the shopkeepers emphasized their retail space, trumpeting that they “have built and compleated the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.” They also proclaimed that they had “furnished it with a very large and general Assortment of the very best of English and India Piece Goods, Hard Ware, all Sorts of West-India Goods, and Groceries of all Kinds.”

In their subsequent advertising Thurber and Cahoon turned to demonstrating the extent of their inventory, listing dozens of items available for purchase “at their New Shop and Store, the sign of the Bunch of Grapes.” Just as they claimed to operate the largest shop in town, their advertisement occupied the most space in the January 9, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, although it had been rivaled by Jonathan Russell’s advertisement in the previous issue. Thurber and Cahoon may have been motivated, in part, by Russell’s lengthy advertisement and its extended run in their local newspaper. It commenced in mid November, shortly after they announced their partnership, and continued for eight weeks, disappearing from the pages of the Providence Gazette after the first issue of the new year. Thurber and Cahoon may have determined that they needed to place an advertisement of similar length to challenge Russell and to remind potential customers of the size of their shop, supposedly the largest in Providence.

Their advertisement extended nearly three-quarters of a column, twice the length of the next longest advertisement in the January 9 issue. It also featured unique typography. Rather than list their wares in a single continuous and dense paragraph, they instead enumerated one or tow items per line and created two narrower columns within the single column that contained their advertisement. Not only did this typographical strategy make their notice appear even longer, it may have conjured up rows of shelves in their shop, suggesting how much space Thurber and Cahoon made available for customers to leisurely browse through their merchandise. By comparison, the other advertisements in the same issue looked much more cramped, implying that their shops were equally crowded and difficult to navigate.

Thurber and Cahoon used the amount of space on the page and design elements to their advantage when they placed their advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Although they echoed many of the same appeals to price, quality, and service that appeared in other commercial notices, the typography set their advertisement apart and buttressed the claims they made to potential customers.

October 31

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

Oct 31 - 10:31:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 31, 1767).

“Have built and completed the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.”

Benjamin Thurber and Daniel Cahoon placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to announce that “they have entered into Copartnership in all their mercantile Business.” The new partners operated a store that stocked “a very large and general Assortment of the very best of English and India Piece Goods, Hard Ware, all Sorts of West-India Goods, and Groceries of all Kinds.” They advanced some of the most common marketing strategies that appeared in eighteenth-century advertising – consumer choice, price, quality – but they also incorporated other appeals to distinguish their notice from others.

Merchants and shopkeepers rarely commented on their shops as retail spaces in newspaper advertisements, choosing instead to focus on their merchandise or personal attributes that qualified them to serve customers. Thurber and Cahoon, however, mentioned their location “at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes” at the north end of Providence before launching any of the many other appeals in their advertisement. “[F]or the better accommodating their Customers,” they proclaimed, they “have built and completed the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.” Considering the range of imported goods in their inventory, Thurber and Cahoon needed adequate space to store and display their stock. Yet operating the “largest Shop and Store” in town had other advantages. It presumably allowed customers sufficient room to examine the merchandise and to move throughout the establishment freely. By implication, their competitors occupied small and crowded spaces that detracted from the overall experience.

Thurber and Cahoon invited potential customers “to come and look for themselves” at their shop, promising the “greatest welcome.” Here customer service intersected with the amenities of the retail space to create an environment in which patrons would experience “Pleasure” even as they “lay out their Money.” The partners predicted that their customers would “chearfully” make purchases, in part because they so enjoyed shopping at the “best and largest Shop and Store” in Providence. In the nineteenth century department stores marketed themselves as palaces of consumption. Thurber and Cahoon’s advertisement anticipated that strategy approximately a century before it became a standard aspect of selling the shopping experience to customers.