July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:23:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 23, 1768).

“A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS.”

It would have been practically impossible for regular readers of the Providence Gazette not to know something about the commercial activities of Joseph Russell and William Russell in the late 1760s. The Russells were prolific advertisers. They saturated the pages of their local newspaper with a series of notices that made their names and merchandise familiar to prospective customers.

For instance, the Russells placed three advertisements in the July 23, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. One promoted their “most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS.” Another offered a house for rent, but concluded with an announcement concerning textiles, tea, and spices they sold. The third called on fellow colonists to deliver potash to the Russells.

The three appeared in a single column on the final page of the July 23 issue. It was the fifth issue that featured all three advertisements and the third consecutive issue in which they appeared one after another, though their position on the page changed from week to week depending on the needs of the compositor. By placing so many advertisements and so frequently, the Russells made it difficult to overlook their activities in the colonial marketplace.

The first of their advertisements was especially notable for its longevity. The “(23)” inserted on the final line indicated that it first ran in issue number 223, published April 16. Since then, it had maintained a constant presence in the Providence Gazette, appearing every week for fifteen consecutive weeks before being discontinued. Throughout most of that time the Russells simultaneously published at least one other advertisement in the Providence Gazette. The notice concerning a house for rent and assorted goods for sale first appeared on July 25, replacing another advertisement that exclusively promoted consumer goods that ran for seven weeks beginning in May.

Most advertisers usually ran notices for only three or four weeks in newspapers published in other cities. Those who advertised in the Providence Gazette tended to run their advertisements for even longer (which may suggest the publishers offered discounted rates in order to generate content and revenue). Still, the Russells’ “SPRING and SUMMER GOODS” notice enjoyed an exceptionally long run, signaling that they wanted to be certain that readers saw and remembered their advertisement. Combining it with other notices further increased the name recognition they achieved.

April 12

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 12 - 4:11:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 11, 1767).

“Pork, Rice, and Indigo”

The Not-So-Bare Necessities! As we can see in this advertisement, newspapers were a prime place for merchants to advertise popular goods. Items ranging from necessary food ingredients, such as flour and rice, all the way to saws and steel were advertised and accessible to customers in the colonies. However, purchasing these items meant more than just having something of worth; purchasing these items sometimes also had added political and social connotations.

The consumer culture seen in this advertisement was present not only in Providence but also throughout the colonies. The historians at Colonial Williamsburg indicate that one of the main contributors to this was the fact that colonists had more money by the middle of the eighteenth century than they previously did. They could then purchase items, such as indigo, as a luxury because they had money left over after purchasing their basic necessities. It was a luxury to have more items, but this also made for a better reputation. If colonists could show that they could purchase things beyond just the necessities, it must mean that they have some form of disposable wealth. However, this could be misleading, especially with the rise of credit, which allowed individuals to purchase items without having the money upfront to pay for them. The rise of the use of credit as well as competition to display status both gave way the purchasing of goods beyond just basics that was part of the consumer revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

For the past several months, the Adverts 250 Project has tracked the relative scarcity of advertising that appeared in the Providence Gazette, compared to newspapers published in other port cities, during the winter of 1766 and 1767. With the arrival of spring, the number and total column space increased, including today’s advertisement from Black and Stewart. This advertisement, however, was not the only notice that Black and Stewart placed in the April 11, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette. The partners inserted a second notice announcing that they wished to acquire “the best Kind of Hogshead Hoops, Red Oak Hogshead Staves, and Yellow Pine Boards.”

A single advertiser placing two separate notices concerning the exchange of goods or commodities in one issue was relatively rare in the late 1760s, at least as far as those outside the book trades were concerned. Printers frequently filled the pages of their own publications with multiple advertisements, a privilege of operating the press, but merchants, shopkeepers, and others buying and selling goods tended to limit themselves to just one advertisement at a time. Some certainly revised the copy or submitted new advertisements to made sure they always had a presence in the public prints, but usually not multiple notices per issue. A few departed from this general rule, mostly in the major port cities of Boston and Charleston.

That made Black and Stewart’s multiple advertisements all the more notable. In the space of just a couple of months, the Providence Gazette shifted from including virtually no advertising (except notices inserted by the printers) to featuring more than one notice placed by the same advertisers. While the significance of this example should not be exaggerated, it is worth noting that advertisers beyond the largest urban centers adopted a practice previously only identified in major port cities, places where multiple newspapers competed for readers and advertisers. Although newspapers printed in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston provide the most plentiful examples of advertising in the 1760s, entrepreneurs in other places also experimented with format and frequency as they developed their own marketing strategies.