June 15

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

Providence Gazette (June 15, 1771).

“He will sell as cheap … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.”

Purveyors of goods and services frequently made appeals to price to entice prospective customers, but some made much bolder claims than others.  Consider how advertisers sought to leverage price to their advantage in the June 15, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.

William Eliot stocked a variety of textiles “to be sold cheap.”  Similarly, John Fitton sold flour, pork, and peas by the barrel, “all cheap for Cash” (or in trade for “good Melasses”).  In addition to promising low prices, other advertisers insisted that they set the lowest prices for their wares.  The partnership of Nicholas, Joseph, and Moses Brown, for instance, carried “a fine Assortment of Hard Ware and other GOODS, which they will sell on the lowest Terms.”  Coy and Waterman specialized in painting supplies, having “furnished themselves with a compleat Assortment of Painters Colours, which they will sell at the lowest Prices.”

Other advertisers made even more colorful proclamations about prices.  At his shop at the Sign of the Turk’s Head, Paul Allen supposedly offered some of the best bargains anywhere in the colonies.  He trumpeted that “he will sell on as low Terms … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.”  Allen informed prospective customers that his prices matched the best deals available in Boston, Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, and other towns and cities.  Joseph Nash made the same comparison, declaring that he sold his “neat Assortment of GOODS … as cheap … as can be purchased anywhere on the Continent.”  Allen and Nash echoed an appeal John Morton and James Morton made in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy the previous day.  The Mortons promised prospective customers that they could acquire their merchandise “as cheap as in New York or Boston.”

The vast majority of merchants and shopkeepers mentioned low prices in their newspaper advertisements, though some were more creative than others in doing so.  Advertisers like Allen and Nash attempted to attract customers with reassurances that they had the best deals anywhere, not just prices that were low enough to compete in the local marketplace.  In the process, they prompted readers to imagine themselves participating in a consumer revolution taking place throughout the colonies and beyond.  Acquiring goods connected readers of the Providence Gazette to colonists in faraway places, giving them common experiences through their experiences in the marketplace.

October 15

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

Oct 15 - 10:15:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 15, 1768).

“Leather and Breeches may also be had at said Nash’s Store, the Sign of the Buck and Glove.”

When Joseph Nash advertised a “large Parcel of Deers Leather” and “Buckskin Breeches” in the Providence Gazette in the fall of 1768, he informed readers that they could purchase these items at two locations in Providence. Prospective customers could deal directly with Nash “At the North End of the Town of Providence.” Alternately, they could also visit “Nash’s Store, the Sign of the Buck and Glove, just below the Mill-Bridge, in Providence.” Nash reported that Levi Hall and N. Metcalf, “Leather-Dressers,” had set up shop at that location. It appears that Hall and Metcalf may have been tenants rather than employees of Nash, but their relationship extended to assisting each other with their business endeavors. Nash’s advertisement concluded with a note that Hall and Metcalf wished to procure sheepskins, “for which they will give Cash or Leather.”

Whatever their relationship, Nash was the focal point of the advertisement, in terms of both the typography and the appeals made to prospective customers. “Joseph Nash” served as the headline for the advertisement, appearing on a line of its own and in much larger font than the rest of the copy in the advertisement. In that regard “Joseph Nash” matched the treatment given to the names of other advertisers in their notices, including “Joseph Olney,” “John White,” and “Charles Stevens.” The compositor also applied this design to advertisements placed by partners, giving each partner his own line: “JOSEPH / AND / Wm. RUSSELL” and “THURBER / AND / CAHOON.” With the exception of the masthead, the only other text of similar size in that issue came from the headline of an advertisement in which the printers promoted the “New-England / TOWN and COUNTRY / Almanack.” Both “New-England” and “Almanack” appeared in the same significantly larger font as “Joseph Nash.” Even though “LEVI HALL, and N. METCALF” appeared in capitals in the middle of the advertisement, “Joseph Nash” was the name readers would notice at a glance. It dominated the advertisement and the rest of the page on which it appeared.

Nash’s appeals to customers also overshadowed any independent work undertaken by Hall and Metcalf. Before he even mentioned that they occupied his store at the Sign of the Buck and Glove, Nash addressed the quality and range of choices among his “large Parcel of Deers Leather,” stating that the pieces were “dressed in the neatest Manner, and well so sorted, from the thickest Buckskin to the finest Doe; so that any Gentleman may have his Choice.” Furthermore, his “ready made Buckskin Breeches” were also “done in the neatest Manner, by a Workman from London.” Unlike Hall and Metcalf, Nash certainly supervised the work done by an employee at his location at the north end of Providence. The remainder of the advertisement mentioned that prospective customers could purchase the same items from Hall and Metcalf, but did not promote the quality, prices, or choices of their inventory, which also included “Sheep and Lambskins … and Sheeps Wool.”

Nash’s advertisement certainly promoted his own products. It also granted increased visibility to Hall and Metcalf even though the focus remained primarily on their collaboration with Nash. That likely served Nash’s purposes, especially if he wished to retain as much of his share of the local market as possible while also making Hall and Metcalf’s business a viable enough enterprise that they could continue as tenants or otherwise operating his second location at the Sign of the Buck and Glove.