July 28

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

Jul 28 - 7:28:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 28, 1770).

“JOSEPH AND Wm. RUSSELL.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell were among Providence’s mercantile elite in the decade prior to the American Revolution.  They conducted business at a shop marked by the Sign of the Golden Eagle, a device that became inextricably associated with the Russells.  Their name and the sign were interchangeable in advertisements that ran in the Providence Gazette.  Sometimes their notices included their names and the sign, sometimes just their names, and sometimes just the sign.  When advertisements included just their names, readers knew that they could find the Russells at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.  When advertisements directed readers to the Sign of the Golden Eagle, they knew that they would be dealing with the Russells.  No matter which configuration appeared in their advertisements, the Russells’ use of the public prints to promote their various enterprises enhanced and contributed to their visibility as prominent merchants.

They achieved that visibility with a variety of novel approaches to advertising, including full-page advertisements and multiple advertisements in a single issue.  In November 1766, they published what may have been the first full-page advertisement for consumer goods in an American newspaper.  (This excludes book catalogs that printer-booksellers inserted into their own newspapers, taking advantage of their access to the press.)  In addition, placing multiple advertisements per issue helped keep their names in the public eye, a strategy adopted by a small number of advertisers in the largest port cities.  Consider the July 28, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette.  It featured fourteen paid notices and a short advertisement for blanks inserted by the printer.  Of those fourteen advertisements, the Russells placed two, one on each page that had advertisements.  One of them presented various commodities for sale, while the other offered cash in exchange for potash and salts.  The Russells certainly were not the only American entrepreneurs to use the strategy of drawing readers’ attention to their names multiple times in a single issue of a newspaper, but they were the only ones who did so regularly in the Providence Gazette, a publication that tended to run fewer advertisements than its counterparts in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.  As a result, their advertisements were all the more noticeable because they competed with fewer others for attention.

May 26

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

May 26 - 5:26:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 26, 1770).

“POT-ASH, PEARL-ASH, and SALTS.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell were among the many merchants in New England who sought to acquire potash, pearl ash, and salts in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Potash production was a significant industry in the region in the second half of the eighteenth century.  Colonists produced pot ash, salts that contain potassium in water-soluble form, by leaching wood ashes and then evaporating the solution in potash kettles, leaving behind a white residue.  Potash and related commodities were used in making soap and gunpowder.  Starting in the 1760s, according to Carl Bridenbaugh, “potash became a staple commodity of New York and New England.”[1]

For several weeks in the spring of 1770, the Russells inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to announce “CASH given for Pot-Ash, Pearl-Ash, and Salts,” a familiar refrain that appeared in newspapers published in Boston, New London, Portsmouth, and other towns in New England.  In the May 26 edition, their advertisement happened to run next to the “PRICES CURRENT in PROVIDENCE,” a list of the going rates for a variety of commodities traded in the town.  The prices current included potash at 30 pounds per ton, the more refined pearl ash at 40 pounds per ton, and black salts at 26 pounds per ton.  Any readers who heeded the Russells’ call for potash and related commodities could easily determine if the merchants offered a fair price.

Lists of prices current appeared in many colonial newspapers, a regular feature in some but not as frequently in others.  Readers could work back and forth between advertisements and the prices current to envision a more complete picture of local commerce.  Similarly, they could compare the shipping news, another feature of many colonial newspapers, to advertisements for consumer goods that indicated the ship and captain that delivered the merchandise.  The record of vessels arriving and departing port aided in determining how recently merchants and shopkeepers received their wares.  Advertisements in colonial newspapers did not necessarily stand alone.  Instead, colonists could engage in active reading that took into consideration delivered in both advertisements and other features in newspapers, including the shipping news and lists of prices current.

**********

[1] Carl Bridenbaugh, The Colonial Craftsman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950), 105.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 17, 1770).

“Dwelling-House (improved last by Messieurs Jackson and Updike).”

Location!  Location!!  Location!!!  An advertisement in the March 17, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette offered a “House, Lot, and Dwelling-House thereon” for sale.  That real estate notice focused primarily on location and amenities lending themselves to commerce as the means of marketing the lot and buildings.  Currently “in the Occupation of Mr. James Green,” the premises, described as “the best Situation for Trade of any in the Place,” were on “the main Street” of Providence, “opposite Messieurs Joseph and William Russell’s Shop” at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.  With some renovation, the “lower front Part” of the could be “wholly made into a Shop” of generous proportions.  That same advertisement offered another “commodious Shop and Store” for sale “at a small Distance from said Dwelling-House.”  Green had “built and improved” the shop and adjoining warehouse, ultimately constructing “the most convenient Shop for a large Trader of any in the Town.”

The advertisement did not offer further description of the houses and shops offered for sale.  Although the “commodious Shop and Store” may have been the best option for “a large Trader” in 1770, the Russells had their own ideas for erecting a dwelling that testified to their stature among the city’s mercantile elite.  In 1772, Joseph Russell and William Russell built what the Providence Preservation Society now describes as the “earliest extant and most impressive of the cubical, three-story houses that symbolized wealth and social standing for several generations beginning at the eve of the American Revolution.”  The principal entrance, a segmented-arch portico with Corinthian pilasters, came from an English architectural pattern book, the Builder’s Compleat Assistant published in London in 1750.  Nearly two centuries after it was constructed, the Joseph and William Russell House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, but only after its interiors had been removed in the 1920s and installed in museums in Brooklyn, Denver, and Milwaukee.

December 11

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

Dec 11 - 12:11:1769 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (December 11, 1769).

“Printed Catalogues of which will be given gratis.”

On December 11, 1769, auctioneer Joseph Russell placed advertisements about an estate sale “At the House of the late Mr. John Knight” in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston and Boston Post-Boy. He inserted the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter four days later, informing prospective bidders that a “PUBLIC VENDUE” or auction of Knight’s “House-Furniture” would take place on December 20. Items up for bid included “Feather Beds, Bedsteds, and Bedding,” “a great Variety of Mens & Womens Wearing Apparel,” and “Shoe and Knee Buckles.” In additional to those items, Russell planned to auction “a valuable Library of Books, consisting of History and Divinity.”

The advertisement concluded with a note that “printed Catalogues … will be given gratis.” Those catalogs may have listed all of the items to be sold at auction, but more likely they listed only the books. That same year in Philadelphia William Bradford and Thomas Bradford printed a Catalogue of Books, to be Sold, by Public Auction, at the City Vendue-Store, in Front-Street. That catalog was a broadsheet with four columns; the format lent itself well to posting the catalog around town. Other eighteenth-century catalogs resembled pamphlets instead.

Auctioneers, printers, and booksellers regularly advised newspaper readers that they published book catalogs and distributed free copies, using one advertising medium to promote another. Some historians of print culture suspect that some references to such catalogs in newspaper advertisements led to bibliographic ghosts, alluding to catalogs that were never printed despite the promises or best intentions of the advertisers. For those that did make it to press, book catalogs were even more ephemeral than newspapers, making it less likely that colonists saved rather than discarded them. Still, enough have survived to demonstrate that auctioneers and others did print and distribute catalogs as a means of informing consumers and inciting demand. Newspapers notices were the most voluminous form of advertising in early America, but other marketing media, including catalogs, circulated as well. Russell expected his newspaper advertisements and book catalog to work in tandem.

April 22

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Providence Gazette (April 22, 1769).

“Wanted, a Quantity of good Pot-Ash.”

The word “Pot-Ash” caught my attention as I was looking at this advertisement, since I had never heard of it. After doing some research, I learned from a journal article by Henry Paynter that potash is a type of potassium carbonate that was made from the ashes of trees and plants during the eighteenth century. Home potash production was encouraged during the American Revolution, since it could be used to produce saltpeter for gunpowder. For more day-to-day life, it was used to make goods such as soap and glass, to dye fabrics, and for baking. Potash soap was very popular in England during the middle of the eighteenth century. Similar to South Carolina indigo compared to indigo from French and Spanish colonies, Great Britain imported potash produced in the American colonies rather than Russia because of its cheaper price, sacrificing quality to save money. As the colonial potash industry matured, production shifted north in order to utilize trees more favorable for making potash. Unfortunately, this process led to mass amounts of forests being cleared by the late eighteenth century, and Americans had to find other ways to produce the money-making potash.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Like many other colonial newspapers, the masthead of the Providence Gazette proclaimed that it “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.” Although the printer, John Carter, and many readers may have considered news items the most significant of those “Advices,” advertisements also kept colonists informed of events and commerce by providing details not necessarily available elsewhere in the newspaper. On occasion, Carter did not have sufficient space to publish all of the “Advices,” whether classified as news or paid notices. The April 22, 1769, edition included a brief note to that effect: “Sundry Articles of Intelligence composed for the Day’s Paper, and a few Advertisements, omitted for Want of Room, shall be in our next.”

Even though some advertisements did not make it into the April 22 issue, Joseph Russell and William Russell were well represented in its pages. News comprised the first two pages, a portion of the third, and most of the fourth. Overall, advertising accounted for slightly less than an entire page. Yet the Russells managed to have two advertisements included among the contents, the notice concerning potash on the final page and another promoting “Barrel Pork,” pepper, indigo, and other commodities on the third page. Both would have been familiar to regular readers of the Providence Gazette, having appeared the previous week and in earlier issues. As a result, these “Advices” may have seemed less pressing than the information in other advertisements or the “Sundry Articles of Intelligence” already composed but omitted until the following week.

Carter may have granted preferential treatment to the Russells precisely because they were such prolific advertisers. They advertised often, sometimes placing multiple advertisements in a single issue. They also tended to insert lengthy advertisements, especially when they listed dozens or hundreds of items they imported and sold at their shop. Carter relied on revenues from advertising to make the Providence Gazette a viable enterprise. In the colophon, every week he called on readers to submit both subscriptions and advertisements to the printing office. Given that the Russells did so regularly advertise in the pages of his newspaper, Carter may have prioritized their advertisements over others when running low on space, even though the “Advices” provided by the Russells had already become familiar in Providence and beyond over the course of several weeks.

March 25

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Providence Gazette (March 25, 1769).

“Pepper by the Bag.”

Joseph and William Russell advertised a few different commodities, such as pork, pepper, cordage, duck, indigo, and nails. Pepper was one of the biggest imports that came from Asia into Europe; it was one of the most valuable resources that the British imported from British India to Europe and the colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Pepper had been one of the bigger sources of conflict between the British and the Dutch in earlier years, according to K.N. Chaudhuri in The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660-1760. Though the wrestling for dominance over India by European powers took place earlier than the Russells published their advertisement in the Providence Gazette, it bore great weight when observing the later outcomes and rewards that the British and the colonists reaped from those earlier efforts in securing a steady flow of resources from India, including textiles and pepper.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When it came time to select which advertisement to feature today, Sean had very few options. The Providence Gazette was the only newspaper published in colonial America on Saturday, March 25, 1769. While it often carried dozens of advertisements that filled the entire final page and often spilled over to other pages, only five paid notices ran in the March 25 edition. They did not amount to an entire column. Two were legal notices and one offered a forge for lease. Only two offered goods for sale: the advertisement placed by the Russells and an even shorter notice for “best English Hay and Hay-Seed” to be sold by Hezekiah Carpenter. Guest curator Zach Dubreuil already examined the Russells’ advertisement last week. While the methodology for the Adverts 250 Project usually specifies that an advertisement should be featured only once, I instructed Sean that he could work with this advertisement as long as he consulted with Zach to choose a different aspect to analyze.

Those five notices were not, however, the sole mention of advertising in the Providence Gazette that week. At the bottom of the column John Carter, the printer, inserted a short announcement: “Advertisements omitted, for Want of Room, shall be in our next.” The relative scarcity of advertising in that issue apparently was not for lack of notices submitted to the printing office, as often seemed to be the case with the Boston Chronicle, but rather too much other content that Carter considered more important at the moment. Printers needed to carefully manage such situations. Especially at times of political turmoil, they had an obligation to disseminate news to their readers as quickly as they acquired it or risk losing readers, yet revenues from advertising were essential to the continued operation of colonial newspapers. The notice that “Advertisements omitted … shall be in our next” informed clients who expected to see their advertisements in the March 25 edition that they would indeed appear the following week after only a brief hiatus. That strategy was not Carter’s only option. Printers throughout the colonies sometimes issued half sheet supplements comprised of advertising when news (and other advertisements) filled the standard issue. Carter may not have had sufficient additional paid notices to merit doing so, or he may not have had sufficient time to produce a supplement. Even though few advertisements ran in the March 25 issue, the printer still addressed the business of advertising in the pages of the newspaper.

March 18

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Providence Gazette (March 18, 1769).

“Choice Indico.”

This advertisement shows that Joseph and William Russell had multiple items for sale, including pork, pepper, and nails. I selected “choice Indico” to examine in more detail. Indigo was used as a blue dye for clothing and other textiles. This highly priced dye was produced in the southern colonies. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “By 1755 the Carolina colony alone was exporting around 200,000 pounds of indigo annually; Georgia was just beginning to export indigo, with 4,500 pounds exported that year. Georgia’s indigo exportation reached its peak in 1770, with more than 22,00 pounds.” Production of indigo collapsed in the colonies at the onset of the Revolutionary War because plantations in Central America and Florida were able to produce more crops per year based on their climate. Indigo dye was important to the colonies. Just like the potash from yesterday’s advertisement, producing indigo and exporting it helped colonists earn money to buy imported goods.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As we revised earlier drafts of his entry for today’s advertisement, Zach and I discussed the intended audience. He hypothesized that the Russells did not target end-use consumers but instead sought to attract the attention of masters of vessels who needed to supplies when they visited Providence. Zach suspected that much of the “CHOICE Barrel Pork,” cordage, “Nails of all Sorts” hawked by the Russells ended up aboard ships that sailed on commercial ventures from Providence to other places throughout the Atlantic world.

I agree with Zach for a couple of reasons. First, he offers a sound interpretation of the specific commodities offered by the Russells in this particular advertisement. I also agree with him because of the style of the advertisement and the many sorts of goods that it did not include. The Russells were prominent merchants in Providence. They regularly advertised in the Providence Gazette, ranking among the most prolific advertisers in that publication. Their advertisements often invited consumers to visit their shop and examine the variety of items they offered for sale. For instance, one previous advertisement announced “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS,” although it did not describe any of the merchandise. In another advertisement they described their “large, neat, and compleat Assortment of English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS” as “by far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.” Others went into elaborate detail about the Russells’s inventory. They were the first advertisers to experiment with full-page advertisements in the Providence Gazette. On such occasions they listed hundreds of items in stock at their shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” a landmark that became nearly exceptionally familiar in the public prints. In their advertisements placed as retailers, they often addressed prospective customers as “Gentlemen and Ladies both in Town and Country.”

These elements were missing from the Russells’s advertisement in the March 18, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Based on the types of goods offered for the sale, the quantities, and the style of the advertisement, it appears that they sought different buyers than they addressed in many of their other advertisements. This time they operated as merchants providing supplies in bulk rather than as shopkeepers cultivating relationships with consumers.

February 26

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 20, 1769).

“Two Tierces of SUGAR of the first Quality.”

Sugar was a sought-after consumer good, closely associated with tea in the eighteenth century. Drinking tea with sugar was popular in colonial America, especially since the rituals resembled the lifestyle of Britons on the other side of the Atlantic. Everyone loved tea with sugar, but it is essential to look at where all the sugar came from.

The production of sugarcane, mostly by slaves in the Caribbean, increased throughout the eighteenth century. During this time, there was a shift from tobacco to sugar, according to B.W. Higman. In “The Sugar Revolution,” Higman states, “The six central elements of the sugar revolution are commonly regarded as a swift shift from diversified agriculture to sugar monoculture, from production on small farms to large plantations, from free to slave labour, from sparse to dense settlement, from white to black populations, and from low to high value per caput output.”[1] As part of the “sugar revolution,” the exportation of sugar from the Caribbean to mainland North America allowed colonists to live a life resembling the mother country. Slaves, the hands behind production, played a significant part in the expansion of colonial consumer culture. With high demand for sugar, slaves put in long hours on plantations to meet the needs of mass production. Enslaved labor boosted production to large-scale enterprises. It is safe to say slavery was a driving force in the success of the sugar industry. It is interesting how colonists set high demands for a good, such as sugar, to enhance their identity as British while allowing enslaved workers to be the means behind it. It shows how slavery was part of consumer culture even for colonists kept their hands clean by not owning slaves.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph Russell advertised the “SUGAR of the first Quality” that prompted Chloe to consider the connections between slavery and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Russell, however, was neither a shopkeeper nor a merchant. Instead, he was an auctioneer who regularly advertised the various goods coming up for bids at his “Auction Room, in Queen-street.” In addition to the sugar slated to be sold “by PUBLIC VENDUE” (or auction), he also advertised “a variety of English GOODS.” Russell was not alone in his efforts to steer consumers to auctions rather than patronizing the many shops in Boston. Immediately above his advertisement, another notice, this one placed by John Gerrish, informed readers of an upcoming auction of “A fresh Assortment of GOODS” at “the Public Vendue-Office, North End.” Beyond Boston, other auctioneers also published newspaper advertisements to promote their establishments. Four of them – “Abeel & Neil’s VENDUE,” “M‘DAVITT’s Vendue House,” “MOORE & LYNSEN’s AUCTION-ROOM,” and “Nich. W. Stuyvesant, & Co’s. Vendue-House” – inserted notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on the same day that Russell’s advertisement ran in the Boston Evening-Post.

Auctions presented additional opportunities for colonists to participate in the consumer revolution. Rather from visit shops or warehouses where they would have to haggle with shopkeepers and merchants in hopes of gaining the lowest prices, they could instead seek bargains at auctions. Auctioneers advertised in hopes of drawing crowds, hoping that would increase bids, but colonists knew that they could acquire goods below market value if bidding lagged. Gerrish’s advertisement indicated that his next auction consisted of “a great Variety of ARTICLES, both New, and Second hand.” For those who could not afford to purchase certain kinds of clothing, housewares, and other merchandise from merchants and shopkeepers, auctions allowed them to acquire secondhand items at reduced prices. Gerrish announced that the “Goods may be viewed before the Sale,” thus allowing prospective bidders to examine used items for wear, defects, and cleanliness in advance rather than forcing them to make decisions on the spot during the auction.

Russell’s auction of “a variety of English GOODS” likely included many items similar to those listed in Thomas Knight’s advertisement on the same page of the Boston Evening-Post. While Knight proclaimed that he was “determined to sell at the very lowest” prices, savvy consumers knew that they might get even better deals at an auction.

**********

[1] B.W. Higman, “The Sugar Revolution,” Economic History Review 53, no. 2 (May 200): 213

January 14

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

Providence Gazette (January 14, 1769).

“To be Sold at the Golden Eagle.”

In an era before standardized street numbers, advertisers used a variety of other means to advise prospective customers where to find their shops and stores. Consider the directions offered in advertisements in the January 14, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Samuel Chace listed his location as “just below the Great Bridge.” Similarly, Samuel Black specified that his store was “on the West Side of the Great Bridge, and near the Long Wharff.” Other advertisers included even more elaborate instructions. Darius Sessions reported that his shop was “on the main Street, between the Court-House and Church, and directly opposite the large Button-Wood Tree.” Patrick Mackey announced that “he has opened a Skinner’s Shop near the Hay-Ward, on the East Side of the Great Bridge, between Mr. Godfry’s and the Sign of the Bull.” These advertisers expected prospective customers would navigate the city via a combination of street names, landmarks, and shop signs.

In contrast, another advertisement, one that did not name the merchant or shopkeeper who inserted it in the Providence Gazette, simply proclaimed, “a general Assortment of ENGLISH and HARD WARE GOODS, to be Sold at the Golden Eagle.” The store operated by Joseph Russell and William Russell was so renowned that its location did not require elaboration. The Russells considered it so well known that they did not need to include their names in the advertisement. Instead, their shop sign served as the sole representation of their business in the public prints. “Golden Eagle” even appeared in larger font, making it the central focus of advertisement. In other advertisements, the names “Samuel Chace,” “Samuel Black,” and “Darius Sessions” drew attention as headlines in font the same size as “Golden Eagle.” This was not the first time that the Russells had excluded their names in favor of having their shop sign stand in for them. A brief advertisement published two months earlier informed readers about “TAR, PITCH and TURPENTINE, To be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE.” That they repeatedly deployed this strategy suggests their confidence that their shop sign was known and recognized, both by readers who perused the Providence Gazette and by prospective customers who traversed the streets of Providence.

November 19

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

Nov 19 - 11:19:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 19, 1768).

“To be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE.”

An advertisement that ran several times in the Providence Gazette in the fall of 1768 informed readers quite simply of “TAR, PITCH and TURPENTINE, to be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE.” The notice did not provide additional information about the location of the shop or the proprietor. In another advertisement inserted simultaneously, Joseph Russell and William Russell hawked a variety of hardware goods they carried “at their Store and Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House, Providence.”

Other entrepreneurs who advertised in the Providence Gazette provided directions to aid prospective customers in finding their places of business. E. Thompson and Company stocked a variety of merchandise “At their STORE, near the Great Bridge.” Samuel Chaice also relied solely on a prominent landmark when he advised readers of the inventory “At his Store, just below the Great Bridge, in Providence.” Others deployed a combination of landmarks and shop signs. James Arnold and Company, for instance, promoted an assortment of goods available “At their STORE, the Sign of the GOLDEN FOX, near the Great Bridge.” Clark and Nightingale invited customers to visit them “At their Store, the Sign of the Fish and Frying-Pan, opposite Oliver Arnold’s, Esquire.” The colophon doubled as an advertisement for job printing done “by JOHN CARTER, at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespears Head.”

Those advertisements that included shop signs also developed a brand that identified the proprietors, though not necessarily their merchandise. The shop signs became sufficient identification for their enterprises, as was the case with the Russells’ advertisement that did not list their names but instead simply noted readers could purchase tar, pitch, and turpentine “at the GOLDEN EAGLE.” The Russells were among the most prominent merchants in Providence. They were also the most prolific advertisers in the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s. As a result, they did not need to provide their names or further directions in some of their advertisements. They trusted that the public was already familiar with the sign of the “GOLDEN EAGLE,” so familiar as to render any additional information superfluous. Their frequent advertisements aided in associating the image of the “GOLDEN EAGLE” with their business and their commercial identity.