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.

October 22

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

Oct 22 - 10:22:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 22, 1768).

“The Snow TRISTRAM … WILL be ready to sail in 14 Days.”

In the late 1760s Joseph Russell and William Russell advertised frequently in the Providence Gazette. Unlike most advertisers throughout the colonies, they sometimes ran multiple advertisements in a single issue, a tactic that enhanced their prominence as local merchants and gave their enterprises even greater visibility. Such was the case in October 1768. On October 1 they placed a new advertisement for “a neat and fresh Assortment of GOODS” that they had just imported “in the Ship Cleopatra.” It appeared in all five issues published in October. On October 15 they inserted a new advertisement that solicited passengers and cargo for the Tristram, scheduled to sail for London in fourteen days. In the same advertisement the Russells seized the opportunity to hawk their “stout Russia DUCK, best Bohea TEA, [and] an neat Assortment of Irish LINENS.”

That advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette on two more occasions, but never with updated copy. It ran in the October 22 edition, still proclaiming that the Tristram “WILL be ready to sail in 14 Days.” Anyone interested in arranging “Freight or Passage” needed to pay attention to the date listed at the end of the advertisement: “October 15, 1768.” The advertisement made one final appearance on October 29 – the day the Tristram was supposed to set sail – still stating that the ship would depart in fourteen days. It may have still been possible to book passage, but unlikely that Captain David Shand took on additional cargo at that time. The Russells, however, continued to peddle textiles and tea along with the assortment of other merchandise promoted in the companion advertisement published elsewhere in the issue.

The Russells provided enough information for prospective clients to determine the sailing date of the Tristram even though they did not revise the copy as the date approached. Listing the date they submitted the advertisement to the printing office was an imperative component because once the type had been set the notice would run without changes until it was discontinued. Very rarely did advertisements undergo any sort of revision in colonial America. Instead, they were eventually replaced with new advertisements comprised of completely different copy, if advertisers wished to continue at all. This meant that advertisements that ran for any length of time might include outdated portions, an aspect that likely contributed to skepticism of marketing efforts by readers.

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.

July 2

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

Jul 2 - 7:2:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 2, 1768).

“At their Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House. (23).”

Joseph and William Russell’s advertisement for “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS” available “at their Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House” in Providence incorporated graphic design elements intended to attract the attention of newspaper readers and prospective customers. The copious use of all capitals and large fonts distinguished their advertisement from many others that appeared in the Providence Gazette in the spring and summer of 1768. As a result of their decisions concerning the visual aspects of their advertisement, the Russells’ notice included far less text than many others of a similar length. They traded the extra copy for distinctive graphic design.

Yet not every element of their advertisement was intended for the readers of the Providence Gazette. Like many other paid notices that appeared in that publication, it concluded with a number in parentheses: in this case, “(23).” Several other advertisements in the July 2, 1768, edition also featured two-digit numbers. Shopkeepers J. Mathewson and E. Thompson and Company both had “(32)” on the final line of their advertisement. The same number appeared at the end of Joseph Whitcomb’s notice concerning a stolen horse. Isaac Field, executor to the estate of Joseph Field, inserted a notice with “(33)” on the same line as his name. Nicholas Clark’s advertisement seeking “an Apprentice to the Block-making Business” included “(34),” as did Moses Brown’s notice concerning a house for sale.

Each of these numbers corresponded to the issue in which the advertisement first appeared. The July 2 edition was issue “NUMB. 234.” The “(34)” in Clark’s and Brown’s advertisements indicated that they ran for the first time. Those with “(33)” were originally published a week earlier in the previous issue, whereas those with “(32)” were making their third appearance. The Russells’ advertisement, with its “(23),” had been running for quite some time.

These numbers aided printers and compositors in determining when to remove advertisements, especially if the advertisers had contracted for a certain number of insertions. While intended primarily for the use of those in the printing office, astute readers may have also consulted them to determine which advertisements were new and which were not. Those who perused the Providence Gazette every week would certainly have recognized advertisements they had seen multiple times, but others who did not peruse the newspaper as frequently did not have that advantage. Those numbers – likely the only portion of the copy not composed by the advertisers – were tools intended to aid those who operated the press, but they also helped readers to distinguish among notices that were new, relatively new, and not new at all.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 7, 1768).

“To be SOLD by JOSEPH AND Wm. RUSSELL.”

How much influence did eighteenth-century advertisers exert when it came to designing their advertisements? This notice placed by prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell complicates the usual answer to that question.

In most instances advertisers submitted copy and left it to compositors to determine format. The publication of the same advertisement in multiple newspapers with consistent copy but significant deviations in layout, font size, and other visual aspects testifies to the division between advertisers as copywriters and compositors as designers. Yet on relatively rare occasions some advertisements retained specific visual elements, such as a decorative border, across multiple publications, indicating that an advertiser did indeed have a hand in determining the format. In general, most colonial newspapers exhibited an internal logic when it came to the appearance of advertisements. Compositors tended to standardize the appearance of paid notices within their publication depending on genre (consumer goods and services, legal notices, runaway slaves, for example), even as the copy differed from advertisement to advertisement. Advertisers often resorted to formulaic language and accepted patterns for including information, contributing to that standardization of visual elements.

The advertisements in the Providence Gazette, however, displayed far less consistency when it came to graphic design. Compared to counterparts at other newspapers, the compositor seems to have been much more interested in experimenting with how to use type to create distinctive advertisements even when those advertisements were comprised entirely of text. Does the compositor deserve exclusive credit for such innovations? Or did the variations emerge as the result of consultations with advertisers?

Although the advertisement the Russells placed in the May 7, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette does not provide any definitive answers, its various elements suggest some level of collaboration. It featured a headline that listed a product rather than the names of the advertisers. Their names appeared at the end of the notice, quite unusual for advertisements that promoted consumer goods and services. The dual columns listing their wares differed from the structure of most, but not all, other advertisements recently published in that newspaper. The Russells may have worked closely with the compositor. Alternately, they may have noticed how the compositor experimented with type in previous issues of the Providence Gazette and decided to alter the copy they submitted in order to facilitate further innovations. Even if they did not directly consult the compositor, they may have been inspired to pursue their own experiment in composing copy to see how those advertisements would then appear in print. Whether initiated by compositors or advertisers, one innovation in the appearance of paid notices in the Providence Gazette may have sparked a series of other innovations that resulted in advertisements for consumer goods and services in that newspaper exhibiting greater distinctiveness among themselves compared to the static appearance of most advertisements published in other newspapers.

April 23

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

Apr 23 - 4:23:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 23, 1768).

“SPRING and SUMMER GOODS.”

The compositor who labored “at the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in the spring of 1768 experimented with the typography for several advertisements that ran in the Providence Gazette.  This notice for “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS” sold by frequent advertisers Joseph and William Russell incorporated the most significant variations in font size, but several others also featured headlines printed in oversized fonts relative to the remainder of the dense content that appeared throughout the rest of the Providence Gazette.  In the Russells’ advertisement, the word “GOODS” was printed in all capitals in the largest font and spaced to fill an entire line on its own. Their names, also all capitals (except the abbreviation for William) appeared in a slightly smaller font and the word “JUST IMPORTED” in a font still slightly smaller.  Almost every line of their advertisement featured font sizes noticeably larger than those used in the bulk of advertisements and news items in the same issue.  In the late 1760s the Providence Gazetteregularly published some of the most innovative and experimental typography in its advertisements compared to other newspapers printed elsewhere in the colonies.  The same advertisement likely would have been condensed to just a few lines in most other publications.

Although the Russells’ notice contained the most variation in font size and spacing, a few other advertisements also had headlines composed in larger font that distinguished them from the rest and drew readers’ eyes.  “THURBER AND CAHOON” occupied three lines, with the names of the partners in the same size font as “GOODS” in the Russells’ advertisement.  The words “A FARM” appeared in all capitals and the same size font in a notice placed by John Lyon and Benjamin Lyon.  In their advertisements, the names of Nathaniel Jacobs and James Arnold also appeared in the largest font, but not in all capitals. Still, the size of the text made their advertisements particularly easy to spot on a page of densely formatted text. Although some of the other advertisements had their own headlines in fonts slightly larger than most of the text, none of the news items had headlines or otherwise distinctive typography to steer readers to them.  Whether the compositor deserves sole credit for the innovative visual elements of those advertisements cannot be determined from examining the advertisements alone. One or more advertisers may have collaborated with the compositor, prompting others to request layouts that imitated what they saw in the notices published their competitors.  Either way, the visual presentation of advertising in the Providence Gazettediffered significantly from the visual presentation of news items.  This suggests that advertising led the way in reconceptualizing the ways in which the appearance of text on the page directed readers to particular content in newspapers.

March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 19, 1768).

“Their assortment is very large.”

In their efforts to convince prospective customers of the many choices available at their shop at “the Sign of the GOLDEN EAGLE,” Joseph Russell and William Russell placed an advertisement exceptional for its length in the March 19, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Unlike most advertisements in colonial newspapers, their list of goods extended more than a column, dominating the third page of the issue. In it, the Russells named everything from “Beautiful black figured sattin” to “Paper hangings for rooms” to “Pewter dishes and plates” to “The best Scotch snuff.” In effect, they presented a catalog of their merchandise to the public.

Yet the Russells did not merely list their extensive inventory. They also provided descriptions that further developed their marketing strategy. For instance, rather than listing “Irish linens” they instead proclaimed that they stocked “A Large and neat assortment of Irish Linens, of all widths and prices.” They emphasized variety for other types of goods as well, including “A neat and genteel assortment of dark ground calicoes and chintz,” “a neat assortment of brass candlesticks,” “A large assortment of saddlers ware, Compleat assortment of shoemakers tools, A large assortment of files,” “A beautiful assortment of china cups and saucers,” and “A variety of new fashioned stuffs.”

In addition, the Russells promoted the selection of colors available for many of their textiles and adornments, such as “Single and double damask of all colours,” “Sewing silk of all colours, Silk knee straps of all colours,” and “German serges of all colours.” For other items they emphasized variations in price, including “Black Barcelona handkerchiefs of all prices,” “Shaloons, tammies and durants, of all prices,” “Mens common worsted [silk hose] of al prices,” and “Ivory and horn combs of all prices.” They combined those appeals when describing “Broadcloths of all colours and prices,” encouraging potential customers to imagine all the possible varieties.

When it came to housewares and tools, the Russells highlighted variations in sizes and types, suggesting consumers could find items that fit their tastes, needs, and desires. These included “Brass kettles of all sizes,” “Snuff boxes of all sorts,” “Looking glasses of all sizes,” “Blankets of all widths,” “Gimblets of all sizes,” “Brads and tacks of all sorts,” and “Hinges, locks and latches of all sorts and sizes.” They provided even more detail about “THE very best hemp cordage, of all sizes, from a ratline to a 4 and an half inch rope.”

In their brief remarks that followed this list of goods the Russells even more explicitly made an appeal to consumer choice: “As their assortment is very large, customers will have the advantage of a fine choice.” In so doing, they confirmed the strategies they had adopted concerning the space the advertisement occupied on the page and the reiteration of words that emphasized a wide selection of goods throughout the notice.

January 31

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

Jan 31 - 1:28:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 28, 1768).

Printed CATALOGUES of the Library of the late Jeremy Gridley, Esq; will be delivered Gratis at the Auction Room.”

In January 1768 auctioneer Joseph Russell deployed multiple media in his efforts to promote a sale devoted to “The LIBRARY of the late Jeremy Gridley, Esq.” He first placed notices in most of the local newspapers, including advertisements that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette on January 21 and in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy on January 25. (He did not place a similar advertisement in the Boston Chronicle. That newspaper had commenced publication only a few months earlier. It featured very few advertisements, an indication that it had not yet attracted significant distribution or readership. Russell may not have considered advertising in that newspaper likely to produce a return on his investment.) Each of these advertisements informed residents of Boston and its environs that Gridley’s library consisting of books on “LAW, HISTORY, DIVINITY, &c.” would be sold “by PUBLIC VENDUE, at the Auction Room in Queen-Street” on the morning of Tuesday, February 2. Notices appeared in multiple newspapers early enough for interested parties to plan to attend the auction.

Russell’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette once again on January 28, but this time a second notice on another page supplemented it. That advertisement announced that “printed CATALOGUES of the Library of the late Jeremy Gridley, Esq; will be delivered Gratis at the Action Room” on the day before the auction. The February 1 editions of the other newspapers that carried Russell’s advertisement each updated Russell’s earlier advertisement with some variation that noted readers could obtain an auction catalog for free. The notice in the Boston Evening-Post, for instance, featured at manicule directing attention to “Printed Catalogues may be had at the Auction-Room, gratis.” Russell used one medium to incite interest not only in the books for sale but also to incite interest in another medium marketing those books.

Newspaper notices and auction catalogs may not have been the only advertising media Russell used to garner attention for an upcoming auction. He may have also distributed handbills or posted broadsides around town. Evidence of the auction catalogs appears in his newspaper advertisements even if none of the catalogs survived, but other ephemeral marketing materials may have simply disappeared after the auction. At the very least, Russell’s original and updated advertisements in four newspapers in combination with his auction catalog suggest a coordinated and extensive effort to attract attention and, ultimately, bidders at the sale of Gridley’s library.

December 19

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

Dec 19 - 12:19:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 19, 1767).

“By far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.”

In their attempt to incite consumer demand and attract customers, Joseph and William Russell filled their advertisement for “English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS” with superlatives. Not content to rely on adjectives commonly used in retail advertisements (“large, neat, and compleat”) to describe their assortment of goods, they proclaimed that their inventory was “by far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.” Potential customers did not need to even entertain the notion of browsing in other shops because the Russells were certain to carry all the items they needed and wanted.

In case their selection alone did not entice consumers, the Russells guaranteed the lowest prices in Providence. They promised to sell “as CHEAP, if not CHEAPER, than any Person in this Town,” a claim that both Jonathan Russell and Thompson and Arnold disputed in their advertisements on the following page. The former advised consumers that he was “determined to sell at the very cheapest rate,” while the latter declared that they were “determined to sell as low as can be bought in any Shop or Store in this Town, or any other in New-England.” The Russells expressed confidence in their ability to charge the lowest prices because “they purchased [their goods] in England themselves.” Six weeks earlier they published a full-page advertisement that provided more explanation. William Russell had just returned from a trip to England and “brought over with him a large, neat, and compleat Assortment of … GOODS … which he purchased from the first Hands.” Eliminating English merchants from their supply chain allowed the Russells to pass along savings to their customers.

For readers not yet convinced to patronize the Russells’ shop, they also presented an argument that their business promoted the local welfare and customers could consider buying from them an act of civic responsibility. The shopkeepers stated that since “their Trade tends greatly to the Benefit of this Town, and the Country round” that “they doubt not but all the good People … will favour them with their Custom, instead of such Shops as send all the Money they receive out of the Government.” In the late 1760s a trade imbalance between the colonies and England contributed to a scarcity of specie as retailers engaged in trade with English merchants. By acquiring their merchandise directly the producers, “from the best Hands” in England, the Russells remitted less specie to associates on the other side of the Atlantic. In addition, they imported their wares “directly from LONDON,” but some of their local competitors acquired their merchandise via Boston and New York, enriching neighboring colonies at the expense of Rhode Island.

The Russells argued that customers who chose their shop enjoyed multiple advantages. They immediately benefited from the large selection and low prices, but their decisions as consumers also had ramifications for the collective economic welfare of Providence and the surrounding area.