May 23

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

Providence Gazette (May 23, 1772).

“At the Sign of the BOOT, SHOE and SLIPPER.”

Joseph Gifford, a cordwainer, placed an advertisement in the May 23, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette to inform prospective customers that he “NOW works in the Shop of Mr. THOMAS BURKET … on the main Street” and “makes and sells Boots, Half-Boots, Spatterdashes, Half-Spatterdashes, Shoes and Pumps of all Kinds.”  To help clients find the shop, he clarified that “the Sign of the BOOT, SHOE and SLIPPER” marked its location.

Gifford was not the only advertiser who referenced a shop sign in giving directions, though not all of them matched their emblems so closely to their occupations.  Jones and Allen sold “ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” at the Sign of the Golden Ball on the west side of the Great Bridge.  Thurber and Cahoon stocked a similar inventory at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes on Constitution Street.  In the North End of Providence, Edward Thurber carried a “fine Assortment of Grocery, Hardware, and Piece GOODS” at the Sign of the Brazen Lion.  One advertisement for a “fine assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” did not name the purveyor of those items or give any directions other than stating that the goods were “At the GOLDEN EAGLE.”  Anyone who resided in Providence for any length of time knew that Joseph Russell and William Russell, two of the city’s most prominent merchants, had a store at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.  Further directions were not necessary.  Even the colophon at the bottom of the final page of the newspaper made reference to a device that marked the location of the printing office.  Subscribers, advertisers, and others could find John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, “at Shakespear’s Head, in King-Street, opposite the Court-House.”

Many more merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, tavernkeepers, and others marked their businesses with decorative signs, creating a rich visual landscape of advertising in colonial Providence and other towns.  In many instances, those signs were synonymous with the proprietors of those businesses.  Relatively few signs from the era survive, but newspaper advertisements testify to some of the sights that colonizers saw as they traversed the streets.

April 14

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 14, 1770).

“CORDWAINERS from LONDON.”

When cordwainers Henry Field and Josiah Gifford set up shop in Providence they placed an advertisement in the April 14, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette to inform the community that they made and sold “Mens and Womens Shoes, Slippers, [and] Boots.”  They advanced some of the most common marketing appeals of the era, pledging that their customers benefited from both the quality of their craftsmanship and the customer service they provided.  Field and Gifford asserted that they made footwear “in the strongest, neatest and best Manner.”  They followed their trade “in all its Branches,” suggesting that no request or order was beyond their capability.  They also pledged that patrons “may depend on being served with Punctuality, Fidelity and Dispatch.”  Field and Gifford exercised deference to “such Gentlemen and Ladies, who please to favour them with their Custom.”

Yet before they made any of these appeals Field and Gifford first introduced themselves as “CORDWAINERS from LONDON.”  In so doing, they adopted a strategy commonly invoked by artisans who advertised in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Those who migrated across the Atlantic, especially artisans who had trained or worked in London, often indicated their place of origin, but not merely by way of introduction.  They expected that their connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire carried a certain cachet that gave them a competitive advantage among colonial consumers … or at least leveled the playing field.  After all, other artisans benefited from long familiarity within their community.  They built relationships with consumers and cultivated reputations over time.  As newcomers, Field and Gifford did not have those advantages.  Instead, they made their recent arrival in the colonies work to their benefit.  Just as colonial consumers tended to look to London and the rest of England when it came to goods, often expressing preferences for imported wares, Field and Gifford encouraged them to express preferences and recognize the value of artisans who also came from the other side of the Atlantic