What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“EXcellent Bohea Tea, which for Smell and Flavour exceeds almost any ever imported.”
Joseph Russell and William Russell ranked among the most prominent merchants in Providence in the early 1770s. Their mercantile success allowed them to construct an impressive Georgian house in 1772, a landmark still standing in the city and the contents on display in museums. The size of the house testified to the Russells’ wealth, while the style, including “an original principal entrance taken from the English architectural pattern book Builder’s Compleat Assistant (1750) by Battey Langley,” communicated their genteel tastes. The massive house enhanced their visibility within the cityscape of the growing town, while their frequent advertisements in the Providence Gazette enhanced their visibility among readers of the public prints in town and beyond. On occasion, they published full-page advertisements that accounted for one-quarter of the space in a standard four-page newspaper of the period.
Most of their advertisements were not that elaborate, yet the Russells still attempted to entice prospective customers with promises of some of the luxuries that they enjoyed. Consider a notice from the March 13, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette. The merchants listed a variety of items available at the Sign of the Golden Eagle, a store so well known that the Russells did not consider necessary to name it in every advertisement. Their inventory included “a few Quarter Casks of best Lisbon Wine,” coffee, chocolate, and imported “English and Hard Ware Goods.” They did not provide additional details about those items, but they did open their advertisement by promoting “EXcellent Bohea Tea, which for Smell and Flavour exceeds almost any ever imported.” The Russells did more than encourage prospective customers to imagine purchasing the tea; they encouraged them to imagine consuming the tea, to take into account the sensual pleasures of the smell and the taste. The merchants presented an opportunity for consumers to treat themselves to a small luxury, one that was not reserved solely for the better sorts, hoping that would help to sell their tea.