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.

June 11

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

Jun 11 - 6:11:1768 Tillinghast 1 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 11, 1768).


Readers of the Providence Gazette encountered a rather brief advertisement at the end of the last column of the third page of the June 11, 1768, edition. Limited to four lines, it announced that “NICHOLAS TILLINGHAST Has to sell, Very good Bohea Tea, Which he will warrant, CHEAP for CASH.” On the following page they encountered a second advertisement placed by Tillinghast, this one slightly longer and listing other goods for sale, including “GOOD Fyal Wine” (from Faial in the Azores), “Brandy,” and “choice Vinegar.” In terms of both word count and the amount of space they occupied on the page, both were among the shortest advertisements in that issue. In comparison, Joseph and William Russell ran an advertisement that contained approximately the same number of words as Tillinghast’s second advertisement, but the bold typography – especially the way they deployed fonts of various sizes – made their advertisement appear twice as long.

Jun 11 - 6:11:1768 Tillinghast 2 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 11, 1768).

Visually, neither of Tillinghast’s advertisements were as flashy as the one placed by the Russells. He relied on a different strategy to capture a place in the minds of prospective customers. He could have placed a single advertisement that included “Very good Bohea Tea” alongside his wine, brandy, and vinegar. Instead, he opted for multiple advertisements that repeatedly introduced him, his wares, and his promises of low prices to consumers. The iterative aspect of his marketing strategy made it more difficult for readers to quickly pass over a single advertisement. In placing multiple advertisements in a single issue of the Providence Gazette he imprinted his name and business in the minds of readers.

This became a much more common strategy in the last decades of the eighteenth century as well as a staple marketing method in nineteenth-century newspapers when some advertisers inserted dozens or more advertisements in a single issue. Although he did not as fully develop the technique as subsequent advertisers, Tillinghast’s efforts at repetition could be considered a precursor to later marketing campaigns that relied on frequent and multiple reiteration.

April 24

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

Apr 24 - 4:21:1768 Pennsylvania Journal Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (April 21, 1768).

“NATHANIEL and JOHN TWEEDY, Druggists, near the Court-House, Philadelphia.”

Druggists Nathaniel Tweedy and John Tweedy advertised frequently in the late 1760s.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Journal.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  They spread their marketing efforts across multiple publications to increase the likelihood that colonists in Philadelphia and its hinterlands would encounter their notices.

The Tweedys also varied the content of their advertisements.  Some listed an extensive assortment of “DRUGGS and MEDICINES” as well as surgical instruments and other medical supplies.  Others focused exclusively on the Baume de Vie, a patent medicine.  The Tweedys proclaimed that they had been “appointed the sole vendors … in America by the patentee.”  To further convince potential customers of the efficacy of the Baume de Vie they sold “a narrative of the extraordinary effects of said medicine, and the book of observations” for one shilling and six pence.  For those who did not wish to make such an investment, the druggists also offered to “lend them to those who will be kind enough to return them after perusal.”  Even though the Baume de Vie was the primary focus of some of their advertisements, they still devoted nearly half of the content in those notices to marketing their shop more generally.  In both newspapers and pamphlets, the Tweedys used print to promote their wares.

Compared to most other advertisers, the Tweedys were particularly savvy when it came to one aspect of newspaper advertising.  Rather than running one advertisement at a time and eventually replacing it with an updated or new advertisement, they simultaneously published several advertisements at the same time.  On occasion they even inserted multiple advertisements into a single issue of a newspaper, perhaps believing that each would enhance the effectiveness of the others.  Vendue masters in Boston frequently adopted this strategy, but their turnover in merchandise at each auction explains their decision to do so.  The Tweedys, on the other hand, operated a shop with a fairly constant inventory. Given the length of many of their advertisements, they certainly could have combined listing their wares and promoting the Baume de Vie into one advertisement.  Yet they chose instead to saturate newspapers with greater numbers of advertisements, increasing the likelihood that readers who perused the notices would encounter and remember their shop and the goods and services they offered.  Readers of the April 24, 1768, edition of thePennsylvania Journal, for instance, would have seen the Tweedys’ advertisement for the Baume de Vie on the second page of the supplement as well as a lengthier advertisement listing their merchandise on the fourth page.  By the end of the eighteenth century inserting multiple advertisements into a single newspaper became common practice, but the Tweedys experimented with the technique decades earlier, demonstrating its potential to other advertisers.

October 26

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

Oct 26 - 10:26:1767 Champlin Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (October 26, 1767).


Regular readers of the Newport Gazette would not have been surprised to see an advertisement from Christopher Champlin on the first page of the October 26, 1767, edition. Champlin regularly turned to his local newspaper to promote the “neat Assortment of European and India GOODS” he imported and sold. Readers may have been surprised, however, to encounter a second advertisement from Champlin on the third page. That deviated from standard marketing practices prior to the American Revolution. Given that newspapers usually consisted of only four pages, advertisers rarely inserted more than one commercial notice in an issue. Was Champlin attempting to gain even more attention for his shop “At the Sign of the Golden Ball” by saturating the Newport Gazette with his advertisements? Did he even intend to publish more than one advertisement that day?

While it is possible that Champlin experimented with running multiple advertisements simultaneously, this situation may have instead resulted from decisions made by the printer in the production of that week’s issue. Note the date on the advertisement on the third page: October 26, 1767. It corresponded exactly to the date of that issue. Compare it to the date on the advertisement on the first page: September 14, 1767. Champlin previously placed this notice, intending that it run for several weeks.

Oct 26 - 10:26:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (October 26, 1767).

Now consider the production process for a weekly newspaper. Printers created the standard four-page newspapers of the colonial period by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half, transforming a single sheet into four pages. This required printing the first and fourth pages on one side at one time and the second and third pages on the other side at another time. This meant that the material on one side of the sheet could have been older, the type could have been set earlier, than the content on the other side.

The first and fourth pages included two standard parts of any issue, the masthead on the first page and the colophon on the last. Except for updating the date and issue number in the masthead, these items did not change from week to week. In the October 26 issue, advertisements that previously appeared in earlier issues filled the fourth page. The type had been set well in advance and simply reused. The first page had other advertisements that continued from previous issues, including Champlin’s advertisement dated September 14. The first page also had two excerpts reprinted from other colonial newspapers, one from the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the other from the New-Hampshire Gazette, dated October 16. All the material on the first and fourth pages could have been prepared and printed early in the week.

The printer likely selected the contents of the second and third pages later in the week, setting the type and printing those pages after the first and fourth pages had been determined. The second page featured news “By several Vessels from London, arrived at Philadelphia and Boston” and then disseminated to other colonies. Given the amount of time it took for ships to cross the Atlantic, the printer likely waited as long as possible to choose the contents of the second page in order to publish the most recent news. The third page had news items from other colonies in the Middle Atlantic and New England, many of them dated after the previous issue of the Newport Gazette. This news had only arrived in the past week. Several advertisements also appeared on the third page, including Champlin’s advertisement dated October 26 and two others dated October 24.

Careful consideration of the contents of the October 26 edition of the Newport Mercury suggests that Champlin may not have intended to run multiple advertisements in that issue. By the time he submitted his new advertisement the printer might have already printed the first and fourth pages, including Champlin’s advertisement dated September 14. Champlin may not even have paid for that advertisement; the printer may have included it as filler in order to complete the page. The shopkeeper certainly wanted to promote his new merchandise he had “Just imported.” Right before the newspaper went to press, he submitted a new advertisement to appear alongside the most recent news.

Christopher Champlin may have attempted an innovative advertising campaign by placing more than one advertisement in a single issue of the Newport Mercury. Taking into consideration the production process for colonial newspapers, however, suggests that this was an accidental rather than intentional aspect of Champlin’s marketing efforts. His advertisements must be considered in the larger context of where they appeared on the page and within the newspaper.

April 12

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 12 - 4:11:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 11, 1767).

“Pork, Rice, and Indigo”

The Not-So-Bare Necessities! As we can see in this advertisement, newspapers were a prime place for merchants to advertise popular goods. Items ranging from necessary food ingredients, such as flour and rice, all the way to saws and steel were advertised and accessible to customers in the colonies. However, purchasing these items meant more than just having something of worth; purchasing these items sometimes also had added political and social connotations.

The consumer culture seen in this advertisement was present not only in Providence but also throughout the colonies. The historians at Colonial Williamsburg indicate that one of the main contributors to this was the fact that colonists had more money by the middle of the eighteenth century than they previously did. They could then purchase items, such as indigo, as a luxury because they had money left over after purchasing their basic necessities. It was a luxury to have more items, but this also made for a better reputation. If colonists could show that they could purchase things beyond just the necessities, it must mean that they have some form of disposable wealth. However, this could be misleading, especially with the rise of credit, which allowed individuals to purchase items without having the money upfront to pay for them. The rise of the use of credit as well as competition to display status both gave way the purchasing of goods beyond just basics that was part of the consumer revolution.



For the past several months, the Adverts 250 Project has tracked the relative scarcity of advertising that appeared in the Providence Gazette, compared to newspapers published in other port cities, during the winter of 1766 and 1767. With the arrival of spring, the number and total column space increased, including today’s advertisement from Black and Stewart. This advertisement, however, was not the only notice that Black and Stewart placed in the April 11, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette. The partners inserted a second notice announcing that they wished to acquire “the best Kind of Hogshead Hoops, Red Oak Hogshead Staves, and Yellow Pine Boards.”

A single advertiser placing two separate notices concerning the exchange of goods or commodities in one issue was relatively rare in the late 1760s, at least as far as those outside the book trades were concerned. Printers frequently filled the pages of their own publications with multiple advertisements, a privilege of operating the press, but merchants, shopkeepers, and others buying and selling goods tended to limit themselves to just one advertisement at a time. Some certainly revised the copy or submitted new advertisements to made sure they always had a presence in the public prints, but usually not multiple notices per issue. A few departed from this general rule, mostly in the major port cities of Boston and Charleston.

That made Black and Stewart’s multiple advertisements all the more notable. In the space of just a couple of months, the Providence Gazette shifted from including virtually no advertising (except notices inserted by the printers) to featuring more than one notice placed by the same advertisers. While the significance of this example should not be exaggerated, it is worth noting that advertisers beyond the largest urban centers adopted a practice previously only identified in major port cities, places where multiple newspapers competed for readers and advertisers. Although newspapers printed in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston provide the most plentiful examples of advertising in the 1760s, entrepreneurs in other places also experimented with format and frequency as they developed their own marketing strategies.

January 16

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 16, 1767).

“MANSELL, CORBETT, & Co. HAVE FOR SALE, At their Store in Tradd Street.”

Not much distinguished Mansell, Corbett, and Company’s advertisement from other commercial notices inserted in the same issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. The partners announced that they stocked an interesting combination of women’s shoes, ale (in bottles) from Dorchester, and beer (in barrels) from Philadelphia at their store in Tradd Street. As far as the copy was concerned, Mansell, Corbett, and Company incorporated one aspect that set their advertisement apart from others: they listed a specific price for the shoes, twenty-five shillings per pair.

The shopkeepers may have been fairly conservative in their marketing when it came to making appeals to potential customers, but they did experiment with other methods of attracting notice in the advertising pages of one of their local newspapers. Their advertisement for women’s shoes and Philadelphia beer was not their only contribution to the advertising pages of that issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. They also inserted a separate advertisement that appeared two pages earlier, that one promoting an “ASSORTMENT OF GOODS” that they pledged to “sell very cheap at their new Store in Tradd-street.”

Many eighteenth-century advertisers, especially those who marketed consumer goods and services, ran their advertisements for multiple weeks in order to achieve greater exposure for their businesses. In cities with more than one newspaper, some hedged their bets by placing the same advertisement in multiple publications simultaneously. On the other hand, relatively few colonists who advertised in the 1760s experimented with increasing their exposure by inserting multiple advertisements in a single issue of a newspaper, an iterative method that forced readers to give a business a second consideration even if they skimmed over the first advertisement they encountered.

Given that Mansell, Corbett, and Company described their shop as a “new Store” in the more extensive of their two advertisements, they may have considered this method an effective way of gaining visibility for their endeavor. Whether they were new on the scene in Charleston or had simply moved locations, placing multiple advertisements aided in increasing local awareness of that the partnership sold assorted consumer goods at their shop on Tradd Street.