May 8

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

Providence Gazette (May 8, 1773).

“At the Sign of the GREYHOUND.”

Some of the advertisers who placed notices in the May 8, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette described the shop signs that marked the locations of their businesses.  Thurber and Cahoon, for instance, informed readers that they stocked an “Assortment as compleat as in any Shop or Store in New-England” at the “Sign of the Bunch of Grapes.”  Samuel Young once again declared that he sold a “fine ASSORTMENT of Spring and Summer GOODS … cheaper than he has ever done” at his store at the “Sign of the Black Boy.”  Nathaniel Wheaton also offered low prices for a “new supply of Spring and Summer GOODS,” proclaiming that he “sells cheaper than any one, after all is said and done” at his shop at the “Sign of the GREYHOUND.”  Even the printer, John Carter, noted in the colophon that he operated a printing office at “Shakespear’s Head, … where all manner of Printing-Work is performed with Care and Expedition.”

No advertisers adorned their notices with visual images.  Thurber and Cahoon, Young, and Wheaton did not enhance their advertisements with depictions of their shop signs, but one of them had previously done so.  Within the past year, Wheaton had twice published advertisements that featured a profile view of a greyhound sitting on its hind legs with its tongue sticking out of its mouth, first for several weeks in May 1772 and again for several weeks in November 1772.  He presumably still had access to the woodcut, yet chose not to incorporate it into his new round of advertising in the Providence Gazette.  He already invested in commissioning the woodcut for his exclusive use, but perhaps he did not wish to purchase the additional space required to include an image in his advertisements in the spring of 1773.  After all, the woodcut would have doubled the amount of space occupied by Wheaton’s advertisement, doubling the price as well.  Perhaps Wheaton believed that residents of Providence glimpsed his sign often enough as they went about their daily business that merely mentioning his sign would be enough to evoke images of it for many readers of the Providence Gazette.  It served as a brand or trademark that consumers did not need to see in order to imagine it for themselves.

November 21

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

Providence Gazette (November 21, 1772).

“At the Sign of the Greyhound.”

Nathaniel Wheaton sold a “new Assortment of English and India GOODS, of almost every Kind,” as well as “West-India Goods” at his shop on Williams Street in Providence.  In an advertisement that ran in the Providence Gazette for several weeks in November 1772, he thanked his current customers and invited new ones to examine his merchandise, pledging that all of “their Favours will be gratefully acknowledged.”

To help readers find his shop, Wheaton noted that “the Sign of the Greyhound” marked his location.  A woodcut depicting a greyhound, sitting on its haunches and its town hanging out, adorned the advertisement.  The image may have replicated the shop sign.  Even if Wheaton had not been that precise, he still resorted to some sort of depiction of a greyhound to encourage consumers to associate that emblem with his shop.  Like other eighteenth-century newspaper advertisers who published images that correlated to their shop signs, Wheaton devised a marketing strategy that could be considered a precursor to branding his business.  The woodcut encouraged readers to associate the greyhound with Wheaton’s shop, especially when considered in combination with the sign displayed on Williams Street.

The image also directed attention to Wheaton’s advertisement.  Except for the image of a lion and a unicorn flanking a crown and shield in the masthead, the greyhound was the only image in the November 21 edition of the Providence Gazette.  Readers could not have missed it!  Wheaton incurred additional expense to achieve that.  He paid for the woodcut and he paid for the space it occupied.  Newspaper advertisers paid for the amount of space required to publish their notices, not by the number of words, so both larger fonts and images increased the costs of running advertisements.  Wheaton devoted as much space to the image of the greyhound as he did to advertising copy, doubling the price of his notice compared to what he would have paid if he published solely text.  He likely considered the additional expense a good investment to distinguish his advertisement from those of his competitors.  After all, it was not the first time he incorporated the image into his newspaper advertisements.

An imperfection in the copy of the November 21 edition available in the database of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers mars the image of the greyhound in Wheaton’s advertisement. This image shows the woodcut without flaws. (Providence Gazette, November 14, 1772).

May 3

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

Providence Gazette (May 2, 1772).

“At the Sign of the GREYHOUND.”

In the spring of 1772, Nathaniel Wheaton advertised a “fine Assortment of Spring and Summer GOODS” that he recently imported to Providence “by the last Vessels from England.”  He pledged to sell these items “cheaper than he has yet done,” promising bargains for prospective customers.  To attract attention to his appeals to consumer choice, that “fine assortment,” and low prices, those low prices, he adorned his advertisement in the Providence Gazette with an image of a dog.  He gave his location as “the Sign of the GREYHOUND, between the Baptist Meeting-House and the Church,” suggesting that the woodcut was intended to depict a greyhound.  Readers may not have recognized the breed at a glance.

Despite the image’s shortcomings, it enhanced Wheaton’s marketing efforts.  It was the only woodcut incorporated into an advertisement in the May 2, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Elsewhere in the issue, only the masthead featured an image.  That almost certainly made readers take note of Wheaton’s advertisement, especially considering that most others consisted of dense paragraphs of text.  In addition, the image contributed to creating a brand for Wheaton, giving his business a visual identity that colonizers encountered in more than one place.  They saw his sign when they traversed the streets of Providence and they glimpsed his advertisements in the Providence Gazette.  Wheaton may have also distributed broadsides, handbills, trade cards, or billheads that also bore an image purported to be a greyhound.

Other advertisers mentioned their shop signs.  Thurber and Cahoon, for instance, announced that they did business at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES, in CONSTITUTION-STREET.”  Tillinghast and Holroyd ran a store “at the Sign of the ELEPHANT.”  Their advertisements hint at the rich visual culture associated with commerce in urban ports in eighteenth-century America.  For his part, Wheaton expanded that visual culture into the most common media of the era, newspapers, increasing the chances that prospective customers would peruse the copy of his advertisement.  Even if they did not, he gained greater visibility for his shop and name recognition than competitors who did not insert images with into their notices.