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.

December 13

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

Providence Gazette (December 13, 1766).

“BEST Bohea Tea for 5s. and 4d. per Pound.”

Nicholas Tillinghast’s short advertisement for “Bohea Tea,” “an Assortment of Nails, and sundry other Goods” was one of the few advertisements in the December 13, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette. Only six advertisements appeared in that issue. Four of them promoted consumer goods and services: Tillinghast’s notice, a modified advertisement for the New-England Almanack (with the second half outlining a dispute with printers from Boston removed, presumably for lack of space), an announcement of a vendue sale (or auction) of household goods and books from the estate of Samuel Pierpoint, and Joseph and William Russell’s full-page advertisement (making its third appearance). One of the other advertisements described a “House, Wharf, and Cooper’s Shop” for sale, while the final one offered to “carry Freight at half price” aboard the General Conway when it sailed for New York (this time set within a column rather than tilted in the margin).

In terms of numbers, readers of the Providence Gazette were exposed to very few advertisements in the December 13 issue. Every since the publication had been revived the previous August it carried relatively few advertisements, especially compared to newspaper printed in the larger port cities, Boston, Charleston, Philadelphia, and New York. Yet the Providence Gazette steadily gained advertisers during the fall of 1766, making the relatively low number of six, one of them placed by the printers themselves, rather anomalous.

The numbers, however, do not tell the entire story. In terms of column inches or proportion of the issue devoted to advertising, the December 13 edition held steady with recent issues. After all, the Russells’ full-page advertisement took up a quarter of the issue by itself, raising intriguing questions. Did that oversized advertisement displace other advertising that might otherwise have appeared? Did Sarah Goddard and Company continue to insert that advertisement because they lacked for others to publish? Nearly a dozen advertisements of varying lengths appeared on the final page of the previous issue, suggesting that other merchants and shopkeepers in Providence wished to market their wares in the local newspaper. Did the Russells pay such handsome fees for their full-page advertisement that the printers dismissed other advertisements, at least for an issue or two? (Significantly, they did not reduce the amount of space given to news coverage or print a supplement to disseminate a backlog of advertising). Did the repeated inclusion of a full-page advertisement generate prestige for the newspaper or serve as an advertisement for inserting more advertising, thus making it worth temporarily displacing other commercial notices? To what extent did Joseph and William Russell’s full-page advertisement reshape other advertising within the Providence Gazette and beyond?