April 23

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

Apr 23 - 4:23:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 23, 1768).

“SPRING and SUMMER GOODS.”

The compositor who labored “at the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in the spring of 1768 experimented with the typography for several advertisements that ran in the Providence Gazette.  This notice for “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS” sold by frequent advertisers Joseph and William Russell incorporated the most significant variations in font size, but several others also featured headlines printed in oversized fonts relative to the remainder of the dense content that appeared throughout the rest of the Providence Gazette.  In the Russells’ advertisement, the word “GOODS” was printed in all capitals in the largest font and spaced to fill an entire line on its own. Their names, also all capitals (except the abbreviation for William) appeared in a slightly smaller font and the word “JUST IMPORTED” in a font still slightly smaller.  Almost every line of their advertisement featured font sizes noticeably larger than those used in the bulk of advertisements and news items in the same issue.  In the late 1760s the Providence Gazetteregularly published some of the most innovative and experimental typography in its advertisements compared to other newspapers printed elsewhere in the colonies.  The same advertisement likely would have been condensed to just a few lines in most other publications.

Although the Russells’ notice contained the most variation in font size and spacing, a few other advertisements also had headlines composed in larger font that distinguished them from the rest and drew readers’ eyes.  “THURBER AND CAHOON” occupied three lines, with the names of the partners in the same size font as “GOODS” in the Russells’ advertisement.  The words “A FARM” appeared in all capitals and the same size font in a notice placed by John Lyon and Benjamin Lyon.  In their advertisements, the names of Nathaniel Jacobs and James Arnold also appeared in the largest font, but not in all capitals. Still, the size of the text made their advertisements particularly easy to spot on a page of densely formatted text. Although some of the other advertisements had their own headlines in fonts slightly larger than most of the text, none of the news items had headlines or otherwise distinctive typography to steer readers to them.  Whether the compositor deserves sole credit for the innovative visual elements of those advertisements cannot be determined from examining the advertisements alone. One or more advertisers may have collaborated with the compositor, prompting others to request layouts that imitated what they saw in the notices published their competitors.  Either way, the visual presentation of advertising in the Providence Gazettediffered significantly from the visual presentation of news items.  This suggests that advertising led the way in reconceptualizing the ways in which the appearance of text on the page directed readers to particular content in newspapers.

April 16

GUEST CURATOR:  Kurt Falter

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

Apr 16 - 4:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 16, 1768).

“To be SOLD … tea kettles, skillets, spiders, &c.”

This advertisement probably seems strange to many modern readers, especially the reference to “spiders” for sale. According to Alice Ross, the term “spider” refers to a “three-legged, long-handled frying pan” commonly used during the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.  The Oxford English Dictionary describes a spider as “a kind of frying-pan having legs and a long handle.” Until the kitchen stove came about, all cooking in a home was done on the only source of heat: the fireplace. The spider skillet’s legs allowed the user to place the cookware right on top of a burning fire. Before the cooking stove, cookware often had either legs or special rungs to hang pots over the fire. Given its function, most families with a hearth or fireplace most likely had a spider skillet. Ross notes that an advertisement published in the Pennsylvania Packet in 1790 mentioned spider skillets, but this advertisment demonstrates the use of spider skillets nearly a quarter century earlier. Although “spiders” are now unfamiliar to most consumers, they are still used for outdoor excursions, such as camping.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to spider skillets, Amos Atwell sold “a variety of other articles, of American and European manufacture” at his shop “On the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence.”  A blacksmith as well as a retailer, Atwell likely made some of the items listed in his advertisement.

Yet he did not publish his notice solely for the purpose of selling goods.  He also indicated that he wished “to hire a journeyman” to assist in his shop.  Like other artisans who placed employment advertisements, Atwell stressed that he would consider candidates who “can be well recommended for virtue and sobriety,” but he was interested in more than just the credentials and reputation of any journeyman blacksmith that he might welcome into his shop.  Atwell sought assistance “extending this branch of American manufacture,” echoing a common theme from news reports published in the Providence Gazetteand throughout the colonies for the past several months.  Due to an imbalance of trade with Britain, a situation exacerbated by new taxes levied by the Townshend Act, colonists had resolved to import fewer English goods in favor of consuming goods made in the colonies.  Meeting demand, however, required significantly increasing production in the colonies.  As an act of resistance, colonists pledged to promote domestic manufactures.

In hiring a journeyman “capable of extending this branch of American manufacture” Atwell signaled his stance to prospective consumers.  He was not the only advertiser in the April 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette who did so. In the same column as his notice, cutlers Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark proclaimed that they recently established their shop with the expectation of receiving “due Countenance from the Well-wishers to American Manufactures” during “a Time when the setting up and extending Manufactures, appear to be the only Means of saving an injured and distressed Country.”  Bucklin and Clark made their argument much more explicitly than Atwell did, perhaps priming readers to recognize the similar, yet more subtle, appeal made by the blacksmith.  Prospective customers should patronize his shop, Atwell implied, because he was heeding the call to increase American production and, in turn, reduce dependence on imported goods.

April 10

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

Apr 10 - 4:9:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 9, 1768).

“Enquire of the Printers.”

This short advertisement from the April 9, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazetteoffered several books for sale.  Interested readers were advised to “Enquire of the Printers” to learn more about the conditions of the sale. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, publishers of the Providence Gazette, may have placed the advertisement.  After all, many colonial printers simultaneously sold books and stationery at their shops.  However, this advertisement more likely promoted books from a private library. For various reasons, colonists interested in selling used goods often placed anonymous notices in newspapers, instructing potential buyers to “Enquire of the Printers.”  As a result, printing offices became clearinghouses for disseminating information, not only in print but also via letters and conversations. Newspaper printers also served as brokers who made introductions between buyers and sellers when the latter did not wish to disclose their identity to the general public.

That Goddard and Carter placed this advertisement seems especially unlikely considering that they more explicitly marketed their wares and services elsewhere in the same issue. The colophon consistently invited readers to purchase subscriptions and advertisements as well as commission “all Manner of PRINTING WORK.”  In another short advertisement, Goddard and Carter forthrightly stated, “BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.”  In contrast, “Enquire of the Printers” did not assume the same level of responsibility for an anticipated sale.  Furthermore, the majority of the books listed in the advertisement were medical texts, suggesting that they came from the library or estate of a reader who had specific interests.

That being the case, the fees that some advertisers paid to place their notices in newspapers apparently covered more than setting the type and the amount of space occupied in the publication for a series of weeks.  Advertisers who asked readers to “Enquire of the Printers” expected to receive additional services; they relied on printers to expend additional time and energy in facilitating transactions with potential buyers.  For their part, printers absorbed this as the cost of doing business.  The revenues generated from advertisements justified any additional labor required when they published “Enquire of the Printer” notices in their newspapers.

March 27

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

Mar 27 - 3:26:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 26, 1768).

“To be Sold at the Printing-Office, in Providence, A VARIETY of entertaining and useful Books.”

Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, included an advertisement for their services in every issue of their newspaper. The colophon at the bottom of the final page did not list merely the particulars of publication, that the newspaper was “Printed by SARAH GODDARD, and JOHN CARTER, at the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head.” Instead, the colophon also advised readers that “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence, are received for this Paper” and “all Manner of PRINTING WORK is performed, with Care and Expedition.” In adopting this method to market their services as job printers, Goddard and Carter became the most consistent advertisers in their own newspaper.

The partners did not, however, limit their advertising to the space reserved for them in the colophon. Like other colonial printers, they sometimes asserted their privileges as publishers to insert their own advertisements among the paid notices submitted by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and other colonists. In some cases, printers likely devised short advertisements out of necessity to fill pages that fell short of content. Whatever their reasons, Goddard and Carter inserted their own notice in the lower right corner on the third page of the March 26, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. In it, they promoted a “VARIETY of entertaining and useful Books, among which are, the West-India Pilot, Mariner’s Compass, Calendar, and Daily Assistant.”

Often colonial printers cultivated multiple revenue streams by simultaneously working as booksellers and stationers. Yet Goddard and Carter stocked goods beyond paper, ink, and other accouterments for writing. Their advertisement listed navigation equipment, such as “Hadley’s and Davis’s best Quadrants, and a Variety of the best Gunter Scales and Dividers.” They carefully paired the specific titles they named in the first portion of their advertisement with some of the useful or necessary tools in the second, alerting prospective customers that they could conveniently acquire both reference works and equipment without visiting multiple shops.

Today’s advertisement and the colophon for each edition of the Providence Gazette reveal that “the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in Providence was a bustling place. Goddard and Carter did far more than edit and publish the local newspaper. They also earned their living and served the local community via job printing and selling books and navigation equipment. Like printers in other cities and towns, their printing office was a nexus for a variety of activities folded into a single enterprise.

March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 19, 1768).

“Their assortment is very large.”

In their efforts to convince prospective customers of the many choices available at their shop at “the Sign of the GOLDEN EAGLE,” Joseph Russell and William Russell placed an advertisement exceptional for its length in the March 19, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Unlike most advertisements in colonial newspapers, their list of goods extended more than a column, dominating the third page of the issue. In it, the Russells named everything from “Beautiful black figured sattin” to “Paper hangings for rooms” to “Pewter dishes and plates” to “The best Scotch snuff.” In effect, they presented a catalog of their merchandise to the public.

Yet the Russells did not merely list their extensive inventory. They also provided descriptions that further developed their marketing strategy. For instance, rather than listing “Irish linens” they instead proclaimed that they stocked “A Large and neat assortment of Irish Linens, of all widths and prices.” They emphasized variety for other types of goods as well, including “A neat and genteel assortment of dark ground calicoes and chintz,” “a neat assortment of brass candlesticks,” “A large assortment of saddlers ware, Compleat assortment of shoemakers tools, A large assortment of files,” “A beautiful assortment of china cups and saucers,” and “A variety of new fashioned stuffs.”

In addition, the Russells promoted the selection of colors available for many of their textiles and adornments, such as “Single and double damask of all colours,” “Sewing silk of all colours, Silk knee straps of all colours,” and “German serges of all colours.” For other items they emphasized variations in price, including “Black Barcelona handkerchiefs of all prices,” “Shaloons, tammies and durants, of all prices,” “Mens common worsted [silk hose] of al prices,” and “Ivory and horn combs of all prices.” They combined those appeals when describing “Broadcloths of all colours and prices,” encouraging potential customers to imagine all the possible varieties.

When it came to housewares and tools, the Russells highlighted variations in sizes and types, suggesting consumers could find items that fit their tastes, needs, and desires. These included “Brass kettles of all sizes,” “Snuff boxes of all sorts,” “Looking glasses of all sizes,” “Blankets of all widths,” “Gimblets of all sizes,” “Brads and tacks of all sorts,” and “Hinges, locks and latches of all sorts and sizes.” They provided even more detail about “THE very best hemp cordage, of all sizes, from a ratline to a 4 and an half inch rope.”

In their brief remarks that followed this list of goods the Russells even more explicitly made an appeal to consumer choice: “As their assortment is very large, customers will have the advantage of a fine choice.” In so doing, they confirmed the strategies they had adopted concerning the space the advertisement occupied on the page and the reiteration of words that emphasized a wide selection of goods throughout the notice.

March 12

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

Mar 12 - 3:12:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 12, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD, (For no Fault, but on Account of her breeding fast) A healthy likely Negroe Wench.”

For several weeks in February and March 1768 John Lyon inserted an advertisement for a “healthy likely Negroe Wench” and “two male Children” in the Providence Gazette. He informed potential buyers that the woman could “do all Kinds of House-Work” and also implied that she was capable of various sorts of agricultural labor since she “has lived on a Farm.” Lyon was uncertain of her age, estimating it at “about 20 or 25 Years.” He provided even less information about the children, though if they were sons of the woman offered for sale they would have been fairly young.

Like many other slaveholders who placed advertisements when they wished to sell their human property, Lyon assured prospective buyers that he sold this woman “For no Fault,” though he did provide a slightly different variation on that phrase. When slaveholders asserted “no fault” they testified that they were not parting with slaves due to physical or temperamental deficiencies.   Presumably the woman in this advertisement was not particularly recalcitrant, disruptive, or disobedient. She was also “healthy,” though Lyon did not indicate whether she had previously survived small pox. That was often a selling point since it alerted prospective buyers that they did not need to worry about acquiring slaves only to lose them to a common illness.

Many slaveholders who stated that they sold slaves for “no fault” also added the phrase “but for want of employ,” signaling that they did not have sufficient tasks to assign to those slaves to justify continuing to provide them with food and shelter. Rather than setting them free, however, they aimed for a return on their investment by selling them. Lyon, however, offered a different clarification when he stated he sold an enslaved woman “For no Fault.” In this case, he decided to part with her “on Account of her breeding fast.” The unnamed woman had too many children too quickly as far as Lyon was concerned. Even if Lyon found this unmanageable, others who wished to profit from a steady supply of offspring would have considered this an advantage when purchasing the young woman.

Written from the slaveholder’s perspective, this advertisement obscures the experiences of the enslaved woman. In addition to deploying language that equated her with an animal – “breeding fast” – Lyon did not address the circumstances of her multiple pregnancies. Had the woman become pregnant voluntarily? Or had she been exploited for the sexual gratification of Lyon or other members of his household or the community, just as she had been exploited for her labor? Lyon placed the onus on the enslaved woman for having more children than he found convenient, but he did not acknowledge any possibility that she did not have any choice in whether she became pregnant. Like other enslaved women, she would have regularly found herself in situations in which she did not maintain ultimate power over her own body but was instead at the mercy of her master or other white men. Although this advertisement does not even offer the name of the “healthy likely Negroe Wench” it does suggest some of her experiences. It aids in excavating the history of enslaved women when considered in combination with other sources from the colonial era.

March 5

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

Mar 5 - 3:5:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 5, 1768).

“All persons … will not repent coming so far down town.”

Location! Location!! Location!!! Today many businesses promote the convenience associated with their location, but an awareness of the potential effect of location on the success of a business goes back to the colonial era. James Brown and Benoni Pearce, for instance, promoted their shops “On the West Side of the Great-Bridge” in Providence by advising that “their Customers coming from the Westward, may save both Time and Shoe-Leather” by visiting their establishments rather than crossing to the other side of the river to browse the wares sold by merchants and shopkeepers there.

Other entrepreneurs, however, admitted that their location might present certain disadvantages if potential customers considered them too far out of the way. In his advertisement in the March 5, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, Nicholas Cooke announced that he sold “a Quantity of Dry Goods” at his shop “At the lower End of the Town.” Cooke realized that being situated at the outskirts of town was not an ideal location. Attracting customers required making alternate marketing appeals, such as emphasizing consumer choice. In addition to highlighting his “Quantity of Dry Goods,” Cooke also deployed the word “assortment” to describe certain categories of merchandise: “An assortment of Irish linen, checks and stripes” and “a large and neat assortment of glass, stone and earthen ware.” He had so many of those housewares that he proclaimed his inventory was “too large to enumerate.” In addition, he also stocked “many other articles” sure to delight shoppers.

To further justify making the trip to “the lower End of the Town,” Cooke also explained that he offered prices that his competitors could not beat. He stated that because he “imported the above goods directly from England” that he “can afford them as cheap as can be sold by any in this place.” He promised customers a bargain, assuring them that they “will not repent coming so far down town.” Brown and Pearce also attempted to convince certain prospective customers to venture beyond the nearest shops. Those who resided “on the other Side” of the Great Bridge would not “save both Time and Shoe-Leather” by visiting their shops, but they would be “well paid for crossing the Pavements, and be kindly received and well used.”

Eighteenth-century shopkeepers sometimes promoted their location when doing so worked to their advantage, but they did not neglect to acknowledge when they were located in a spot that consumers might not consider ideal. In such instances, they attempted to convince prospective customers that a variety of other benefits outweighed the inconvenience of traveling farther to their shops.