November 21

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

Nov 21 - 11:21:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 21, 1767).

“At as low a Rate as he ever yet sold, and as cheap as can be bought at any Store in New-England, by Retail.”

Throughout the eighteenth century shopkeepers and merchants consistently made appeals to price as they attempted to incite demand for their wares. Almost every advertisement for consumer goods and services in the November 21, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, made some sort of reference to low prices. While some advertisers resorted to formulaic language, others devised increasingly innovative and elaborate ways of promoting bargain prices to potential customers. These appeals ranged from simple to bold.

Joseph and William Russell characterized their prices as “very cheap.” Similarly, Jonathan Russell offered an array of imported merchandise “at the very cheapest rate,” allowing the typography to provide additional emphasis. In terms of standardized language, advertisers frequently used both “cheap” and “reasonable” to describe their prices. Archibald Stewart and Robert Taylor promised to sell their goods “at the most reasonable rates.” Edward Thurber pledged to “sell on the most reasonable Terms” at his shop at the Sign of the Brazen Lion. Jabez Bowen, Jr., used the same phrase, one encountered in newspaper advertisements throughout the colonies.

Rather than merely claim that they set low prices, some advertisers favorably compared their prices to what consumers could expect to pay elsewhere. Samuel Nightingale, Jr., asserted that he “will sell as cheap as any Person in Town.” Nathaniel Greene made a similar claim, stating the he was “determined to sell [his goods] as low as any are sold in this Town.” Not to be outdone, Samuel Black and James Brown proclaimed that they “will sell as cheap as are sold in New-England by Retail.” Samuel Young also raised the stakes, trumpeting that he sold his merchandise “at as low a Rate as he ever yet sold, and as cheap as can be bought at any Store in New-England, by Retail.” While not quite as verbose, Benjamin Thurber and Daniel Cahoon professed “to sell … as cheap as any Person in this Town, or elsewhere.” Potential customers did not need to look to Boston or New York for better deals!

Gideon Young inserted perhaps the most novel appeal to price, assuring readers “of having the full Worth of their Money,” but he followed that with formulaic language about “the very lowest rates.” Regardless of how they described their prices, retailers regularly noted them as a means of enticing prospective customers to visit their shops. Their advertisements were not mere announcements about goods for sale that relied on incipient consumer demand; instead, eighteenth-century shopkeepers promised bargains as a means of marketing their merchandise to customers who sometimes needed to be convinced to make purchases.

November 14

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

Nov 14 - 11:14:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 14, 1767).

He has two swift-sailing small Sloops, which ply constantly between Providence and Newport.”

Readers of the Providence Gazette encountered two advertisements for ferries between Providence and Newport on the final page of the November 14 edition. The operators adopted different strategies in promoting their services. Thomas Lindsey and Benjamin Lindsey inserted a short, streamlined advertisement to announce that their “STAGE-BOATS … ply twice a Week … with GOODS and PASSENGERS.” They made a nod toward customer service, assuring prospective customers that they “may depend on being faithfully served,” and concluded with standard language about the “excellent Accommodations for Passengers.” They dressed up their advertisement with a woodcut of a ship, which likely attracted attention since it was the only image that accompanied an advertisement in the entire issue.

Joshua Hacker devised a much more extensive advertisement. Even without a woodcut, its length and the table of fees distinguished it visually from the other advertisements on the same page. Hacker elaborated on many of the marketing appeals made by the Lindseys; he also launched additional appeals intended to convince prospective clients to choose him over his competitors. While the Lindseys sailed twice a week, Hacker’s sloops “set off every Day … Wind and Weather permitting.” Instead of using formulaic phrases that consistently appeared in other advertisements offering passage, Hacker expanded on the “exceeding good Accommodations,” promising that passengers “can be as comfortable on board … as in their Parlours.” Hacker did not merely reiterate stock phrases used in advertisements throughout the colonies. He exerted additional effort in writing copy to make it resonate with potential customers.

He also incorporated additional justifications for selecting his business over others. Not only did he make an appeal to price – “the very cheapest rates” – he provided a list of more than a dozen specific rates, including nine pence for a single passenger, three shillings for a four-wheeled carriage, and three shillings for a barrel of cargo. To cultivate customers, he also offered some services gratis. He informed those who wished to ship goods between the two ports that “he hath a convenient Store for depositing such Goods,” a warehouse where they would be stored for free. Hacker also made an appeal to his long experience, noting that he had “for upwards of ten Years, carried on this Business.”

Neither the Lindseys nor Hacker merely announced that they operated ferry and freight service between Providence and Newport. Both advanced appeals intended to make their businesses attractive to prospective clients, yet their approaches differed significantly. The Lindseys relied on methods already in use by their counterparts who advertised similar services in other colonial ports. Hacker, however, offered a much more innovative advertisement that further developed existing marketing strategies.

November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 7, 1767).

WILLIAM RUSSELL is just arrived from London.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell frequently placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette after Sarah Goddard and her partners revived that publication in the late 1760s. The Russells ran advertisements innovative for both their appeals and their length, including a full-page advertisement that inspired other local shopkeepers to publish their own full-page advertisements. Yet the boldness and creativity of the Russells’ marketing efforts seemed to decline over time, possibly indicating that they might not have considered the returns worth the investment when it came to developing and paying for cutting-edge newspaper advertisements.

Then they once again published a full-page advertisement in the November 7, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. Like their earlier full-page advertisements, it invited prospective customers to visit “their STORE, the Sign of the GOLDEN EAGLE, near the Court-House” and promised low prices for a “large, neat, and compleat Assortment of English, India and Hard-Ware GOODS.”

Yet this advertisement featured one significant difference compared to all of their previous paid notices in the local newspaper. It informed consumers that “WILLIAM RUSSELL is just arrived from London,” where he had personally selected the merchandise now stocked at the Sign of the Golden Eagle. Given the time required to cross the Atlantic (twice!), William had been away from Providence for at least three months. He presumably spent some time in London, meeting with business associates and getting a sense of current tastes in the cosmopolitan center of the empire as well as visiting friends or relatives.

In William’s absence, Joseph oversaw their enterprises in Providence, including their advertising. This may explain why their advertisements became less bold and distinctive, if William was the partner more gifted and willing to take risks when it came to marketing. Joseph could have been a caretaker when it came to that aspect of their business, advertising only when necessary and following the standards already well established for advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. William, on the other hand, may have infused new vigor into their marketing when he returned from his long trip. Taking out a full-page advertisement in a four-page publication was a bold way to announce his homecoming and draw attention to the family business.

October 31

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

Oct 31 - 10:31:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 31, 1767).

“Have built and completed the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.”

Benjamin Thurber and Daniel Cahoon placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to announce that “they have entered into Copartnership in all their mercantile Business.” The new partners operated a store that stocked “a very large and general Assortment of the very best of English and India Piece Goods, Hard Ware, all Sorts of West-India Goods, and Groceries of all Kinds.” They advanced some of the most common marketing strategies that appeared in eighteenth-century advertising – consumer choice, price, quality – but they also incorporated other appeals to distinguish their notice from others.

Merchants and shopkeepers rarely commented on their shops as retail spaces in newspaper advertisements, choosing instead to focus on their merchandise or personal attributes that qualified them to serve customers. Thurber and Cahoon, however, mentioned their location “at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes” at the north end of Providence before launching any of the many other appeals in their advertisement. “[F]or the better accommodating their Customers,” they proclaimed, they “have built and completed the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.” Considering the range of imported goods in their inventory, Thurber and Cahoon needed adequate space to store and display their stock. Yet operating the “largest Shop and Store” in town had other advantages. It presumably allowed customers sufficient room to examine the merchandise and to move throughout the establishment freely. By implication, their competitors occupied small and crowded spaces that detracted from the overall experience.

Thurber and Cahoon invited potential customers “to come and look for themselves” at their shop, promising the “greatest welcome.” Here customer service intersected with the amenities of the retail space to create an environment in which patrons would experience “Pleasure” even as they “lay out their Money.” The partners predicted that their customers would “chearfully” make purchases, in part because they so enjoyed shopping at the “best and largest Shop and Store” in Providence. In the nineteenth century department stores marketed themselves as palaces of consumption. Thurber and Cahoon’s advertisement anticipated that strategy approximately a century before it became a standard aspect of selling the shopping experience to customers.

October 24

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

Oct 24 - 10:24:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 24, 1767).

“Just imported from LONDON, by Joseph and William Russell …”

Joseph and William Russell placed this rather modest advertisement in the October 24, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. In length and format, it resembled other advertisements for consumer goods and services in the same issue, but regular readers might have wondered at the Russells’ restraint when it came to marketing the goods they imported from London. After all, nearly a year earlier the Russells placed a full-page advertisement in the Providence Gazette, an advertisement that ran several times over the course of the next few months.

When they discontinued that advertisement, their consumer notices still tended to include some sort of innovative strategy that distinguished them from other advertisements. In January, for instance, they explained that their “Assortment [of goods] is too large for an Advertisement of Particulars in this Paper.” Even a full-page advertisement did not provide enough space to do any sort of justice to their inventory, they chided, so they left it to curious readers to conjure images of the “Assortment” of textiles, housewares, groceries, and hardware they would encounter when they visited the Russells’ shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.” Deploying a “less is more” approach, they prompted consumers to do the imaginative work formerly accomplished by their elaborate list of goods that filled an entire page in the newspaper (and saved money on advertising in the process). Yet that strategy depended on their clever remark about the newspaper not having enough space to list their merchandise.

The Russells did not attempt any of that playfulness in their newest advertisement. They did resort to the standard “&c. &c. &c.” to suggest they carried more goods than the few items enumerated in their advertisement. They also made standard appeals to price and quality, but they did not insert anything that distinguished their advertisement from others published in newspapers throughout the colonies. Why not?

This merits further attention as the Adverts 250 Project continues to examine advertisements placed by Joseph and William Russell. If they never again published innovative advertisements after experimenting with a full-page advertisement and other clever appeals that could suggest that they determined that the effort and expense did not yield the desired results. Perhaps they determined that such marketing ploys were not any more effective than following the standard format. On the other hand, if they returned to publishing more elaborate advertisement that could indicate that they decided that such notices generated enough business to justify running them (and incurring the expense) once again. Either way, subsequent advertisements placed by the Russells may provide indirect evidence for assessing readers’ reception of their marketing efforts.

October 17

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

Oct 17 - 10:17:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 17, 1767).

“NOW IN THE PRESS, … THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

As surely as leaves turned colors and then fell from trees in the fall, colonists had another reminder of the changing seasons and the approach of a new year: advertisements for almanacs published in newspapers throughout the colonies. Some printers and booksellers placed notices as early as September, prompting potential customers to anticipate the impending publication of the most accurate and most fashionable almanacs. Others began promoting their almanacs in October, but the advertisements became more frequent and more extensive in November and December. Although printers and booksellers attempted to gauge demand, some always ended up with surplus almanacs that they then advertised well into the new year.

Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, made an early start on printing and advertising the New-England Almanack, or, Lady’s and Gentleman’s Diary, for the Year of Our Lord 1768. Potential customers still had nearly eleven weeks to acquire their almanacs, but Goddard and Carter knew that their printing office would face competition from the many printers and booksellers in Boston who marketed competing volumes. Advertising early raised the visibility of their almanac, perhaps giving it a privileged place in the minds of potential customers who would eventually encounter other options. Using advertisements to make their almanac familiar to readers could have instilled a sense of loyalty even before they were available for purchase.

Goddard and Carter’s advertisement for the New-England Almanack, relatively sparse in terms of words and space, served as an initial announcement. Upon publication, the printers introduced more extensive advertisements that included the table of contents and listed the price (both by the dozen and singles). In that manner, some advertisements for almanacs offered yet another visual marker of the passing seasons. As the new year drew closer, advertisements for almanacs became lengthier. Just as modern Americans have grown accustomed to certain advertising practices timed to the holiday season, early American readers experienced annual rhythms of marketing for almanacs as the newspaper advertisements became more frequent and more prominent before fading after the new year.

October 10

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

Oct 10 - 10:10:1767 Providence Gazette.jpg
Providence Gazette (October 10, 1767).

“The said Joseph is not, by me, any Ways authorized or impowered to settle any of my Affairs.”

According to his advertisement, a notice that originally appeared in the September 26, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette must have surprised John Whipple. It stated that “ALL Persons having any Demands on the Estate of Captain JOHN WHIPPLE, of Providence; and likewise all those who are any ways indebted to said Estate” should contact the executor, Joseph Whipple. At a glance, it appeared to be a standard estate notice; it replicated the language deployed in similar notices published in newspapers throughout the colonies.

However, John Whipple, the deceased, saw the advertisement and then disputed his death and stated in no uncertain terms that he had not “authorized or impowered” Joseph Whipple “to settle any of my Affairs.” In the very next issue, published on October 3, he inserted his own advertisement, but it was not until the following week that the compositor positioned the two contradictory advertisements next to each other. Was that the result of those working in the “PRINTING-OFFICE, [at] the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” attempting to impose order within the pages of the Providence Gazette? Did they seek to assist readers in navigating the two advertisements? Did they place them one after another as a service to the aggrieved John Whipple? Or did the supposedly deceased captain examine the October 3 issue, notice that his advertisement was not even on the same page as the second insertion of Joseph Whipple’s original notice, and then make a subsequent visit to the printing office to demand that his advertisement would be most effective if it appeared immediately after the fraudulent one?

Colonists engaged in extensive and active reading of newspapers, yet the decision to place the advertisements by the feuding Whipples one after the other (which continued in subsequent issues) suggests that someone – printer, compositor, or advertiser – saw a need for greater organization than the system of unclassified advertisements usually provided. This also had the effect of telling a better and more complete story, potentially ramping up interest among readers interested in local gossip. On the rare occasions that runaway wives responded to advertisements placed by their abandoned husbands, printers or others sometimes positioned their notices next to each other, giving each their say while also accentuating the drama for readers.

Sarah Goddard and John Carter and their employees in the printing office did not further differentiate or organize other advertisements in the Providence Gazette according to their purposes, but in the case of the Whipples and an early modern case of identity theft they did print the related advertisements next to each other throughout most of their runs.