October 19

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

Providence Gazette (October 19, 1771).

“To enumerate the Articles, would exceed the Limits of an Advertisement in a News-Paper.”

Nicholas Brown and Company took a very different approach to advertising their wares than Edward Thurber did in his advertisement in the October 19, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Both advertisers emphasized the choices they made available to consumers.  Brown and Company promoted a “general and compleat Assortment of GOODS,” while Thurber used similar language in marketing a “Very compleat Assortment of Goods.”  To help prospective customers imagine the choices, he included a list of everything from “Mantua silks” to “Dutch looking glasses” to “Frying and warming pans.”  For several categories of goods, he further underscored consumer choice, including a “compleat assortment of broadcloths,” a “fine assortment of womens cloth shoes,” and “All sorts of nails and brads.”  His catalog of goods lacked only an “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) at the end to suggest even more choices.

Brown and Company, on the other hand, did not attempt to impress consumers with lengthy lists or to overwhelm readers with the amount of space their advertisement occupied on the page.  Instead, the partners declared, “To enumerate the Articles, would exceed the Limits of an Advertisement in a News-Paper; but among them are a Number not usually imported into this Town.”  That proclamation may have suggested to some readers that Thurber’s list of goods was too brief and too limited in comparison.  Extending half a column, it was finite and not at all “compleat.”  Brown and Company’s notice filled only half as much space, but only because the partners deemed it impossible to “enumerate” the contents of their store and, as a result, did not attempt to provide even a truncated list.  Brown and Company relied on curiosity to propel consumers to their store, curiosity about what the “general and compleat Assortment” included and curiosity about what kinds of goods might have been among those “not usually imported into this Town.”  Surprises awaited anyone who ventured to Brown and Company’s store.

Although these notices do not reveal which strategy was more effective, they demonstrate that advertisers experimented with how to represent consumer choice to prospective customers.  Neither Thurber nor Brown and Company merely proclaimed that they recently imported goods and expected that would have been sufficient to draw customers to their stores.  Instead, they devised different means of elaborating on choice to make their inventory more attractive to readers of the Providence Gazette.

October 12

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

Providence Gazette (October 12, 1771).

“The PRINTING-OFFICE is removed to a new Building.”

In the fall of 1772, John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, moved to a new location.  When he did so, he exercised his prerogative as printer to give his announcement a privileged page in the newspaper he published.  The first item in the first column on the first page of the October 12 edition proclaimed, “The PRINTING-OFFICE is removed to a new Building on the main Street, fronting the COURT-HOUSE.”  In case that was not enough to draw attention, Carter also resorted to ornamental type.  Three asterisks preceded the copy of his notice.  A decorative border enclosed the entire announcement, distinguishing it from other advertisements in the same issue.

Carter also updated the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page each week, revising the second line to read “in King-Street, Opposite the Court-House” rather than “in King-Street, near the Court-House.”  The remainder of the colophon remained the same, including the invocation of “Shakespear’s Head” as the sign that marked the building where Carter operated the printing office.  When Carter moved to a new location, a sign that assisted residents and visitors in navigating the streets of Providence also moved.  The printer was not the only advertiser who directed prospective customers to the new location for that landmark.  Halsey and Corlis instructed readers that they had “removed their Shop” where they sold imported goods “on the West Side of the Great Bridge, to a new Store directly opposite the Court-House, at the Sign of Shakespear’s Head.”  The sign that marked Carter’s printing office for years moved with him.  When it did, it became a device that helped identify other businesses that opened in a new building.

The advertisements in the Providence Gazette helped readers re-imagine the streets of the town, aiding them in finding the businesses they wished to visit.  A notice on the front page, a slight revision to the colophon, and an advertisement placed by shopkeepers located in the same building all worked together in reorienting the public to the new location of “Shakespear’s Head … opposite the Court-House.”

October 5

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

Providence Gazette (October 5, 1771).

“Some evil-minded Person or Persons have attempted to destroy a new Store.”

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, did not include much local news in the October 5, 1771, edition of his newspaper.  Of the twelve columns spread over four pages in that issue, only two-thirds of a column featured news under the heading “PROVIDENCE.”  Such was the case in most colonial newspapers, most of them a weekly publication schedule.  Local news tended to spread by word of mouth before printers took their newspapers to press.

Even as printers like Carter made their own editorial decisions about which news to feature and which to exclude, advertisers paid to highlight certain events in the notices they placed.  As a result, advertisements often delivered news or elaborated on stories already in circulation.  Consider, for instance, an advertisement placed by the partnership of White, Allen, and Waterman.  According to that notice, “some evil-minded Person or Persons have attempted to destroy a new Store … by putting Fire through one of the Windows” and setting a barrel on fire.  Fortunately for the proprietors, that barrel contained “some Bayberry-Wax” and the fire “was happily extinguished by the running of the Wax.”  The partners offered a reward to “Whoever will give Information of the villainous Author or Authors of this wicked and diabolical Act, so that he or they may be legally convicted.”

Among the other advertisements in that issue of the Providence Gazette, readers encountered estate notices placed by executors, calls for creditors of colonists who presented petitions related to an Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors to appear in court, and an announcement that the proprietors of the Providence Library would meet the following week to conduct business vital to the continued operations of that institution.  Such local news that ran as advertisements, interspersed among notices for consumer goods and services, filled more space than the “PROVIDENCE” news selected by the printer.  Readers interested in all of the “freshest ADVICES, Foreign and Domestic” promised in the masthead needed to peruse the advertisements in addition to the other contents of the newspaper.

September 28

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

Providence Gazette (September 28, 1771).

“He hath newly opened Shop near the North End of the Bridge.”

In an era before standardized street numbers, many advertisers included directions to their businesses in their newspaper advertisements.  Amos Throop, for instance, instructed prospective customers that he sold an assortment of medicines “At the Sign of the Pestle and Mortar, in King-street, Providence” in an advertisement in the September 28, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Elsewhere in that issue, Edward Thurber promoted a variety of goods “At his Store, the North End of Providence.”  In an advertisement for books and stationery, John Carter did not include directions to his printing office, but the colophon that appeared at the bottom of the page featured that information.  Each issue concluded with an invocation of Carter’s location, “at Shakespear’s Head, in King-Street, near the Court-House.”  Other advertisers, however, were so familiar to prospective customers in Providence and its environs that they did not need to list their locations, including John Brown and Joseph and William Russell.

Out of necessity, advertisers from beyond the city did include directions for finding their shops or directing correspondence.  Ebenezer Bridgham did so in his advertisement for imported goods available “At the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse, in King-street, Boston.”  In a subscription notice that ran in newspapers throughout the colonies, John Dunlap gave his location as “the Newest Printing-Office, in Market-street, Philadelphia.”  Both Bridgham and Dunlap sought customers who would send away for the items in their advertisements.  Closer to Providence, Charles Rhodes of Pawtuxet aimed to attract customers to his “newly opened Shop near the North End of the Bridge.”  While he may have welcomed orders via letter, he also hoped that customers in and near his village would visit his shop to examine his “fresh and general Assortment of English, East and West India Goods … and many other Articles, too tedious to enumerate” for themselves.  Given the size of the village, it may have been sufficient to give his location as “CHARLES RHODES, In Pawtuxet.”  The shopkeeper instead elaborated further for the convenience the clientele he wished to cultivate, a down payment on the “good Treatment” he promised to “Those who shall please to favour him with their Custom.”  In the end, Rhodes expected good customer service, including directions to find his shop easily, would accrue benefits to his new enterprise.

September 21

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

Providence Gazette (September 21, 1771).

“Price Three Shillings per single Dozen, Two Shillings and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”

As fall arrived in 1771 advertisements for almanacs began appearing in newspapers throughout the colonies.  On September 21, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted an advertisement that he would publish “THENEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772” by Benjamin West.  For several years West, an astronomer and mathematician, and Carter collaborated on almanacs, the former as author and the latter as printer.  As always, the newest edition included “a Variety of Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining” in addition to “the usual Astronomical Calculations.”

Like others who promoted almanacs, Carter and West offered the New-England Almanack wholesale and retail.  Consumers could purchase single copies for “Six Coppers” or six pence from the author or at the printing office.  Shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others who bought by the dozen, however, received discounts.  Carter and West charged “Three Shillings per single Dozen,” but offered an even better bargain to those who bought in even greater volume.  Those customers paid “TWO SHILLINGS and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”  In other words, a dozen almanacs cost thirty-six pence (or three pence each), but two dozen almanacs cost thirty pence per dozen (or two and a half pence each).

This pricing structure suggests just how much retailers could mark up prices for almanacs.  Those who bought only a dozen still acquired them for half the retail price that Carter and West charged.  Retailers who purchased two dozen or more could double the price they paid to five pence per almanac and still charge less than Carter and West did for single copies.  The printer and author probably did not worry too much about being undersold by retailers who assumed the risk for finding consumers for the almanacs, preferring the revenues guaranteed in bulk sales.  For their part, some readers may have decided to hold off on purchasing new almanacs for their homes, hoping to get better bargains from local shopkeepers and booksellers.

September 14

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

Providence Gazette (September 14, 1771).

“Those who favor him with their custom, either personally or by letter, may depend on the best treatment.”

When John Jenkins advertised his “Store and Shop … near the Great Elm-Tree” in the Providence Gazette in the late summer and early fall of 1771, he hoped to attract customers from towns throughout the countryside.  As one of only two newspapers published in Rhode Island at the time, the Providence Gazette, like the Newport Mercury, circulated far beyond its place of publication.  As a result, consumers in norther Rhode Island as well as portions of Connecticut and Massachusetts encountered the advertisements it carried, including Jenkins’s advertisement for an “assortment of English and India goods,” groceries, and “many articles suitable for the ladies.”

Patrons did not need to visit his shop and warehouse to purchase his merchandise.  Instead, Jenkins offered the eighteenth-century equivalent of mail order service, requesting that customers contact him “by letter” to place orders.  In turn, he pledged that he made no distinction between local customers who visited in person and those who instead sent letters.  Everyone received the same low prices and everyone could “depend on the best treatment, with thanks.”  That likely included prompt and courteous attention as well as access to the newest and most fashionable wares.

Jenkins incorporated convenience and customer service into his marketing efforts.  Other advertisers did so as well in the eighteenth century, but not to the same extent as they pursued other strategies that Jenkins also included in his advertisement.  Purveyors of goods often made appeals to price, as Jenkins did when he described his merchandise as “Very cheap,” and consumer choice, as he did in listing broad categories that ranged from “Stationary ware” to “Brasiery and hardware” to “Earthen ware.”  With a few lines promising “the best treatment” and providing an option to order “by letter,” Jenkins enhanced his advertisement, distinguishing it from otherwise similar notices than ran alongside it in the Providence Gazette.

September 7

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

Providence Gazette (September 7, 1771).

“Sell at least as low as they were ever sold on the Continent of America.”

Some merchants and shopkeepers named their businesses after the signs that marked their locations, but relatively few chose other sorts of names.  E. Bridgham of Boston was one of those exceptions, advertising that he operated the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse” on King Street in Boston.  Bridgham sold, as the name suggested, goods imported “directly from the several Manufacturers in Staffordshire and Liverpool,” including “China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware.”

Bridgham was an enterprising entrepreneur in other ways as well.  He sought to cultivate customers from beyond Boston and the surrounding towns.  He placed his advertisement for the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse in the September 7, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  With the exception of printers looking to drum up business for proposed publications via subscription notices inserted in newspapers published in multiple colonies, most purveyors of goods confined their advertising to local newspapers.  At the time, Bridgham had five newspapers to choose among in Boston, all of them distributed beyond the bustling port.

Yet Bridgham imagined a larger market for his merchandise, placing himself in competition with merchants and shopkeepers in Providence as well as Boston.  To convince prospective customers in Rhode Island that they should purchase from him rather than shop more locally, he proclaimed that he was “able, and fully inclined, to sell at least as low” as similar imported goods “were ever sold on the Continent of America.”  He attempted to use low prices to lure customers, promising bargains that compared not only to any they might encounter in Boston or Providence but also New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and everywhere else.  Bridgham suggested he set prices low enough to justify the additional effort of acquiring goods from his shop in Boston for those who resided at a distance and had other options in their vicinity.

The Providence Gazette regularly carried advertisements for shops located in Rhode Island, western Connecticut, and southeastern Massachusetts, but rarely did merchants and shopkeepers from Boston advertise in that newspaper.  E. Bridgam apparently felt that the four shillings the printer charged to run the advertisement for three weeks might yield a return on his investment by enhancing the visibility of the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse and attracting new customers from Providence.

August 24

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

Providence Gazette (August 24, 1771).

“Just imported by Joseph and William Russell.”

In the early 1770s, each edition of the Providence Gazette concluded with a colophon in which John Carter, the printer, solicited paid notices.  “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay),” the colophon advised, “are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings.”  That fee covered setting type the first time an advertisement ran and the space it occupied in three consecutive issues.  Advertisers could also pay additional fees for their notices to make additional appearances.

Joseph Russell and William Russell, two of the city’s most prominent merchants, did not need the invitation in the colophon to prompt them to submit advertisements to Carter’s printing office.  They regularly placed notices promoting a variety of commodities and consumer goods.  Indeed, they advertised so frequently that sometimes they published new advertisements before older ones finished their runs.  That was the case in the August 24, 1771 edition of the Providence Gazette.  That issue featured two advertisements placed by the Russells, a new one on the third page and another that already appeared multiple times on the fourth page.  That made them the only purveyors of goods with more than one advertisement in that issue, not the first time the merchants found themselves in that position.

Did advertising work?  The Russells believed that it did.  Otherwise, they would not have paid to publish advertisement after advertisement in the Providence Gazette.  They also seem to have made some effort to draw attention to their advertisements by varying the formats rather than assuming that prospective customers would read them just because they appeared in the public prints.  Deploying a particularly unusual format, their names, which served as a headline of sorts, appeared halfway through the advertisement on the third page of the August 24 edition.  That distinguished their advertisement from others in the same issue.  In their advertisements on the fourth page, the merchants divided their inventory into two columns instead of a single paragraph of dense text, making it easier for readers to peruse the contents.  The Russells likely thought (or learned from experience) that advertising worked when designed with some creativity and variation.

August 17

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

Providence Gazette (August 17, 1771).

ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more, are desired to make immediate Payment.”

Colonial printers often inserted advertisements in their own newspapers, taking advantage of their access to the press to promote various aspects of their businesses.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, for instance, regularly ran advertisements for “BLANKS of various Kinds” or printed forms for legal and commercial transactions available for sale at his printing office.  He placed other notices concerning the operations of the newspaper, including an advertisement in the August 17, 1771, edition indicating that “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more, are desired to make immediate Payment.”  Colonial printers regularly advanced credit to subscribers and periodically called on them to settle accounts.

To increase the likelihood that subscribers would take note of this advertisement, Carter placed it immediately after the news.  Some readers likely perused advertisements more quickly than they examined news items, so positioning this notice first among the advertisements made it more likely that those readers would see it as they transitioned between different kinds of content in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  In addition, Carter placed a lively letter from “AFRIEND to the PUBLIC” above his notice about making payments for the newspaper.  The “FRIEND” told a tale of “Fraud and Villainy” involving insurance and the “many Contradictions contained in the Papers” related to the loss of the sloop Betsy.  The “FRIEND” acknowledged that Robert Stewart, the alleged perpetrator, might have been innocent, but still declared that “the whole appears to be a designed Fraud.”

Carter had choices about where to place his notice requesting payment.  He ran another brief notice concerning blanks in the same issue, a notice that he could have inserted after the letter about insurance fraud instead of giving that spot to his advertisement directed to subscribers.  Indeed, he could have placed any of the advertisements in that issue immediately after the news, but he reserved that space for his attempt to collect on overdue subscription fees.  As printer, he exercised his prerogative when it came to the order of advertisements as well as the order of the news.

August 10

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

Providence Gazette (August 10, 1771).

“CHARLES STEVENS … informs the Public, particularly his old Customers, that he has removed to BROAD-STREET.”

When Charles Stevens, a goldsmith and jeweler, moved to a new location in the summer of 1771, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette.  He intended his notice for “the Public,” but “particularly his old Customers.” Making this distinction served more than one purpose.  First, it was a courtesy to existing clients unaware that Stevens changed location.  In addition, it suggested to prospective new customers that the goldsmith and jeweler had already cultivated a clientele.  Some may have been more likely to engage his services once reassured others previously hired him.  Prior demand helped incite new demand.  In general, Stevens sought the “Favours of the Public,” whether former customers or new, at his shop on Broad Street.

To that end, he proclaimed that he “carries on his Business in all its Branches, as usual.”  This testified to his knowledge of his craft, signaling that he possessed the necessary skill and knowledge to complete any commission presented to him.  Appending “as usual” once again testified to his experience.  Although he opened a shop at a new location, Stevens was not new to his trade.  Beyond the usual services that consumers expected of goldsmiths and jewelers, Stevens also repaired porcelain.  In a nota bene, he declared, “Cracked and broken China riveted in the neatest Manner.”  As many artisans did in their advertisements, Stevens offered ancillary services that produced additional revenues.  He may have also hoped that getting clients to visit his shop for one purpose would lead to subsequent visits for others, provided they had positive experiences the first time.

Stevens’s short advertisement consisted entirely of text, much different from modern jewelry advertisements that dazzle prospective customers with images of the merchandise.  Given the technology and standard marketing practices in the eighteenth century, Stevens packed multiple messages intended to resonate with consumers into a short newspaper notice.