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).

“NICHOLAS TILLINGHAST Has to sell, GOOD Fyal Wine.”

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.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 28, 1768).

“No Purchaser will fail of being pleased with their Prices.”

When John Innes Clark and Joseph Nightingale opened a new shop at “the Sign of the FISH and FRYING-PAN” in Providence, they placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to encourage readers to buy their wares. They assured prospective customers that they would enjoy the many choices available to them among their “large Assortment of English and India Piece Goods” as well as stationery and hardware.

The partners also proclaimed that consumers would also appreciate their prices. They explained that they “bought at the cheapest rate” and imported their wares directly from London, reducing the shipping costs in comparison to goods that first passed through Boston, New York, or Newport. Clark and Nightingale passed along the saving to their customers, pledging that their merchandise “will be sold cheap.” They were so certain of the bargains they offered that “they flatter themselves no Purchaser will fail of being pleased with their Prices.” Realizing, however, that skeptical readers knew that advertisements contained all kinds of hyperbole, the partners invited potential customers to “call and examine” in order to confirm for themselves that Clark and Nightingale offered good deals for the money. The partners aimed to get potential customers through the door to increase the possibility of making sales. Once they had entered the shop, customers were met with “Constant and courteous Attendance.” Eighteenth-century shopkeepers were in the process of transforming shopping into an experience rather than a chore.

At a glance, Clark and Nightingale’s advertisement might appear to be little more than dense text, especially to readers accustomed to twenty-first-century marketing methods. On closer examination, however, this advertisement – like so many others in eighteenth-century newspapers – reveals that merchants and shopkeepers did more than merely announce the availability of goods to meet the incipient demand of consumers. Instead, they crafted appeals intended to convince colonists to make purchases and to buy from particular retailers for specific reasons. Many eighteenth-century advertisements do make generic appeals to price, but others devote significant effort to explaining how the sellers could offer low prices. Clark and Nightingale included an additional innovation: they challenged customers to examine their prices, compare to their competitors, and determine for themselves that they did indeed encounter bargains when they shopped at “the Sign of the FISH and FRYING-PAN.”

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 21, 1768).

“Will now undertake to make Kinds of Wigs.”

Convenience!  That was the hallmark of Benjamin Gladding’s advertisement in the May 21, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The peruke (wig) maker and hairdresser acknowledged that some of his potential clients had not previously had access to all the goods and services they desired in the local marketplace.  In particular, he noted that some “Gentlemen … have heretofore been at the Trouble of sending to Boston for their Wigs.”  That, Gladding proclaimed, was no longer necessary because “he has lately engaged a Journeyman” to assist in his shop.  Together, they could meet the needs of prospective clients in Providence. Gentlemen no longer needed to resort to the inconvenience of having wigs shipped from Boston.

In case prospective clients were as concerned about quality as convenience, Gladding offered additional commentary about the skills and expertise of his new journeyman, describing him as “a compleat Workman.”  Together, they labored “to make all Kinds of Wigs, in the neatest and best Manner, and in the most genteel Taste.”  In making this assertion, Gladding underscored that he offered potential customers more than just convenience.  He implicitly compared the wigs produced in his shop to those that came from Boston, stressing that they were not inferior in any way.  They possessed the same quality, having been made “in the neatest and best Manner,” and they were just as fashionable, following “the most genteel Taste” currently in style in the colonies and the British Atlantic world.  Gladding further emphasized his familiarity with the latest trends when he promoted his services as a hairdresser.  Since he set hair according to “the newest Fashions,” his clients did not need to worry that friends and acquaintances would critique them as ignorant or outdated, at least not as far as their tonsorial choices were concerned.

Gladding concluded his advertisement by pledging that “his constant Endeavour will be to render every Satisfaction.”  By then he had demonstrated what this promise meant:  prospective clients could depend on attention to convenience, quality, and fashion when they patronized his shop.

May 14

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

May 14 - 5:14:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 14, 1768).

“RUN away … a Negroe Man Slave, named Sterling.”

Most of the advertisements in the May 14, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette had appeared in at least one previous issue, but Obadiah Sprague and Joseph Bucklin inserted two new notices. Both notified readers about runaway slaves, providing descriptions and offering rewards for capturing and returning them. A “Negro Man Slave, named Sterling” who “talks bad English” ran away from Bucklin. A “Negroe Man, named Barrow” who “speaks good English” ran away from Sprague.

Considered on their own, each of these advertisements testifies to the choices made by many enslaved men and women, even though their stories have been filtered through narrators who held them in bondage. Sterling and Barrow did not accept their lot; instead, they took action to gain their freedom rather than remain enslaved. Sprague suspected that Barrow might even attempt to board a ship and make good on his escape by putting as much distance between himself and his former master as possible.

Considered in relation to other items on the same page, these advertisements reveal juxtapositions in colonists’ understandings of liberty at the time of the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. These notices concerning runaway slaves appeared immediately to the right of a poem, “On the FARMER’s Letters.” The ode honored John Dickinson, the pseudonymous “Farmer,” who had written a series of letters defending the colonies against abuse by Parliament in the wake of the Townshend Act. The letters had been reprinted in newspapers throughout the colonies. The poem described the “Farmer” as “Liberty’s best Friend!” It concluded by proclaiming, “We love Britannia – but we will be free.” To modern eyes, such declarations seem starkly contradictory when positioned next to advertisements inserted expressly for the purpose of returning runaway slaves to bondage. Yet they reveal that most colonists did not think of their freedom in the same terms that they considered the condition of enslaved men, women, and children.

This contrast seems even more stark when taking into account the news item printed immediately above the poem. In a paragraph comprised of approximately the same number of lines of text, the printers reported on news that had just come to hand via “Capt. Winter, from Montserrat.” It told of an attempted slave revolt, one that required fifty soldiers from Antigua to put down. The narrative of events concluded with a gruesome description of the torture and execution of one of the insurrection’s leaders. With no transition at all, this tale gave way to the poem extolling the Farmer’s efforts to protect colonists’ liberty.

Most colonists held contradictory views when it came to their own liberty compared to the liberty of slaves. Barrow, Sterling, and other runaways, on the other hand, were not conflicted in their views on the matter. They did not need a series of letters from the “Farmer” to explain enslavement to them, yet some likely felt bolstered in their decisions to determine their own fates as they listened to debates about liberty that intensified during the imperial crisis. They likely also heard about the brutal measures taken to quell slave revolts, making their choice to escape from their masters all the more courageous for knowing the consequences that others faced when they engaged in acts of resistance.

May 14 - Slave Revolt 5:14:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 14, 1768).

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 7, 1768).

“To be SOLD by JOSEPH AND Wm. RUSSELL.”

How much influence did eighteenth-century advertisers exert when it came to designing their advertisements? This notice placed by prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell complicates the usual answer to that question.

In most instances advertisers submitted copy and left it to compositors to determine format. The publication of the same advertisement in multiple newspapers with consistent copy but significant deviations in layout, font size, and other visual aspects testifies to the division between advertisers as copywriters and compositors as designers. Yet on relatively rare occasions some advertisements retained specific visual elements, such as a decorative border, across multiple publications, indicating that an advertiser did indeed have a hand in determining the format. In general, most colonial newspapers exhibited an internal logic when it came to the appearance of advertisements. Compositors tended to standardize the appearance of paid notices within their publication depending on genre (consumer goods and services, legal notices, runaway slaves, for example), even as the copy differed from advertisement to advertisement. Advertisers often resorted to formulaic language and accepted patterns for including information, contributing to that standardization of visual elements.

The advertisements in the Providence Gazette, however, displayed far less consistency when it came to graphic design. Compared to counterparts at other newspapers, the compositor seems to have been much more interested in experimenting with how to use type to create distinctive advertisements even when those advertisements were comprised entirely of text. Does the compositor deserve exclusive credit for such innovations? Or did the variations emerge as the result of consultations with advertisers?

Although the advertisement the Russells placed in the May 7, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette does not provide any definitive answers, its various elements suggest some level of collaboration. It featured a headline that listed a product rather than the names of the advertisers. Their names appeared at the end of the notice, quite unusual for advertisements that promoted consumer goods and services. The dual columns listing their wares differed from the structure of most, but not all, other advertisements recently published in that newspaper. The Russells may have worked closely with the compositor. Alternately, they may have noticed how the compositor experimented with type in previous issues of the Providence Gazette and decided to alter the copy they submitted in order to facilitate further innovations. Even if they did not directly consult the compositor, they may have been inspired to pursue their own experiment in composing copy to see how those advertisements would then appear in print. Whether initiated by compositors or advertisers, one innovation in the appearance of paid notices in the Providence Gazette may have sparked a series of other innovations that resulted in advertisements for consumer goods and services in that newspaper exhibiting greater distinctiveness among themselves compared to the static appearance of most advertisements published in other newspapers.

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.

**********

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.