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.

August 3

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

Providence Gazette (August 3, 1771).

“Just imported … by Joseph and William Russell.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell, two of Providence’s most prominent merchants, made shrewd use of the public prints to keep their names … and their merchandise … before the eyes of prospective customers.  Some merchants and shopkeepers advertised only when they received new shipments of goods, running their notices for three or four weeks.  The Russells, on the other hand, continuously updated their marketing efforts, inserting new advertisements in the Providence Gazette when they discontinued others.

For four weeks in the summer of 1771, they ran an advertisement for “A VERY large and neat Assortment of English Goods, Ironmongery, Brasiery, Cutlery, Haberdashery, [and] Stationary” that they “Imported from London, in the Ship Providence, and in the Snow Tristram.”  Two weeks after that notice ran for the final time, they inserted a new advertisement, a much lengthier one that listed a variety of textiles, housewares, and other goods in two columns.  The Russells stated that these items were “Just imported from London, in the last ships.”  Savvy readers probably assumed that the Russells did not advertise merchandise that actually just arrived (or else they would have specified which vessels delivered their inventory) but instead goods received many weeks earlier via the Providence and Tristram.

That purveyors of goods sometimes hedged a bit in their advertisements was not any more of a surprise in the eighteenth century than today.  The Russells did not advance any outright misrepresentations as they attempted to garner new attention for their inventory by publishing an advertisement that differed so significantly from the shorter one that previously appeared in the Providence Gazette.  Had they continued inserting the earlier advertisement, they risked readers skipping over content that looked too familiar.  The new notice, lengthier with a different format, allowed them to highlight particular items even as they promoted all of their merchandise more generally.  The Russells invested in repetition, enhancing the visibility and reputation of their business by keeping it in the public prints.

July 27

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

Providence Gazette (July 27, 1771).

“Warwick Bridge Lottery.”

When readers perused the pages of the July 27, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, they encountered a variety of news gathered from various sources.  The first page featured editorials in the form of letters “To the PRINTER of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE” and “To the Inhabitants of the Town of Providence” as well as news from London delivered “By the Brig Diana, Captain Perkins, arrived at Boston.”  News from London continued on the second page, eventually giving way to items from Jamaica and North Carolina.  The third page consisted of items with datelines from Quebec, New York, Cambridge, and Boston along with brief updates about Providence.  On the final page, the printer devoted most of the first column to additional news from Boston, but reserved the remainder for a list of “PRICES CURRENT inPROVIDENCE” and advertisements.  Many of those advertisements delivered news that did not appear elsewhere in the newspaper.

For instance, the “Managers of the Warwick Bridge Lottery” provided a brief update on their public works project.  They encouraged readers to fund their endeavor by purchasing tickets for a drawing slated to take place “in a very short Time.”  In a much lengthier advertisement that ran week after week for several months, Joseph Clarke, General Treasurer, reported on actions taken by the colony’s General Assembly concerning “Old Tenor Bills.”  Clarke called on “all Persons possessed of said Bills, to bring them in, and have them exchanged, agreeable to said Act of Assembly.”  Clarke supplemented that notice, dated December 31, 1770, with a shorter notice dated June 20, 1771.  In another advertisement that ran  for several months, this one in multiple newspapers, Alexander Colden informed colonists that “HIS Majesty’s Post-Master General … has been pleased to add a fifth Packet Boat to the Station between Falmouth and New-York” for the purpose of “better facilitating … Correspondence between Great Britain and America.”

Some of the advertisements promoted a variety of consumer goods and services or described real estate for sale, but a significant number of them delivered news.  In order to stay informed, readers could not dismiss advertisements out of hand but instead needed to skim them for important updates that might not appear among the articles and editorials printed on the other pages of the newspaper.

July 20

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

Providence Gazette (July 20, 1771).

“A VERY large and neat Assortment of English Goods.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell, two of the city’s most prominent merchants, regularly advertised in the Providence Gazette in the early 1770s.  They placed their notices for short periods, sometimes running more than one at a time.  Consider their marketing efforts during the summer of 1771.  On June 29, they inserted an advertisement to inform prospective customers that they now stocked “A VERY large and neat Assortment of English Goods, Ironmongery, Brasiery, Cutlery, Haberdashery, Stationary,” and other goods imported from London.  That advertisement ran for four consecutive weeks before being discontinued on July 27.  Two weeks after first placing that notice, the Russells placed another advertisement, that one for “THIRTY Barrels of choice Connecticut Pork” as well as corn and textiles.  It also ran for four weeks, appearing in the July 13 and 20 editions of the Providence Gazette with the other advertisement.  On July 27, the Russells published just one advertisement, but on August 3, the last issue for the advertisement about pork, they ran a new advertisement for imported goods.  It also appeared for four weeks.

When it came to advertising, the Russells made deliberate choices.  According to the rates that John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted in the colophon, “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings.”  The Russells did not opt to have their notices run for the minimum amount of time before removing them.  Instead, they added an additional week to allow for greater exposure, but then retired their advertisements and devised new notices.  Doing so allowed them to keep their enterprise visible to prospective customers without risking readers dismissing advertisements that became too familiar.  Did advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers work?  The Russells seemed to believe that advertising was indeed effective, at least when properly managed, or else they would not have placed so many notices in the Providence Gazette and incurred the expenses of doing so.