May 23

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

Providence Gazette (May 23, 1772).

“At the Sign of the BOOT, SHOE and SLIPPER.”

Joseph Gifford, a cordwainer, placed an advertisement in the May 23, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette to inform prospective customers that he “NOW works in the Shop of Mr. THOMAS BURKET … on the main Street” and “makes and sells Boots, Half-Boots, Spatterdashes, Half-Spatterdashes, Shoes and Pumps of all Kinds.”  To help clients find the shop, he clarified that “the Sign of the BOOT, SHOE and SLIPPER” marked its location.

Gifford was not the only advertiser who referenced a shop sign in giving directions, though not all of them matched their emblems so closely to their occupations.  Jones and Allen sold “ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” at the Sign of the Golden Ball on the west side of the Great Bridge.  Thurber and Cahoon stocked a similar inventory at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes on Constitution Street.  In the North End of Providence, Edward Thurber carried a “fine Assortment of Grocery, Hardware, and Piece GOODS” at the Sign of the Brazen Lion.  One advertisement for a “fine assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” did not name the purveyor of those items or give any directions other than stating that the goods were “At the GOLDEN EAGLE.”  Anyone who resided in Providence for any length of time knew that Joseph Russell and William Russell, two of the city’s most prominent merchants, had a store at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.  Further directions were not necessary.  Even the colophon at the bottom of the final page of the newspaper made reference to a device that marked the location of the printing office.  Subscribers, advertisers, and others could find John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, “at Shakespear’s Head, in King-Street, opposite the Court-House.”

Many more merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, tavernkeepers, and others marked their businesses with decorative signs, creating a rich visual landscape of advertising in colonial Providence and other towns.  In many instances, those signs were synonymous with the proprietors of those businesses.  Relatively few signs from the era survive, but newspaper advertisements testify to some of the sights that colonizers saw as they traversed the streets.