September 10

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

Sep 10 - 9:10:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 10, 1768).

“The Sign of the Elephant.”

Richard Jackson and John Updike informed prospective customers that their shop was located at “the Sign of the Elephant, opposite John Angell’s, Esq,” in an advertisement in the September 10, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Elsewhere on the same page, Clark and Nightingale also used the combination of shop sign and landmarks to denote their location: “At the Sign of the Fish and Frying-Pan, opposite Oliver Arnold’s, Esq; near the Court-House.” Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, did not list their location in either of the advertisements they inserted in the issue, but the colophon stated that “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” adorned their printing office. Joseph Russell and William Russell also did not indicate their location in their advertisements in the September 10 issue, but these prominent merchants regularly ran other advertisements that told readers to seek them out at “the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House.” Collectively, these advertisers paint a portrait of some of the sights colonists would have seen as they traversed the streets of Providence in the late 1760s.

Jackson and Updike marketed many of the same goods as Clark and Nightingale. Both sets of partners led their advertisements with “English and India Goods” before providing more complete accountings of their various sorts of merchandise. In selecting the visual images to identify and, in effect, brand their shops, however, they opted for different strategies. Jackson and Updike chose an elephant, an exotic beast unlikely to have been glimpsed by the vast majority of residents of Providence. Known only to most colonists through texts and perhaps a limited number of woodcuts and engravings in circulation in the Atlantic world, the elephant conjured images of the faraway origins of the “India Goods,” including textiles, sold at Jackson and Updike’s shop. Associating their wares with the elephant linked the merchant-shopkeepers to extensive networks of exchange that reached to the other side of the globe. Clark and Nightingale, on the other hand, advanced a much more utilitarian and familiar image. Neither the fish nor frying pan required imagination on the part of readers or passersby who saw their sign, but the image did communicate that the partners competently and efficiently outfitted their customers with the necessities. Their choice of logo emphasized the practical aspects of their merchandise.

Unfortunately, very few eighteenth-century shop signs have survived. The descriptions in newspapers advertisements do not indicate whether Jackson and Updike’s elephant or any of the other signs were carved or painted, but they do testify to their presence in colonial towns and cities. They also suggest that merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans not only displayed signs to assist prospective customers navigating the streets but also sometimes adopted images intended to convey messages about their wares.

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.”