November 19

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

Nov 19 - 11:19:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 19, 1768).

“To be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE.”

An advertisement that ran several times in the Providence Gazette in the fall of 1768 informed readers quite simply of “TAR, PITCH and TURPENTINE, to be Sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE.” The notice did not provide additional information about the location of the shop or the proprietor. In another advertisement inserted simultaneously, Joseph Russell and William Russell hawked a variety of hardware goods they carried “at their Store and Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House, Providence.”

Other entrepreneurs who advertised in the Providence Gazette provided directions to aid prospective customers in finding their places of business. E. Thompson and Company stocked a variety of merchandise “At their STORE, near the Great Bridge.” Samuel Chaice also relied solely on a prominent landmark when he advised readers of the inventory “At his Store, just below the Great Bridge, in Providence.” Others deployed a combination of landmarks and shop signs. James Arnold and Company, for instance, promoted an assortment of goods available “At their STORE, the Sign of the GOLDEN FOX, near the Great Bridge.” Clark and Nightingale invited customers to visit them “At their Store, the Sign of the Fish and Frying-Pan, opposite Oliver Arnold’s, Esquire.” The colophon doubled as an advertisement for job printing done “by JOHN CARTER, at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespears Head.”

Those advertisements that included shop signs also developed a brand that identified the proprietors, though not necessarily their merchandise. The shop signs became sufficient identification for their enterprises, as was the case with the Russells’ advertisement that did not list their names but instead simply noted readers could purchase tar, pitch, and turpentine “at the GOLDEN EAGLE.” The Russells were among the most prominent merchants in Providence. They were also the most prolific advertisers in the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s. As a result, they did not need to provide their names or further directions in some of their advertisements. They trusted that the public was already familiar with the sign of the “GOLDEN EAGLE,” so familiar as to render any additional information superfluous. Their frequent advertisements aided in associating the image of the “GOLDEN EAGLE” with their business and their commercial identity.

February 28

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

feb-28-2281767-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (February 28, 1767).

“Excellent Bohea Tea.”

This advertisement directed colonists to “the Sign of the Golden Eagle” in Providence to buy a variety of English goods imported from London as well as other goods that passed through London, including Bohea Tea. During the colonial period the colonists heavily invested in the importation of luxury goods and general commodities from London and other territories of the British Empire. The purchase of imported goods from across the Empire showcased colonists’ view of themselves as subjects of the British crown, thereby possessing the same rights as other Britons.

In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen draws attention to the common language of consumer culture throughout the colonies that helped join the colonists in a common language of complaints and issues regarding the British taxes on imported goods. He draws attention to the Tea Act of 1773, which drew particular ire towards British rule due to the place tea held at the time as a staple of American life, available to “the wealthiest of merchants and the poorest of labourers.”[1] It’s really remarkable how such a simple product could spark the tinder of a socio-political revolution, and turn it into a raging wildfire that could bring about a new nation. I can only liken the colonists’ response to the tax on tea to the response modern day Americans might have if coffee beans were suddenly subject to special taxes.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph and William Russell certainly stocked “a large and compleat Assortment of English GOODS” at their shop, at least according to the full-page advertisement that appeared in the Providence Gazette a week earlier. Most likely the Russells could have depended on readers to remember that advertisement because it had been included in several issues since late November 1766, running for a few weeks at a time, disappearing for a few issues, and then appearing once again. As I have previously suggested, it is not clear if its publication history resulted from directions by the Russells or instead from the printers attempting to fill space when lacking other content or possibly a combination of the two.

Even in the absence of their full-page advertisement, the Russells maintained a presence in the Providence Gazette, regularly publishing shorter advertisements, such as the one featured today, to remind potential customers of the merchandise they offered “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.” In so doing, they resorted to some of the most common marketing strategies of the eighteenth century – appeals to choice and price – even when they did not provide a list of their wares.

Like many other shopkeepers who placed short advertisements, they selected one product to highlight. In this case, as Sam has noted, they promoted their “Excellent Bohea Tea.” To draw attention to this commodity, they advanced yet another sort of appeal by underscoring its quality. In terms of its “smell and flavor,” the Russells’ tea “exceeds most any ever imported.” That was a bold claim to make, one that virtually challenged readers to purchase this tea and decide for themselves whether such a description was warranted. Without being heavy-handed about it, the Russells also made a nod toward the luxury consumers could expect to experience when they drank this “Excellent Bohea Tea.”

The Russells managed to incorporate multiple appeals – choice, price, quality, luxury – into just a couple of lines of advertising copy. Shrewdly promoting one notable product may have also generated additional foot traffic into their shop, exposing potential customers to the “compleat Assortment of English GOODS” they carried.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 87.

October 26

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

oct-26-10251766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (October 25, 1766).

“Choice French Indigo.”

This advertisement only contained three items: “Choice French Indigo, the best Florence Oil, and Fyal Wine.” All three have something in common: they were exported from foreign countries. The indigo was French, the oil was Italian, and the wine was Portuguese. These products represented international trade. However, international trade meant competing suppliers.

One product that fostered competition was indigo. An important commodity, it was in high demand because it produced a specific dye. According to Kenneth H. Beeson, Jr., “Indigo was the most important vat dye used by the British in the eighteenth century.”[1] South Carolina focused on the indigo trade. Colonists there invested a significant amount of land and energy into producing indigo. The effort resulted in American indigo becoming a serious threat to foreign suppliers. As R.C. Nash notes, “Carolina indigo … succeeded in displacing French and Spanish indigo in the British and in some continental markets.”[2] The colony’s economy relied upon the value of indigo. When the indigo trade did well, South Carolina prospered.

American indigo did not, however, completely push out all other suppliers. The fact that French indigo was being advertised in a colonial newspaper is a testament to the continuing competition between different indigo suppliers. Regardless of the success of the competition, the South Carolina economy depended heavily on indigo and it played an important part in early American economics.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Recently several guest curators have commented on what eighteenth-century advertisements reveal about how colonists imagined urban spaces and navigated the cities where they resided or visited. In its starkness, today’s advertisement also demonstrates how much living, working, and shopping in cities has changed over the last three centuries.

This advertisement announced that readers of the Providence Gazette could purchase three popular commodities – indigo from France, olive oil from Italy, and wine from the Portuguese island of Faial in the Azores – “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle, in Providence.” Even by eighteenth-century standards this means of specifying the store’s location was quite sparse. The advertisement did not indicate the name of the seller who made these commodities available, nor did it list the street where customers could find “the Sign of the Golden Eagle.”

The advertiser apparently believed that “the Sign of the Golden Eagle” was such a well-known landmark that further directions were unnecessary. Presumably residents of Providence already knew where to find it, which suggests that the sign had been in place for quite some time. The proprietor may not have needed to include his (or possibly her) name in the advertisement because he (or she) was already so closely associated with the “Sign of the Golden Eagle” among the local populace.

In addition to giving the sign as the most significant landmark for locating the purveyor of indigo, “Florence Oil, and “Fyal Wine,” the advertisement included one piece of geographical information. The establishment could be found “in Providence.” Although neither the street nor the name of the proprietor was listed, it was necessary to specify the city or town since the Providence Gazette circulated throughout Rhode Island and beyond. Other businesses in other places had their own “Sign of the Golden Eagle.”

In modern advertisements entrepreneurs carefully specify where prospective customers can find their place of business. They list street addresses and significant landmarks. This advertiser may have been just as invested in readers knowing where to find the indigo, olive oil, and wine they needed or desired, but the nature of Providence as an urban space in 1766 required a different level of detail in providing directions for customers.

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[1] Kenneth H. Beeson, Jr., “Indigo Production in the Eighteenth Century,” Hispanic American Historical Review 44, no.. 2 (May 1964), 214.

[2] R.C. Nash, “South Carolina Indigo, European Textile, and the British Atlantic Economy in the Eighteenth Century,” Economic History Review 63, no. 2 (May 2010), 362.