April 26

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772).

“Oils .. Paints … Varnishes … GUMS.”

John Gore and Son included a table listing the various colors available at their shop “At the Painters-Arms” in Queen Street in Boston when they placed an advertisement in the April 23, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  They clustered other goods together in dense paragraphs, including “Brushes, Tools, and Pencils of all sorts” and “Stone and Pallet Knives,” but used the table to demonstrate the range of choices and guide prospective customers in selecting the ones that most interested them.

Gore and Son divided the table among “Oils,” “Paints,” “Varnishes,” and “GUMS.”  Each category listed half a dozen items, except for “Paints.”  Instead, Gore and Son further subdivided the table to include sections for “WHITE,” “RED,” “BROWN,” “YELLOW,” “BLUE,” “GREEN,” and “BLACK.”  Each of those sections listed several options.  Rather than settle for blue, customers could choose from among “Ultramarine, Ultramarine Ashes, Prussian Blue of various sorts, Calcin’d Smalt, Verditer, [and] Powder Blue.”  Similarly, the varieties of yellow included “King’s Yellow, Princess Yellow, Naples Yellow, Spruce Yellow, Stone Yellow, Maryland Yellow, English Oaker, Gum Bogium, Yellow Orpiment, [and] Dutch Pink.”  To produce the table of paints and colors, the compositor created three columns and incorporated horizontal and vertical lines to separate each category from the others.

This method of displaying the extensive choices to consumers anticipated the racks of cards on display in hardware and home improvement stores today.  Gore and Son did not merely tell prospective customers that they stocked “COLOURS of all sorts” but instead encouraged them to imagine the different shades and contemplate which they preferred.  They likely hoped that some readers would visit their shop to compare the colors after seeing the many options listed in the table in the newspaper advertisement.  Gore and Son relied on text without images when marketing their paints, yet they still attempted to leverage graphic design and visual effects to make sales.  They opted for typography that simultaneously highlighted choices available to customers and distinguished their advertisement from others.

May 20

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

May 20 - 5:20:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 20, 1769).

“Coy and Waterman do all Manner of Painting, Gilding, Drawing, and Writing upon Signs.”

Like many others who advertised in eighteenth-century newspapers, Coy and Waterman helped prospective customers locate their shop both by identifying a landmark and a describing their sign. They advised that they could be found “At their Shop, the Sign of the Painter’s Arms, opposite Moses Brown’s, Esq; in Providence,” where they sold “A Compleat Assortment of Painters Colours.”

Their sign, the Painter’s Arms, served not only as an advertisement for their wares but also as a testament to the quality of a service they also offered. After listing the several varieties of “Painters Colours” in stock, Coy and Waterman stated that they “do all Manner of Painting, Gilding, Drawing, and Writing upon Signs, in the most neat and genteel Manner.” They invited shopkeepers, merchants, artisans, tavernkeepers, and others to commission signs to mark their places of business, promote the goods and services they provided, and distinguish them from their competitors. Posting a sign played a part in creating a memorable identity for practically any enterprise. For instance, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, gave his location as the “PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in the colophon of every issue.

Coy and Waterman’s advertisement suggests that the market for producing and maintaining signs in the late 1760s was vibrant enough that they needed to address the competition. The painters pledged to “work as cheap for Cash, or Country Produce, as any Person in Town, Newport or Boston.” Apparently prospective clients had several choices in a regional market.

Print played an important role in eighteenth-century marketing, but newspapers, trade cards, catalogs, and other printed media were not the only means for promoting commerce and consumption. Shop signs became synonymous with purveyors of goods and services, a precursor to creating brands, logos, and trademarks consistently associated with particular businesses. They have not survived in nearly the same numbers as eighteenth-century newspapers, but many of the advertisements in those newspapers suggest that colonists regularly glimpsed “the Sign of the Painter’s Arms,” “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head,” and many other shop signs as they navigated the streets of Providence and other cities and towns.