January 2

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

Jan 2 - 1:2:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 2, 1767).

“Very CHEAP.”

The typography of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement in the January 2, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette deviated from the standard format for notices placed by merchants and shopkeepers throughout the rest of the issue. Each advertisement had a headline of sorts, but in most instances the headline announced the name of the advertiser. In fonts several sizes larger than the text for the rest of the advertisement, those headlines marked notices inserted by Samuel Carew, Nathl. Greene, J. Mathewson, Benoni Pearce, Jonathan Russell, J. & Wm. Russell, and Darius Sessions. Some of them abbreviated their names in order to fit on a single line.

Thompson and Arnold’s notice, on the other hand, included their names in larger font than most of the advertisement yet reserved the largest font for a marketing appeal that appeared first, preceding their names and all other information included in the advertisement. “Very CHEAP” proclaimed their headline, immediately signaling to prospective customers what kinds of prices they could expect to pay if they decided “to call at [Thompson and Arnold’s] Store, near the Great Bridge.” Each of the other advertisers included an appeal to price somewhere in their notices. Some deployed elaborate language to convince consumers that they sold their wares “cheaper than any Person or Persons in Providence” or “at the very cheapest rate.” Yet readers had to at least skim the notices places by J. Mathewson, Jonathan Russell, and their counterparts to encounter those appeals to price. Associating low prices with Thompson and Arnold required nothing more than a quick glance at their advertisement.

Perhaps the deployment of this typography was merely circumstantial in this case. After all, the name of their partnership contained more characters than the much shorter Samuel Carew or Darius Sessions and could not be abbreviated conveniently like Nathl. Greene or J. & Wm. Russell. Neither situation, however, prevented advertisers and the compositor devising other solutions that still gave primacy to the name of the advertiser in other advertisements elsewhere in the same issue. Nicholas Brown and Company, for instance, listed Brown’s name in large font on the first line, followed by “and COMPANY” in middling-sized font (but strategic capitals) on the next line. “THURBER AND CAHOON” used fonts as large as those in any other advertisement for their names, inserting one word on each of the first three lines of their advertisement.

Thompson and Arnold could have adopted a similar strategy. Doing so would have adhered to custom when it came to the standard format for advertisements in the Providence Gazette and other newspapers throughout the colonies in the 1760s. Finding themselves in the same position as their competitors – making an appeal to price – the partners innovatively wrote their copy in such a way that made their marketing strategy double as the headline for their advertisement. As a result, the typography of their advertisement promoted their business in a manner unique among the paid notices that appeared throughout the same issue.

May 2

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

May 2 - 5:2:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 2, 1767).

“They hope to accommodate their Customers with whatever they may want.”

Thompson and Arnold frequently advertised in the Providence Gazette. At a glance, their notices resembled those placed by shopkeepers in newspapers throughout the colonies, but Thompson and Arnold often added at least one additional element to distinguish their marketing from the efforts of their competitors.

Consider today’s advertisement. It made several of the standard appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements for consumer goods and services: price (“at the cheapest Rate”), choice (an “Assortment of English and India Goods”), current fashions (the “Assortment” was “new and fresh”), and connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire (“imported in the last Ships from LONDON”). To underscore the extent of consumer choice, Thompson and Arnold listed dozens of items in a dense paragraph. Like other retailers, they packed a variety of appeals into a relatively short advertisement.

Most of their counterparts incorporated one or more of these strategies but did little to elaborate on them. Thompson and Arnold, on the other hand, supplemented the formulaic format and language of these appeals with an animated nota bene, an entire paragraph that expanded on their low prices and the extensive choices they presented to customers. The shopkeepers boasted that they could “accommodate their Customers with whatever they may want” not only because they stocked so much merchandise but also because their inventory was superior to what could be found anywhere else in Providence. Their customers benefited from the convenience of what has become known as one-stop shopping; Thompson and Arnold had “a greater variety, and a larger quantity of goods than can be found in any one store in this town.” Potential customers did not need to worry about popular or inexpensive items selling out!

Unlike other shopkeepers that mentioned prices once at the beginning of an advertisement or perhaps again at the end, Thompson and Arnold doubled down on their low prices in their nota bene. They beat the prices they charged in the past (“they will now sell their goods much cheaper than they have yet sold”), but they also undersold their competitors (“cheaper than can be bought elsewhere in this town”).

Given that some advertisements lingered in colonial newspapers for weeks or months, Thompson and Arnold also affixed a date (“May 2, 1767,” the date of that issue of the Providence Gazette) so readers and potential customers would be aware of the timeliness of the appeals they made.

On their own, the introduction and list of goods in Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement replicated many other advertisement for consumer goods published in the 1760s, advancing multiple appeals to potential customers but each of them briefly. To garner additional attention and generate more business, Thompson and Arnold inserted an additional paragraph elaborating on two of those appeals, price and choice.

April 5


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

Apr 5 - 4:4:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 5, 1767).

“A FRESH and NEW Assortment of English and India Goods.”

I chose this advertisement because it specifically mentioned English products. One thing that has surprised me over the course of my research into consumer culture is how much Americans tried to emulate British society in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. This is interesting because in the 1760s and 1770s colonists had continent-wide movements to reject both British importations and government.

To understand the original interest in British goods, even so close to the American Revolution, what the products represented has to be understood. In 1767 many colonists viewed England, especially London, as very genteel and sophisticated. This idea generated a sizable demand for imported goods. The motivation for owning these goods, however useful they might have been, was not purely functional. Many colonists had a mindset like this: the more English items owned, the more refined (and wealthy) a person was. This assumption went both ways. If a colonist owned an English item, it not only boosted that person’s understanding of their personal socioeconomic status, but also affected their peers’ judgment. In addition to the material possessions, even the use of such these products came under scrutiny of fellow colonists. As the public historians at Colonial Williamsburg explain, “Those who owned the ‘right stuff’ without knowing how to use it properly gave themselves away as imposters.” The social rituals and protocols associated with many goods were complicated, and no one wanted to seem like an uncouth pretender. Overall, if colonists possessed a fashionable product, especially if it was an object associated with genteel society, they could express their real (or perceived) higher status, for just a small fee to a seller like Thompson and Arnold.



Price. Choice. Fashion. These were some of the most common appeals to consumers that appeared in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. As Megan notes, Thompson and Arnold implicitly advanced an appeal to fashion when they announced that they sold imported English goods. In addition, they made more explicit and extensive appeals to price and choice in their advertisement published in the Providence Gazette on April 4, 1767. Many advertisers merely made passing or brief mentions of the prices they charged for vast assortments of imported goods, but Thompson and Arnold made variations on these standard appeals in order to attract potential customers’ attention.

For instance, the shopkeepers did not resort to stating that they stocked an “assortment of goods.” Instead, they informed readers that their inventory included “Goods suitable for Town and Country, Winter and Summer.” In fact, they had such a broad array of merchandise that “to enumerate the Articles would take up too much Room for a News-Paper.” (Despite that protest, Thompson and Arnold previously published list-style advertisements that named dozens of imported goods they sold, and in recent months the Providence Gazette had repeatedly printed full-page advertisements for a variety of local shopkeepers, including Thompson and Arnold.) The partners boldly declared that they carried “as great a Variety of Article as can be found in any one Store in New-England.” Most advertisers promoted an assortment of goods as a means of allowing consumers to make choices that corresponded to their own tastes, choices that allowed them to make statements, as Megan notes, about their character, status, and familiarity with the rituals of gentility. Thompson and Arnold offered a different explanation for why it was significant that they carried such a vast variety of goods: “their Assortment is so large they hope to save their Customers the Trouble of going through the Town to supply themselves with the Necessaries they may want.” In presenting customers with so many goods that they “would take up too much Room” to list them in their advertisement, Thompson and Arnold underscored that they sold convenience in addition to choice, an innovative variation on one of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements.


December 27

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

Providence Gazette (December 27, 1766).


Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement for “a fresh and general Assortment of English and India GOODS” filled the entire final page of the December 27, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette. It was not the first full-page advertisement that appeared in that publication: shopkeepers Joseph and William Russell ran a full-page advertisement on November 22, five weeks earlier, and inserted it almost every week since then. The Russells’ oversized advertisement ran on November 29 and December 13 and 20. Except for the December 6 issue of the Providence Gazette, a full-page advertisement on the final page became a regular feature of that publication.

Thompson and Arnold’s full-page advertisement was not the first of its kind, but that did not mean that it lacked significance. At the very least, purchasing the entire final page bolstered the shopkeepers’ prestige, but it also demonstrated that they paid attention to the marketing strategies deployed by their competitors and adopted them to promote their own enterprises. (Keep in mind that Thompson and Arnold previously experimented with oversized advertisements that resembled trade cards, rather than broadsides. Some of their competitors adopted this form in subsequent issues.) Running a full-page advertisement could have been a gimmick limited only to the Joseph and William Russell, a stunt that quickly dissolved into obscurity. The Russells’ advertisement, however, was not merely ephemeral. Other entrepreneurs experimented with the same form. Sarah Goddard and Company, the printers, also may have encouraged regular advertisers to upgrade to full-page advertisements. Clearly both advertisers and the printers of the Providence Gazette engaged with the possibilities offered by the full-page advertisement, a broadside distributed as the final page of the port’s weekly newspaper. In the first issue of 1767, shopkeeper James Green joined the ranks of local retailers who invested in full-page advertisements.

I have not yet had the opportunity to examine subsequent issues of the Providence Gazette published in 1767 too see how long full-page advertisements continued to appear, but I will continue to track this aspect of that newspaper as the Adverts 250 Project progresses through the new year. I do not know exactly what to expect, given the eagerness to experiment with oversized advertisements of various sorts exhibited by Sarah Goddard and Company. That being said, full-page advertisements did not become a staple of marketing notices in American newspapers in the second half of the eighteenth century. Indeed, most historians of both printing and advertising date the origin of full-page advertisements to the middle of the nineteenth century. Even though full-page advertisements did not become a standard feature of newspapers in the 1760s, those that appeared in the Providence Gazette – promoting the businesses of several different retailers – comprise a milestone of innovation and experimentation with marketing that merits additional investigation.

October 18

GUEST CURATOR: Lindsay Hajjar

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

Providence Gazette (October 18, 1766).

“As people have heretofore been obliged to send their Money to Boston and New-York …”

This advertisement gave a long list of much of the merchandise sold by Thompson and Arnold at their shop in Providence. The shopkeepers were looking for customers who were in a financial position that they did not need to barter or buy on credit; their imported goods were “TO BE SOLD, FOR READY MONEY ONLY.” They stated that previously the residents of Providence would have had to travel to Boston and New York to acquire many of the goods in the advertisement, but now they could come to their shop and buy them in town and for a fair price, one that was cheaper than found in Boston or New York.

They tried to entice consumers in Providence with their abundance of goods that they sold and with two other advertising techniques that are very familiar today. First, they emphasized the fact that potential customers did not have to travel far to get them. They also promised low prices. Today consumers often expect prices to be more expensive in urban place. The same was true for the colonists; being able to get these goods close to home for a reasonable price was enticing.

As a second strategy, they compared their prices to other stores in Providence with the same goods. Today, consumers love comparing pricing and trying to get the best deals. Thompson and Arnold knew that this would be an effective tactic because it would draw people in and they could end up buying more than they originally intended.

American consumers have a long history of expecting to find what they need when they need it. T.H Breen confirms this: “after the 1740s American shoppers came to expect a much larger selection, and merchants had to maintain ever larger inventories.”[1] In colonial America consumers sometimes needed to make the compromise of either getting what they wanted close to home but at an escalated price or traveling and getting a better price. Thompson and Arnold made it possible for the consumers in Providence to get both convenience and low prices.



For my commentary on today’s advertisement, I must once again address the project’s methodology as well as my pedagogical goals. Once again one of the guest curators has selected an advertisement that should look very familiar to regular readers. At a glance, it appears that Lindsay has selected the same advertisement that guest curator Nicholas Commesso analyzed a few weeks ago. The same shopkeepers previously published the same list of goods with the same introductory remarks (the same copy from start to finish) and the same decorative border in the same publication. On closer inspection, I uncovered only one difference between the two advertisements: a colon substituted for a period at the end of the sentence immediately before the advertisement listed the goods available at Thompson and Arnold’s shop. (I have no ready explanation for why the printer would have made this change.) Technically, that single change qualifies this as a new advertisement.

That hardly seems like a satisfactory explanation or rationale for repeating an advertisement, deviating from the usual methodology and commitment to examining a new advertisement every day. Other factors played a more significant role in my decision. First of all, Thompson and Arnold published a very robust advertisement that made multiple implicit and explicit appeals to potential customers. Nick examined some of them when he selected this advertisement, but Lindsay picked up on others. Both students learned about aspects of colonial commerce and marketing; both contributed, in different ways, to the ongoing conversation at the Adverts 250 Project. One short entry about Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement was not sufficient to do it justice. In addition, featuring this advertisement a second time also underscores the frequency that some entrepreneurs resorted to advertising. Some shopkeepers ran an advertisement just once or for just a few weeks, but others, like Thompson and Arnold, ran their advertisements so many times that readers would have recognized them on sight. Repetition likely helped to cement Thompson and Arnold’s shop in the popular imagination around Providence.

The rhythm of newspaper publishing in colonial America also influenced my decision to allow Lindsay to feature this advertisement a second time. Nineteen newspapers (that have survived and have been digitized) were published during the week that Lindsay is serving as guest curator. Monday was the most popular day for publishing newspapers, with nine of the nineteen published on Monday. Saturday was one of the least popular days. The Providence Gazette was the only newspaper regularly published on Saturdays in 1766. That means that once a week the featured advertisement for the Adverts 250 Project should come from the Providence Gazette, the only newspaper published on that day 250 years ago. No newspapers were published on Sundays. The methodology for the project requires going back to the most recently published newspaper, which means that the featured advertisement should be drawn from the Providence Gazette twice a week. This places disproportionate emphasis on the Providence Gazette, a problem compounded by the fact that it included less advertising than some other newspapers (but more than others). Other newspapers, especially those printed in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Charleston, could better bear that burden, but between the relative scarcity of advertisements and the tendency to run them for weeks or months, the Adverts 250 Project has pretty much exhausted the advertisements for consumer goods and services printed in the Providence Gazette in the fall of 1766. I could have insisted that Lindsay go back one day earlier to select an advertisement from the New-London Gazette (which usually had even fewer advertisements), the New-Hampshire Gazette (which also had relatively few advertisements), or the Virginia Gazette (which typically ran many advertisements that have not yet been featured here). Future guest curators will have to do so, but I determined that even though today’s advertisement repeated an earlier one (except for that colon that replaced a period!) Thompson and Arnold still had something to tell us about colonial marketing and life in early America more generally.


[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 489.

September 27

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

Providence Gazette (September 27, 1766).

“A fresh and large Assortment of English and India Goods.”

This advertisement in the Providence Gazette features a lengthy list of newly imported goods at the shops of Thompson and Arnold. “TO BE SOLD, FOR READY MONEY ONLY,” these goods had been imported from both from England and India. Included in this “FINE assortment” were different textiles, clothing, and related items, such as “Irish and Russia linens of all sorts,” satin bonnets, shalloons, tammies, “colored threads of all sorts,” and countless other products. Why was importation so important? Business for the British was truly booming in colonial America. As T.H. Breen notes, newspapers “carried more and more advertisements for consumer goods,” and all Americans were a part of this “consumer revolution.”[1]

This shop clearly emphasized fashion, as they offered many different options in terms of colors and materials, which especially interested women. For women, shopping was an exhibition of liberty, and “with choice came a measure of economic power.” They had choices of products and choices of shops to visit. A variety of options allowed customers to gain leverage as they asked questions and made demands. Additionally, Breen argues, choice “reinforced the Americans’ already strong conviction of their own personal independence.”[2]



I originally intended to feature this advertisement a week ago today, but when Nick submitted the same advertisement (printed a week later) for approval I decided to hold off for a week. I figured that the chances were quite probable that he and I would approach the advertisement from very different perspectives, that discussion of this advertisement would be enhanced from both of us examining it.

That turned out to be the case. I initially selected this advertisement because I wanted to discuss its format. In some regards it looks quite similar to an advertisement previously published by Thompson and Arnold (which appeared for the first time in the August 9, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette and then many more times in subsequent issues.) The original iteration of this advertisement deployed graphic design in several unique ways. It surely caught the attention of readers and potential customers.

This version of the advertisement reverted to some of the more standard aspects of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. In particular, it inhabited a single column within the issue, whereas the earlier version spanned two columns. The previous version also used three columns to delineate Thompson and Arnold’s merchandise, but in today’s advertisement their inventory collapsed into a dense list instead. This did not have the same visual resonance, nor did it make it as easy for potential customers to locate specific products of interest.

Still, the updated version of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement featured design elements intended to continue drawing the eyes of readers. Like the previous version, it retained a decorative border made of printing ornaments. Very few newspaper advertisements in the 1760s had such borders (though we have previously seen that Jolley Allen made sure that his advertisements in Boston’s newspapers were easily identified by their borders). In addition, Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement was much longer than most that appeared in the Providence Gazette. Its size alone merited notice. Finally, today’s advertisement appeared in the first column of the first page of the Providence Gazette, right below the masthead. In design, layout, and location, there was no way for readers to overlook Thompson and Arnold’s updated advertisement.


[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 486-487.

[2] Breen, “Empire of Goods,” 489.

September 13

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

Sep 13 - 9:13:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 13, 1766).

“AT BENJAMIN and EDWARD THURBER’s Shops, at the Signs of the Bunch of Grapes and Lyon.”

On August 9, 1766, Thompson and Arnold placed an exceptional advertisement in the Providence Gazette, an advertisement guaranteed to attract attention thanks to its innovative graphic design. Unlike the standard advertisement that appeared elsewhere in the Providence Gazette and other newspapers throughout the colonies, Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement extended across two columns, sequestered from other content on the page by a decorative border comprised of printer’s ornaments. Within the advertisement, the extensive list of merchandise was set in three columns, further disrupting the lines formed by the other columns on that page and the rest of the issue. Furthermore, Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement was so large that it dominated the page. At a glance, it seemed more like a trade card or handbill, meant to be distributed separately, yet superimposed on the newspaper page.

Thompson and Arnold’s striking advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette in subsequent issues, moving to different corners of the page depending on the needs of the printer, but always the focal point no matter the quadrant where it appeared. Then something even more interesting happened just five weeks later. The Providence Gazette featured another advertisement, this one the shops operated by Benjamin and Edward Thurber, that imitated the graphic design of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement. It was oversized. It spread across two columns. It included a decorative border made of printing ornaments. It further disrupted the lines on the page by dividing the merchandise into three columns. It could have been distributed separately as a handbill or trade card.

Benjamin and Edward Thurber’s advertisement appeared on the third page of the September 13, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette. Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement continued to appear on the fourth page. What might Thompson and Arnold have thought of their competitors aping their unique graphic design? Advertisers seemed to be paying attention to the commercial notices placed by others and updating their own marketing in response to what they saw and what they anticipated would be effective.