October 31

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

Providence Gazette (October 31, 1772).


In advance of having copies of the “The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, Or Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1773” available for sale, John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, inserted an announcement among the local news to inform prospective customers that the almanac “is now in the Press, and will be speedily published.”  The following week, he once again exercised his power as printer to give an advertisement for the almanac a privileged place in the newspaper.  It ran first among the advertisements in the October 31, 1772, edition.  Even if readers did not peruse all of the advertisements, they likely noticed the one about the almanac that immediately followed the news.  In subsequent issues, Carter placed the advertisement among the paid notices, but the first time it appeared it occupied a prime place on the page.

Prospective customers would have been familiar with the New-England Almanack, written by West.  The astronomer and mathematician had a decade of experience authoring the almanac and collaborating with the printers of the Providence Gazette in marketing and selling it.  As the newspaper changed hands over the years, the new printers continued publishing both the Providence Gazette and the New-England Almanack, augmenting their revenue by doing so.  For the 1773 edition of the almanac, Carter and West declared that it included “Some valuable Improvements” and “is a Quarter Part larger than usual, but the Price is not advanced.”  For the same price they paid the previous year, customers could acquire an almanac that contained thirty-two pages rather than twenty-four, certainly a bargain.

Providence Gazette (October 31, 1772).

In addition to the notice placed “by the Printer hereof, and by the Author,” the New-England Almanack received attention in another advertisement the first week it was available for sale.  Thurber and Cahoon ran a lengthy advertisement that listed scores of items available at their shop at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes.  They included “WEST’s ALMANACKS” among the books in the final paragraph.  That item appeared in all capitals, distinguishing it from the rest of the merchandise mentioned in the advertisement.  Did Thurber and Cahoon arrange to have the almanac highlighted in their advertisement in hopes of benefitting from retail sales?  Or did Carter make the intervention in their advertisement, recognizing any sales of the almanac as beneficial to his bottom line?  Either way, the advertisement suggests that Carter and West quickly distributed the almanac to retailers to increase sales.  As soon as it came off the press, consumers could purchase the almanac at several locations in Providence.

July 18

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

Providence Gazette (July 18, 1772).

Thurber and Cahoon WANT to purchase … Red Oak Staves.”

In the early 1770s, Thurber and Cahoon regularly advertised imported goods for sale at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES” in Providence.  For instance, they hawked a “compleat Assortment of English and India GOODS, Of almost every Kind” in an advertisement in the July 18, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  In addition, they promoted a “general Assortment of WEST-INDIA GOODS” in the same notice.  A notation at the end, “(3 M),” indicated that they planned to run the advertisement for three months.

Thurber and Cahoon did not turn to the public prints solely to market merchandise to consumers in Providence and nearby towns.  They also placed advertisements seeking resources they needed to participate in transatlantic trade, including wooden barrel staves.  Two such advertisements ran on the final page of the Providence Gazette on July 18, 1772.  In one, Thurber and Cahoon joined with Edward Thurber in calling on the public to supply them with a “Quantity of LONG STAVES.”  They needed the staves “immediately,” offering “good Pay” for them.  In another advertisement, they stated that they “WANT to purchase a Quantity of square edged Yellow Pine Boards, and Red Oak Stvaes.”  Again, they offered “good Pay” for those items.  The notation “(T. b. c.)” appeared on the final line, alerting the compositor that that Thurber and Cahoon intended for the advertisement “to be continued” until they alerted the printing office to discontinue it.

As Thurber and Cahoon utilized the Providence Gazette for both selling merchandise at their shop and acquiring supplies from other colonizers, John Carter, the printer, enjoyed a steady revenue stream.  Those advertisements helped in funding the distribution of news from London, Marseilles, Albany and Boston that appeared in the July 18 edition, including “the report of a Committee of the Honourable House of Representatives” in Massachusetts “to consider of a message from his Excellency the Governor.”  That report raised concerns about the governor, Thomas Hutchinson, “receiving his support, independent of the grants and acts of the General Assembly,” considering it a “dangerous innovation” because it made the governor less accountable to “the people” of Massachusetts.  Readers of the Providence Gazette learned about some of the most important issues that eventually resulted in the colonies declaring independence in part because Thurber and Cahoon ran advertisements seeking barrel staves “(T. b. c.)”

May 16

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

Providence Gazette (May 16, 1772).

“They will sell at as cheap a Raste as any Goods … can be purchased in this Town.”

Nathaniel Jacobs advised prospective customers that he stocked a “compleat Assortment of European and East-India GOODS” that he “sold at the lowest Prices” at his shop on the west side of the Great Bridge in Providence.  Other merchants and shopkeepers who also placed notices in the May 16, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette placed even greater emphasis on the bargains they offered.

At their shop at the Sign of the Elephant, for instance, Tillinghast and Holroyd stocked a “Variety [of] ARTICLES … which they will sell at as cheap a Rate as any Goods, of the same Quality, can be purchased in this Town.”  In other words, their competitors did not have lower prices.  To underscore the point, they made an additional appeal to female consumers.  “The Ladies are especially informed,” Tillinghast and Holroyd declared, “that a Part of their Assortment consists of Silks for Gowns, Cloaks, &c. Gauzes, Lawns, &c. for Aprons, &c. which will be sold at the lowest Prices.”  According to the advertisement, women could acquire these goods without paying extravagant prices.

Jones and Allen also emphasized low prices in their lengthy notice that listed scores of “ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” recently imported.  The headline for their advertisement proclaimed, “The greatest Pennyworths,” alerting prospective customers to bargain prices.  Not considering that sufficient to entice customers into their shop at the Sign of the Golden Ball, they concluded with a note that they “think it needless to say any thing more to the public, than that they deal for ready money, and are determined to be undersold by no retailer in Providence.”  Jones and Allen encouraged comparison shopping, confident that customers would ultimately buy their goods.

Thurber and Cahoon made similar promises concerning their “compleat Assortment of English and India GOODS” at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes.  They suggested that they already had a reputation for good deals at their store, stating that they were “determined to sell at their usual low Prices.”  In addition, they challenged consumers to make their own assessments, confiding that they “doubt not but all, who will call and examine for themselves, will be convinced [their prices] are as low, if not lower, than are sold by any Person, or Persons, whatever.”  Their advertisement advanced yet another claim to setting the best prices in town.

Tillinghast and Holroyd, Jones and Allen, and Thurber and Cahoon did not merely tell prospective customers that they offered low prices.  They did not make offhand appeals to price.  Instead, they crafted short narratives about the bargains at their shops, pledging consumers would not find better deals elsewhere.  They believed that such narratives would entice customers to visit their shops even if they encountered low prices in other stores.

May 11

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

Providence Gazette (May 11, 1771).

“N.B. They have just received by the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a large and compleat Assortment of European and East India GOODS.”

The arrival of the Providence in Providence on May 1, 1771, was good for business for John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette.  Captain Phineas Gilbert brought a variety of information that quickly found its way into the town’s only newspaper.  He delivered newspapers from London and letters from distant correspondents to Carter.  In turn, the printer selected excerpts for publication in the Providence Gazette.  He also published updates about the progress made by several vessels the Providence encountered during its transatlantic voyage.

In addition to news, the Providence also generated advertising.  Merchants quickly placed advertisements announcing that they stocked consumer goods “JUST IMPORTED from LONDON … In the Ship Providence.”  John Brown made that pronouncement in the May 4 edition.  Joseph Russell and William Russell also advertised that Captain Gilbert delivered a “large Assortment of GOODS” to them.  A week later, several other entrepreneurs placed similar notices in the Providence Gazette.  The advertising section in the May 11 edition commenced with notification from “Nicholas, Joseph& Moses Brown, In Company” that they had “imported in the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a great Variety of English and India GOODS.”  Thurber and Cahoon made the same appeal, adding a nota bene to an advertisement that previously ran in the Providence Gazette.  The new copy asserted that Thurber and Cahoon “have just recently received by the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a large and compleat Assortment of European and East India GOODS.”  Nathaniel Wheaton did not mention the Providence in his new advertisement, but he did declare that he “just imported from London” an assortment of merchandise that he offered to “the Gentlemen and Ladies both of Town and Country.”  Most likely the Providence transported his goods.  Not all entrepreneurs who placed such advertisements had shops in Providence. Richard Matthewson of East Greenwich promoted goods he received via the Providence, noting that he set prices “as cheap as any in the Colony.”

While Carter certainly welcomed any news that Captain Gilbert carried, he likely appreciated the goods and, especially, the advertisements they inspired even more.  After all, he regularly reprinted news from London that appeared in newspapers published in Boston.  That allowed him to satisfy subscribers, but it did not generate additional revenue.  The number of advertisements for consumer goods in the Providence Gazette significantly increased after the Providencearrived in port and delivered its cargo to merchants and shopkeepers.  That meant both additional content and greater revenue for the newspaper.

October 8

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

Oct 8 - 10:8:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 8, 1768).


Thurber and Cahoon placed a new advertisement in the October 8, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette.   The partners promoted a “new and general Assortment of English and India GOODS, Imported in the last Ships from London and Bristol.” They listed some of that merchandise in a two short paragraphs, one for textiles and trimmings and the other for hardware. They also informed prospective customers about the location of their store at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES,” across the street from their houses in “the North End of Providence.”

Yet not all of the contents of their advertisement provided information intended for readers and consumers. The final line included a notation in brackets – “[48—6W.]” – intended to aid the compositor when laying out the pages of subsequent issues. The printers also likely referred to that notation in the course of their own bookkeeping. The “48” revealed that the advertisement first appeared in issue number 248. The “6W” presumably indicated that it was supposed to run for six weeks before being discontinued.

Several other advertisements concluded with issue numbers that corresponded with when they first appeared in the Providence Gazette. John White’s advertisement for candles and soap, for instance, listed “(46)” on the final line. Similarly, prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell inserted a notice about their “neat and fresh Assortment of GOODS” that also stated its initial issue number, “(47).” None of those advertisements, however, included any indication of their intended duration, but “6W” did apparently mean six weeks. Thurber and Cahoon’s advertisement ran in the next five issues, appearing for the last time in the November 12 edition. It moved from column to column and page to page, but the notation apparently served its purpose in reminding the compositor when to remove the advertisement.

The Providence Gazette was not the only newspaper that inserted such notations into advertisements in the colonial era. Throughout the colonies compositors and printers used this device to facilitate operating their publications. Readers may have taken note and decoded the notations on their own, but they were not the primary audience for those portions of the advertisements.

January 9

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

Jan 9 - 1:9:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 9, 1768).

“At their New Shop and Store, the sign of the Bunch of Grapes.”

Benjamin Thurber and Daniel Cahoon informed residents of Providence and its hinterland that they had formed a partnership in an advertisement that ran in the Providence Gazette in the fall of 1767. In their initial notice the shopkeepers emphasized their retail space, trumpeting that they “have built and compleated the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.” They also proclaimed that they had “furnished it with a very large and general Assortment of the very best of English and India Piece Goods, Hard Ware, all Sorts of West-India Goods, and Groceries of all Kinds.”

In their subsequent advertising Thurber and Cahoon turned to demonstrating the extent of their inventory, listing dozens of items available for purchase “at their New Shop and Store, the sign of the Bunch of Grapes.” Just as they claimed to operate the largest shop in town, their advertisement occupied the most space in the January 9, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, although it had been rivaled by Jonathan Russell’s advertisement in the previous issue. Thurber and Cahoon may have been motivated, in part, by Russell’s lengthy advertisement and its extended run in their local newspaper. It commenced in mid November, shortly after they announced their partnership, and continued for eight weeks, disappearing from the pages of the Providence Gazette after the first issue of the new year. Thurber and Cahoon may have determined that they needed to place an advertisement of similar length to challenge Russell and to remind potential customers of the size of their shop, supposedly the largest in Providence.

Their advertisement extended nearly three-quarters of a column, twice the length of the next longest advertisement in the January 9 issue. It also featured unique typography. Rather than list their wares in a single continuous and dense paragraph, they instead enumerated one or tow items per line and created two narrower columns within the single column that contained their advertisement. Not only did this typographical strategy make their notice appear even longer, it may have conjured up rows of shelves in their shop, suggesting how much space Thurber and Cahoon made available for customers to leisurely browse through their merchandise. By comparison, the other advertisements in the same issue looked much more cramped, implying that their shops were equally crowded and difficult to navigate.

Thurber and Cahoon used the amount of space on the page and design elements to their advantage when they placed their advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Although they echoed many of the same appeals to price, quality, and service that appeared in other commercial notices, the typography set their advertisement apart and buttressed the claims they made to potential customers.