April 4

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

Providence Gazette (April 4, 1772).

“They have just opened a large and fine assortment of Spring and Summer Goods.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell were among the most prolific advertisers in the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Two of the city’s most prominent merchants, the Russells generated significant advertising revenue for the printers of the Providence Gazette.  They sometimes ran multiple advertisements at once, especially when they received new shipments of imported goods via vessels arriving in port.  Even when the Russells were relatively quiet, they inserted a new advertisement approximately once a month or every six weeks.  In doing so, they maintained their visibility in the public prints much more consistently than their competitors.  That likely contributed to their prominence, both in the Providence and in other towns where the Providence Gazette circulated.

As part of their ongoing advertising campaign, the Russells inserted a new advertisement in the April 4, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  It did not include much by way of prologue, sporting a headline that read, “To be Sold by JOSEPH & Wm. RUSSELL,” before listing a variety of goods in two columns.  The Russells apparently marketed items they previously had on hand or else they would have resorted to a convention adopted by many merchants and shopkeepers in their advertisements.  That standard format proclaimed that the advertisers had “just imported” certain goods and named the vessels and captains that transported them across the Atlantic.  Prospective customers could compare that information to the shipping news to determine how recently the merchandise made it to shops and stores.

Lacking such an introduction, the Russells’ advertisement suggested to readers that they had not just received the “Cream coloured plates and mugs,” “Brass kettles,” and “Looking glasses of all sizes.”  The advertisement concluded with a note that the merchants “have just opened a large and fine assortment of Spring and Summer Goods” for those who wished to peruse them, but savvy consumers realized that they would choose from among items imported during a previous season.  If the Russells had new goods recently delivered from England, they would have incorporated that information into their new advertisement.

March 25


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

Providence Gazette (March 25, 1769).

“Pepper by the Bag.”

Joseph and William Russell advertised a few different commodities, such as pork, pepper, cordage, duck, indigo, and nails. Pepper was one of the biggest imports that came from Asia into Europe; it was one of the most valuable resources that the British imported from British India to Europe and the colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Pepper had been one of the bigger sources of conflict between the British and the Dutch in earlier years, according to K.N. Chaudhuri in The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660-1760. Though the wrestling for dominance over India by European powers took place earlier than the Russells published their advertisement in the Providence Gazette, it bore great weight when observing the later outcomes and rewards that the British and the colonists reaped from those earlier efforts in securing a steady flow of resources from India, including textiles and pepper.



When it came time to select which advertisement to feature today, Sean had very few options. The Providence Gazette was the only newspaper published in colonial America on Saturday, March 25, 1769. While it often carried dozens of advertisements that filled the entire final page and often spilled over to other pages, only five paid notices ran in the March 25 edition. They did not amount to an entire column. Two were legal notices and one offered a forge for lease. Only two offered goods for sale: the advertisement placed by the Russells and an even shorter notice for “best English Hay and Hay-Seed” to be sold by Hezekiah Carpenter. Guest curator Zach Dubreuil already examined the Russells’ advertisement last week. While the methodology for the Adverts 250 Project usually specifies that an advertisement should be featured only once, I instructed Sean that he could work with this advertisement as long as he consulted with Zach to choose a different aspect to analyze.

Those five notices were not, however, the sole mention of advertising in the Providence Gazette that week. At the bottom of the column John Carter, the printer, inserted a short announcement: “Advertisements omitted, for Want of Room, shall be in our next.” The relative scarcity of advertising in that issue apparently was not for lack of notices submitted to the printing office, as often seemed to be the case with the Boston Chronicle, but rather too much other content that Carter considered more important at the moment. Printers needed to carefully manage such situations. Especially at times of political turmoil, they had an obligation to disseminate news to their readers as quickly as they acquired it or risk losing readers, yet revenues from advertising were essential to the continued operation of colonial newspapers. The notice that “Advertisements omitted … shall be in our next” informed clients who expected to see their advertisements in the March 25 edition that they would indeed appear the following week after only a brief hiatus. That strategy was not Carter’s only option. Printers throughout the colonies sometimes issued half sheet supplements comprised of advertising when news (and other advertisements) filled the standard issue. Carter may not have had sufficient additional paid notices to merit doing so, or he may not have had sufficient time to produce a supplement. Even though few advertisements ran in the March 25 issue, the printer still addressed the business of advertising in the pages of the newspaper.