March 13

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

Providence Gazette (March 13, 1773).

“EXcellent Bohea Tea, which for Smell and Flavour exceeds almost any ever imported.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell ranked among the most prominent merchants in Providence in the early 1770s.  Their mercantile success allowed them to construct an impressive Georgian house in 1772, a landmark still standing in the city and the contents on display in museums.  The size of the house testified to the Russells’ wealth, while the style, including “an original principal entrance taken from the English architectural pattern book Builder’s Compleat Assistant (1750) by Battey Langley,” communicated their genteel tastes.  The massive house enhanced their visibility within the cityscape of the growing town, while their frequent advertisements in the Providence Gazette enhanced their visibility among readers of the public prints in town and beyond.  On occasion, they published full-page advertisements that accounted for one-quarter of the space in a standard four-page newspaper of the period.

Most of their advertisements were not that elaborate, yet the Russells still attempted to entice prospective customers with promises of some of the luxuries that they enjoyed.  Consider a notice from the March 13, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The merchants listed a variety of items available at the Sign of the Golden Eagle, a store so well known that the Russells did not consider necessary to name it in every advertisement.  Their inventory included “a few Quarter Casks of best Lisbon Wine,” coffee, chocolate, and imported “English and Hard Ware Goods.”  They did not provide additional details about those items, but they did open their advertisement by promoting “EXcellent Bohea Tea, which for Smell and Flavour exceeds almost any ever imported.”  The Russells did more than encourage prospective customers to imagine purchasing the tea; they encouraged them to imagine consuming the tea, to take into account the sensual pleasures of the smell and the taste.  The merchants presented an opportunity for consumers to treat themselves to a small luxury, one that was not reserved solely for the better sorts, hoping that would help to sell their tea.

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.