Date of Original Version
This book is published in conjunction with an exhibition of Rhode Island billheads at the University Library of the University of Rhode Island in November 2001
DeSimone, Russell J.. "A Survey of Nineteenth Century Rhode Island Billheads." , (2001). https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/lib_ts_pubs/9
The majority of billheads issued during the first quarter of the 19th century were handwritten. Providence tailor James H. Read's billhead is typical of billheads from this period. In business for many years, his billhead evolved from manuscript to printed form. Figure 10 shows another of Read's billhead issued thirty years later in 1855.
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This plainly printed billhead from the 1820's was for the Fox Point Union Company lumber yard. By 1831, when this billhead was used, the name and ownership of the company had changed to Asa and Johnathan Pike.
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J. Childs & Co. sold woodenware. This billhead is unusual in that it makes use of a graphic which was uncommon for Rhode Island billheads of the 1830s.
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Providence has been a jewelry center for a long time. During the 1830s the firm of Church & Metcalf was in the heart of this center located around Steeple Street and North and South Main Streets. This billhead from the 1830s is typical of billheads from the early printed period, neither manuscript nor elaborate in design.
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The Providence firm of Westcott & Morse used a number of different furniture graphics on its billheads during the 1840s. This one is typical. Note that a straw mattress could be bought for $4.25.
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Little Compton dealer, Samuel Cooke, was still using handwritten billheads in 1844. Conceivably this was due to the fact that there was no ready access to a print shop in Adamsville.
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Pictured on this billhead is a fancy parlor stove. Many of the graphic billheads from this period depict stoves. This billhead's dateline is in the Quaker style.
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This billhead shows a sofa that converts into a bed. Obviously the sofa bed is not a modern invention.
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Bookseller and stationer, Gladding and Brother, made use of the advertisign window to list some of its items in stock. Possibly the firm printed its own billheads.
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James H. Read's billhead had evolved significantly from the one shown in Figure 1. The billhead shown in this figure is typical in style and format of billheads from the 1850s.
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By the 1850s some businesses had special woodcuts made to show the buildings from which they operated. The view on this billhead is of the firm of L. D. Anthony & Co. which was located in the Dyer building on Westminster Street. This location is now occupied by the Fleet building.
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This magnificently printed billhead shows the Eddy Street premises of the Providence Steam and Gas Pipe Co. The wood engraving was made by the Providence engraving firm of Thompson and Crosby.
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David Sweet & Co. was a manufacturer of windows and blinds. From the unsigned woodcut on his billhead one gains a glimpse of his business on Canal Street in Providence. Also seen are the signboards for S. D. Olney-glazier and Buffington & Hall, wholesale and retail grocer, as well as the spire of the First Baptist Church on South Main Street.
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Silas Moore was the proprietor for the Eagle Nursery located in the Elmwood section of Cranston. This receipt is made out to Joseph Macomber, a Portsmouth, RI seed grower. Moore used the bottom portion of the billhead to add a note requesting Macomber to pay quickly as he (Moore) was
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In 1850 Joseph H. Potter went into the drug business. By 1855 E. G. Champlin was admitted as partner and a store was built on Main Street in Westerly. In its time it was said to be the most complete store of its kind in the country and its representatives went throughout the United States to supply country stores. Interestingly this billhead was used on Christmas day 1860.
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The view shown on this billhead is that of the storefront for Providence carpet dealer, William Barstow & Co. This store at 91 Westminster Street stood immediately to the left of L. D. Anthony's store at 89 Westminster Street, shown in Figure 11. Since both stores ran in length from Westmister Street to Exchange Place they each provided addresses for either street entrance. The woodcut for this billhead was executed by Thompson.
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Woonsocket dealer Amasa S. Arnold specialized in hardware, cutlery and stoves. According to the business directories of the period he also sold farm equiptment. The stove shown on this billhead is a Steward, the name is barely visible on the pot atop the stove.
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Foremost of Newport's resort hotels was Ocean House. Located on fashionable Bellvue Avenue. This billhead shows the second Ocean House, which was built shortly after the first Ocean House burned in 1845. This hotel would suffer the same fate as the first, destroyed by fire in September 1898.
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This 1865 ornate billhead of stove manufacturer and dealer Freeborn Coggeshall is interesting for the detail view it provides of Carpenter's Double Oven Range. This range was manufactured in Boston and from the woodcut it appears quite ornate. The woodcut is signed at the lower left.
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John H. Eddy & Co. proudly showed its store front located on Exchange Street. This was the Exchange Bank building and spanned the length of the block from Westminster Street to Exchange Place. The building housed a number of other shops as well. The engraving on this billhead was executed by John C. Thompson of Providence.
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John Mason founded his business as a pattern and model maker in Providence in 1842. By 1867, the year of this billhead, there were seven other Providence businesses providing the same service. This bill is for the making of shafting and gears on a model for the Union Screw Co. The handsome woodcut was made and signed by Providence wood engraver, William S. Hoyt.
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The hardware firm of William W. Arnold & Son was located on High Street. In 1893 this street changed names when it was made an extension of Westmister Street. The engraving of Arnold's storefront is signed by the Providence firm of Thompson and Crosby.
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Probably the most recognized image of the founding of Providence is the one used on this billhead showing the landing of Roger Williams as he is met by the natives. This image seems appropriate for a firm doing business as the Roger Williams Flour Mill. The image was supplied by Gladding Bros. and Co. whose own billhead can be seen in Figure 9.
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Thomas Tilley of East Greenwich was a purveyor of meats and groceries. What makes this billhead interesting is its size, 13 3/4 inches in length, It itemizes purchases made from July 27th, 1868 through January 4th, 1869 when the bill was finally settled. The woodcut is from printers stock and is also known to appear on billheads from Massachusetts and Ohio.
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The manufacturing of carriages came to Wakefield in 1861 when N. C. Armstrong opend a small shop. This business was sold three years later to Stephen C. and William K. Armstrong. In addition to carriage manufacturing, Mr. Armstrong also found time to be an undertaker.
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Seneca Rathbun ran a saw mill in Wyoming, RI. The business directories from this period list a number of saw mills and lumber manufacturers operating in Hopkinton, not surprising given the available woods and power from the Wood River to run the water driven saws. The woodcut used here is likely from printer's stock.
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This billhead is for the grocery firm of Cole & Paull of Bristol. Given that nathan Cole's name has been crossed out, he most likely dropped out of the business and Seth Paull continued the business using the on-hand supply of billheads. The cuts on this billhead are from standard printers stock.
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Aside from the fine cut of the Leading Cook stove engraved by Thompson and the use of a revenue stamp, this McAuliffe and Bliss billhead is of interest because it is possible to compute the hourly labor rate for work performed. The hourly rate was 40 cents per hour. Also of interest is the use of the revenue stamp to pay for the costs of the recent Civil War.
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B. A. Whitcomb was a manufacturer and dealer in hats, caps and umbrellas in Providnece. This billhead has a wonderful Victorian hat rack with various hats, caps, walking sticks and umbrellas. At the top of the billhead Whitcomb claims to be the only jobbing house of its type in the state. Note also the reference to Buffalo robes, a popular item in its day.
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Albert F. Allen was a leading manufacturer and dealer of fire fighting equipment. The woodcut on this billhead shows related gear and tools - helmets, ladders, pikes, pickaxes, hooks, lanterns and trumpets. Allen appears to have been very innovative judging from the number of patents listed in his name.
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Clapp & King sold not only fruits, preserves and fireworks but also Whitman’s confections (the same confectioner is still in business today producing Whitman’s chocolate).
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The firm of Congdon, Carpenter & Co. founded in 1790, was located at the corner of Canal and Elizabeth streets in Providence. The dateline for this billhead is in the Quaker style. The company continues in business today.
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The florist, W.S. Hogg, selected a simple graphic of pots, plants and trellises (which is misspelled as ‘trillises in the text of the billhead) to illustrate his business. This billhead is made out to Mrs. Green of 14 John St., presumably this was the mother of Senator Theodore Francis Green who would live all his life at this address.
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Briggs Brothers, undertakers, used a rather standard engraving of a plumed hearse to represent their business. The bill is for $4.00 for removing a body to the North end of a grave.
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Newport furniture dealers J.L. & G.A. Hazard used a Victorian parlor set on their billhead to convey the nature of their business. The image used here was also used in Hazard’s advertisement in the Newport Directory for 1856-7. From this billhead we learn that in 1874 it was possible to repair and reupholster a rocking chair for $4.47.
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Throughout the nineteenth century the blacksmith played an essential role in daily life. Mr. E.H. Angell visited the blacksmith shop of James A. Polk in Pascoag a total of thirteen times in five months mainly to shoe a horse or set a tire. The cut used on this billhead is a stock cut.
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Rice & Hayward had a large bakery in operation at the corner of Broad and Pearl Streets. According to the 1875 Providence business directory both Fitz James Rice and William S. Hayward lived at 432 Broad Street which was the house on the left in this billhead.
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The purpose of a graphic on a billhead is to send a message. This billhead sends its message simply yet powerfully.
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Pump manufacturer, William Gibson and Son, was located in the village of Phenix in the town of Coventry. Like most businesses in small town America it was not necessary for Gibson and Son to include a street address on its billhead.
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Akerman & Co. was one of the largest blank book manufacturers in Providence in 1879. Its location on Washington Row was demolished in 1916 to make room for the Hospital Trust building. The graphic used on this billhead advertised printed and lithographed billheads as well as checks, notes and drafts as part of the Akerman & Co. line of products.
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This Westerly billhead is interesting for the view it provides of a 19th century butcher shop, certainly a stock cut from the printer’s inventory.
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The Rumford Chemical Works was a prosperous business incorporated in 1858 by Professor Eben N. Horsford. This billhead not only lists its numerous products but it shows plant locations in East Providence and West Warwick.
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Other than recording a business transaction, a billhead can serve the purpose of causing a business to stand out from its competitors. This billhead in bright red ink certainly serves that purpose. Fish dealer S. P. Doane was, as one might expect for a fish monger, located on the waterfront opposite Providence’s old police station.
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Located in Providence’s Hoyle Square, Cairns & Williams were manufacturers and dealers of equipment for horses. This handsome billhead prominently shows some of their products in use.
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Rosenbloom Brother’s purchased the business of Providence shoe manufacturer Eben Beane in the 1880s. Rather than print new billheads they simply used the existing supply and stamped their name in red ink above the previous owner’s name.
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Wholesale druggist, William B. Blanding’s business, stood at the corner of Weybosset Street and Aborn Gangway (now Harkness Street).
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The wholesale dry good firm of Taylor, Symonds & Co. selected a side view of their premises located at the corner of Orange and Weybosset Streets. Perhaps it was thought this view made the business look more prosperous. Like so many other Rhode Island billhead engravings, this engraving was done by Thompson.
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J.A. & R.A. Reed were publishers of many books about Rhode Island history. This billhead is unusual in that it lists recent publications and prices. The Building shown here is the Daniels building.
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Situated on Providence’s eastside, the Friends School later changed its name in honor of its benefactor Moses Brown. From this billhead we learn that Joshua Buxham (the father?) was billed for a broken chair in the room of Henry Buxham (the son?). The cost of the chair was assessed at thirteen cents.
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A significant aspect of billheads is that they provide views of buildings, storefronts and factories that are no longer standing. Oftentimes these billheads provide the only extant view. The billhead of manufacturer Robert Plews, established in 1858, gives a fine view of his business’ premises opposite the train depot in Central Falls.
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Unlike most billheads that used a left side graphic, the design of this Newport billhead is well balanced with kerosene oil lamps on both left and right sides. The billhead is further enhanced by being printed on yellow paper stock.
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Isaac Chase was a printer in the Arctic section of West Warwick. His billhead informed customers of the other services he provided - bookseller, stationer, newsdealer, fancy goods, toys, violin and banjo strings, sheet music, school books, confectionary, cigars and tobacco. His billhead also provided a view inside a nineteenth century print shop.
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This billhead is printed on lovely salmon colored paper. Because H.O. Pardey was, among other things, a dealer in stoves, a stock cut of a Spicers & Peckham stove is pictured on this billhead.
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Synonymous with the 19th Century tobacco store was the American Indian. This billhead, printed in red, has a woodcut of an Indian sitting among boxes of tobacco and a bound bundle of tobacco leaf at his feet. Wording above and below recommend “Chew and Smoke ‘Big Injun’ Tobacco.” This billhead is also interesting because it is one of the few that had printing of its reverse. In this case it is a listing of products supplied by the firm of Babcock and Brigham.
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William Harris made his fortune by inventing patented changes to the world famous Corliss steam engines. His rise, from a draftsman working for the Corliss Steam Engine Co. to owner of his own factory located at Park and Promonade Streets in Providence was a true Horiatio Alger success story. This billhead was printed on a light green paper.
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This billhead provides an excellent view of the yards of the Newell Coal & Lumber Co., along the Seekonk River in Pawtucket. While the view, by virtue of its center position, dominates the billhead, it is the very stylish modern font for the company name that is of special interest.
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Jillson and Folsom were sailmakers located along Providence’s waterfront on South Water Street. The flag and sailboat were printed in bright red which made for an attractive billhead. Note the use of a telephone number on their billhead. This practice would come to be more common on billheads as the century closed out.
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John Althan’s business was varied- caterer, baker and ice cream manufacturer. The business must have been prosperous as evidenced by its two locations. The cut to the left top of the billhead has the words ‘Our creams are made of pure cream’. In 1893 Mr. Althans was selling his pure cream for $1.35 per gallon.
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This billhead provides a nice streetscape of Exchange Place in Providence as it appeared in the early 1890s. The American Supply Company stood on the site of what today is the Fleet Bank. The riddle of this billhead is why would the town of Cumberland purchase 11 pounds of waste from a company in the general mill supplies business.
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George Weaver’s hardware stores issued a large and diverse number of billheads. The whimsical use of a key as a shop sign is well executed by the New York firm of Arthur Bonnell. On this billhead, the originally printed street addresses have been crossed out and a new address overprinted in red ink. This most likely was due to Westminster Street being extended to include High Street when Olnyville was annexed to Providence in 1893.
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A Providence landmark for many years, the Shepard Co. proudly featured its building on this billhead. A careful scrutiny of this billhead shows the famous Shepard clock on the sidewalk. This billhead was for a mail order to a Miss Alrich of Warwick - 2 cents postage was added to the cost of the transaction.
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Fishmonger, C.F. Gladding originally opened for business in Boston but later re-located to a wharf on Bristol’s Thames Street. His trade was both wholesale and retail. The lobster pictured on this oblong billhead, along with the type, was printed in bright red.
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In the age of the horse drawn carriage, the use of carriage and harness care products were as important as automotive care products are today. Charles Blanchard, later Blanchard Oil Co., manufactured carriage dressings, harness oils and soaps and axle grease and oils. This billhead is unusual because it makes use of color, it shows a tin of Blanchard’s harness oil printed in vivid yellow.
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Founded in 1891, the establishment of J.O. San Souci & Co. was a mainstay of business in Olneyville Square well into the middle of the 20th century. While the billhead states Olneyville R.I. in the dateline and sites its addresses on High Street, Olneyville was ceded from Johnston to Providence and High Street became an extension of Westminster Street.
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Frank P. Ventrone was a successful Providence businessman. An Italian immigrant, he came to the United States in the 1880s and by the 1890s was a leading merchant in the Federal Hill section of Providence. This business played a major role in the macaroni riots in Providence during August and September 1914. 19th century billheads showing the ethnic diversity of Rhode Island are rare.
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Frederick A. Cahoone’s billhead proudly notes that his prices are right. A further look at the written entry shows labor was performed at both 40 cents and 12 ½ cents per hour. Riverpoint is a section of West Warwick.
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The billhead of coal and wood dealer, George N. Steere, is interesting in that instead of using the generic coal wagon graphic commonly found on coal dealer’s billheads, he used an actual view of his building. Presumably that is Mr. Steere atop the coal wagon. The billhead’s appearance is further enhanced by the green ink used to print it.
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Another Providence landmark was the Tilden-Thurber Company founded in 1856 by Henry Tilden and William Thurber. The building shown here at the corner of Westminster and Mathewson Streets is still standing.
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The Phenix Iron Foundry was located at Eddy Street and Elm Street which can be read from the street signs on the building in the foreground. The complex covered two acres of ground and included a foundry with two cupolas. The Providence River is in the background.
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Browning, King & Co. was a manufacturer and national retailer of clothing for men and women. This billhead is interesting because it shows all the company’s stores including the Providence store near the upper right corner.
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The Merriam Co was founded in 1890 and specialized in interior decorations including wallpapers, moldings, fresco, panel and ceiling painting and paper hanging. The company was located in the Conrad building which is still standing.
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Paint dealer, Oliver Johnson & Co. was situated on the corner of Exchange Place and Exchange Street. The view shown here is of its building facing Exchange Place, it is the same Exchange Bank building as shown in Figure 20.
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With just thirty days left in the century, the firm of Weatherhead and Thompson use their stationary good for the next decade. It is interesting to compare this billhead, with its fancy printing and elevated view of its Pawtucket factory, with that of the examples of earlier in the century, in manuscript (Figure 1) or simple printing (Figure 2). The billhead had come a long way in just 100 years.
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This billhead is noteworthy because it shows the new Rhode Island State House which was nearing completion in 1900. Note that a complete funeral cost only $109.