What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THOMAS LEE jun. House-Carpenter and Joiner.”
Thomas Lee, Jr. most likely placed this advertisement to introduce himself to residents of Savannah. As far as introductions went, it was brief but covered a lot of ground. In a single sentence, Lee assured “gentlemen who will be pleased to employ him, that they may depend upon having their work done in the best manner and at the most reasonable rates, with the utmost dispatch.” In so doing, Lee incorporated two of the most common appeals made in advertisements for consumer goods in the eighteenth century. Artisans and others who offered services often adapted those appeals to their own purposes. An appeal to price (“at the most reasonable rates”) required little shift in the meaning, but an appeal to quality (“”having their work done in the best manner”) moved the focus away from merchandise to the skills possessed by the advertiser offering the service. Lee added another appeal sometimes advanced by shopkeepers but more often deployed by artisans. When he pledged to complete work “with the utmost dispatch,” he promised attentiveness and efficiency. Then and now, customers hiring artisans (or contractors) to work on their homes value jobs completed in a timely manner. Similarly, Lee provided “estimations and plans” so customers could hold him accountable for the work he was hired to do.
In describing himself as a “House-Carpenter and Joiner,” Lee informed potential clients that he was a versatile craftsman. Like carpenters, joiners worked with wood, but they specialized in lighter and more ornamental work. Lee was qualified to work on the structure of a building or make and repair any of the fittings that adorned it. Those fittings might include simple doors and windows or they could include intricate pediments and mantels. That being the case, he addressed his introduction “to all gentlemen” in Savannah because affluent merchants and other members of the local gentry would have been most likely to hire (and afford) his services for more ornate work. As the consumer revolution placed an increasing number of goods in the hands of all sorts of colonists, the elite used architectural adornment to express their tastes and attempt to assert distinctions between themselves and others who sometimes mimicked their fashions.
At first glance, Lee’s advertisement looks like a simple notice, but the savvy “House-Carpenter and Joiner” actually incorporated several types of appeals to make a good first impression when introducing himself and his services to residents of Savannah.