What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Returns his hearty thanks to those gentlemen and ladies who have favoured him with their custom.”
Richard Fowler, an upholsterer and paperhanger, assisted residents of Charleston in adorning their homes. He sold a variety of decorative arts, including hardware to decorate chests and desk drawers as well as paper hangings (today known as wallpaper), both patterned or with landscape scenes. At the same time that shopkeepers marketed all sorts of housewares for colonists to decorate their personal spaces, Fowler provided means for transforming those spaces by updating the appearances of walls and furniture. Upholstery and paper hangings garnered immediate attention, while the “baubles of Britain” might more easily be overlooked or have less impact.
Acquiring paper hangings and upholstery thus represented both an important choice and a significant investment. Visually, both drew the eye, setting the tone for any room and creating a first impression that testified to the tastes of the residents. Prospective customers wanted to create settings where they felt comfortable, but they also wished to impress visitors and communicate their own style and awareness of current fashions.
To that end, Fowler did not merely supply and install upholstery and paper hangings. Instead, he also took on some of the duties of an eighteenth-century interior decorator, assisting clients in choosing upholstery and paper hangings that best suited them. Note that he described both patterned and landscape paper hangings as “genteel.” Exercising such responsibility required some amount of trust. To gain new patrons, Fowler needed to demonstrate that previous customers had indeed entrusted him to provide such services. He did so by extending “his hearty thanks to those gentlemen and ladies who have favoured him with their custom” and pledged to “merit it by his care and assiduity.” Through extending this invitation to former customers, Fowler implied that he had an active clientele. Regardless of whether previous customers engaged his services again, his advertisement suggested to prospective new customers that Fowler’s services were popular among local “gentlemen and ladies” because he delivered both quality and refinement.