What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Good, sound, and neat silver watches.”
Advertisements for imported goods – textiles, housewares, hardware – filled the pages of colonial newspapers. In most instances, artisans and manufacturers in England made items colonists either could not produce on their own or that surpassed the quality of similar items made by colonial crafters. As the eighteenth-century progressed, however, greater numbers of skilled artisans participated in transatlantic migrations, bringing their expertise to colonial cities and towns. They set up shop in their new places of residence; their skills and experience contributed to improving the reputation associated with domestically produced goods.
By the 1760s, residents of Philadelphia and major urban ports worried that observers in England, especially London, might look down on them as backwater provincials since they were so far distant from the center of the empire. Some advertisers in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia attempted to allay these anxieties with assurances that they made and sold goods of the highest quality and most recent fashions. Yet concerns about cosmopolitanism were not confined to the largest and busiest port cities. In Lancaster, more than fifty miles west of Philadelphia, Thomas Skidmore opened a workshop where customers interested in purchasing expensive watches “may be here supplied as in London.”
In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Skidmore, a “WATCH-FINISHER, from London,” insisted that local consumers were no longer “under the necessity of importing good watches from England or Ireland.” For only £12, he made “good, sound, and neat silver watches” in the town of Lancaster. Skidmore did not work alone; instead, he employed two assistants, “the one a movement-maker, and the other a motion-maker,” both of whom had previously followed their trade in England. Working together, the three produced “good watches” that Skidmore asserted rivaled any imported from Britain. Skidmore was so certain of the quality of the work done in his shop that he offered a guarantee that his watches would not require repairs in the first three years. He made appeals that would have been familiar to residents of Philadelphia, the largest city in the American colonies in the decade before the Revolution. His location in Lancaster, however, demonstrates that desire to participate in consumer culture extended beyond urban centers, far into the hinterland.