What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Robert Bingham … Makes all Kinds of Surgeons Instruments for Amputation.”
In a notice in the New-London Gazette, Robert Bingham, a “CUTLER, from LONDON,” deployed many of the appeals most commonly included in newspaper advertisements during the eighteenth century. Artisans tended to promote the skills they had acquired in their trade, via training or experience or both. Without much elaboration, Bingham did mention his skill, noting that he completed his work “in the neatest manner.” Like many other advertisers, Bingham also established his connection to London, the center of the empire. For artisans, this often implied skill achieved through training superior to that available in the colonies. More often than not, advertisers of all sorts – whether merchants, shopkeepers, or artisans – incorporated appeals to price into their commercial notices. Bingham again followed the standard practice of the period, declaring that he performed his work at the “most reasonable rate.”
In general, Bingham wrote copy that prospective customers likely found reassuring, if not especially innovative or exciting. His appeals did not particularly distinguish his business from others, but neglecting to insert any of them into his advertisement would have distinguished him in the wrong ways. He needed to do more than merely announce his services. He needed his advertisement to demonstrate that he understood the expectations of potential clients.
Still, the composition of Bingham’s advertisement suggests that he may have attempted to make a more nuanced appeal to skill than just asserting that he made cutlery “in the neatest manner.” He worked in a shop in Lebanon, Connecticut. Residents of this small village and the surrounding area were much more likely to purchase “Table Knives and Forks, – Raisors [razors] – Scissars, – Penknives” than “Surgeons Instruments for Amputation and Trepanning; – also Surgeons Pocket Instruments.” Yet Bingham did not commence his advertisement with the items most likely to meet local demand. Instead, he first listed specialized instruments that required skill and precision in crafting, signaling his abilities to readers without making explicit reference to skill. Bingham may have considered the order he listed his wares a persuasive marketing strategy, one that showcased his skills more effectively than professing his abilities at great length.