What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“He likewise cleans gentlemen and ladies clothes … in as neat a manner as those done in London.”
Like many other artisans, Henry Brabazon, a “Silk-dier and Dry-scourer,” emphasized his skill in his newspaper advertisements. Deploying formulaic language, he announced that “his customers may depend upon having their work done with dispatch and fidelity” in a notice he inserted in the supplement that accompanied the May 5, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Yet Brabazon did not resort merely to standardized language that appeared in countless other advertisements placed by artisans of all sorts. He promoted his skill by favorably comparing the results of his efforts to the work undertaken by his counterparts in England.
For instance, Brabazon proclaimed that he “cleans gentlemen and ladies clothes … in as neat a manner as those done in London.” In addition to asserting his credentials as a dry scourer, he provided further commentary about his skills as a silk dyer, declaring that he “dies cotton velvet as fine a black, and to as good perfection, as those in Manchester.” He expected that prospective customers in the colonies were capable of making distinctions when it came to associating specific products with particular places in England. Note that he introduced himself as “from Europe,” but did not make general comparisons to silk dyers and dry scourers on the other side of the Atlantic. Instead, he made targeted comparisons that associated dying with Manchester and scouring with London.
Brabazon attempted to cultivate a clientele among colonists who were savvy consumers. Even though they resided far from the places of production in England, his prospective customers knew the market and distinguished among goods and services based on their place of origin. Brabazon also knew that colonial consumers did not want to feel as though they had to settle for inferior goods and services merely because they resided far from the center of the empire. They imported textiles, housewares, and other goods to keep up with fashions in England, but they also wanted services that rivaled the quality available there. As a dyer and scourer, Brabazon skillfully assisted his customers in maintaining their textiles and garments so they would not appear second best compared to their counterparts in England.