May 20

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

May 20 - 5:20:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (May 20, 1768).

“JOHN DURAND, Portrait Painter, INTENDS to Stay in this Town part of the warm Season.”

Advertising in local newspapers was imperative for John Durand, an itinerant portrait painter. Since he regularly moved from town to town he did not build up a clientele in a community that considered him one of its own.  Instead, Durand earned his living by traveling from place to place, setting up temporary studios where he served “any Gentlemen or Ladies” who “choose to have their Pictures Drawn.”  When he arrived in New Haven late in the spring of 1768, he placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal to inform the community that he “INTENDS to Stay in this Town part of the warm Season.”  He would engage as many clients as possible but then move along to another town once he determined that the local market had been satisfied.

To convince potential clients to commission his services, Durand invited them to visit “Captain Camp’s House, where several of his Performances may be seen.”  Before sitting for their own portrait or drawing, “any Gentlemen or Ladies” could examine Durand’s portfolio and determine for themselves whether they appreciated his style or considered his abilities sufficient to merit the time and expense of sitting for a portrait. In addition, the artist made an appeal to price, noting that he would create their likenesses “a good deal cheaper than has yet been seen.”  As he moved from town to town, he may have inquired about prices charged by his rivals. Even if he did not offer the best bargain possible, he likely did not set rates so high that prospective clients would choose to wait for the next itinerant portrait painter to pass through town.  He also invited clients to dictate some of the terms of service.  They could visit his temporary studio in his lodgings “at Captain Camp’s House” or summon him to their own residences, asserting their own social standing in the process.

Unlike artisans who worked in one location for years or decades, this artist could not rely on the familiarity of friends and associates for word-of-mouth recommendations that enhanced his reputation over time and, as a result, attracted new customers to an established studio.  As much as he may have wished to stay in one place and accrue such advantages, the market for portraits and drawings in colonial America did not afford him that opportunity.

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