September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1768 Newport Gazette
Newport Mercury (September 5, 1768).

“He will clean a Clock and keep it in good Repair three Years for One Dollar.”

When Robert Proud turned to the Newport Gazette to advertise that he “cleans Clocks and Watches” late in the summer of 1768, he determined that he needed to do more than promote the low prices he charged for his services. After proclaiming that he performed his work “as cheap as any One in America,” he listed his prices and laid a service plan for prospective customers. That plan included an initial cleaning as well as keeping clocks and watches “in good Repair” for a specified period. For clocks set his rate at “three Years for One Dollar” and for watches at “Half a Dollar [for] for One Year.” Most clock- and watchmakers, like other artisans, did not publish their fees in their advertisements. Proud backed up his assertion about his low prices by putting them on display for prospective customers to assess as they made a decision about whether to visit his shop. Some of his competitors occasionally offered to undertake additional repairs if customers were not satisfied with their initial efforts, but they usually limited such guarantees to a single year. By comparison, Proud’s service plan – three years for clocks – was quite generous.

That was enough to distinguish Proud from others who cleaned and repaired clocks and watches, yet he further elaborated on the service prospective customers could expect to receive in his efforts to attract their patronage. He efficiently completed his work, completing most jobs in a single day. For items dropped off in the morning, Proud either had them ready that evening or “next Day at farthest.” Prospective customers could expect the work done in a timely manner rather than consigning their clocks and watches to linger in Proud’s workshop. Furthermore, they did not need to interact with him directly in order to receive quality service, an appeal that Proud made especially for “any Person in the Country [who] will favour him with their Work.” Anyone who chose to have their clocks and watches delivered to his workshop rather than visiting in person and interacting directly with Proud could still “depend on being as well used as if present.”

Proud concluded his advertisement with a very different sort of appeal: he noted that he had fallen on hard times. “The Business is now so small,” he lamented, “that without some Increase, he cannot a get a comfortable Subsistence for his Family.” The situation was so dire that even though he had served the Newport community for twenty years that “from Necessity, [he] must, in a short Time, leave this his native Place, to seek his Bread elsewhere.” Proud pivoted from laying out his innovative service plan to attempting to provoke sympathy from readers. It must have been difficult to acknowledge his financial insecurity in the public prints, but by pairing that disclosure with his detailed service plan Proud suggested that he did not make false promises. Instead, prospective customers could depend on him following through on efficiently repairing their clocks and watches and returning them in a timely manner. His livelihood and the “Subsistence for his Family” was at stake if he did not deliver on the services and service plan he described in his advertisement.

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