What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“… practised by very few in ENGLAND, and those esteemed the best Mechanicks in Europe.”
Like many other artisans who migrated to the colonies in the eighteenth-century, James Yeoman emphasized his origins on the other side of the Atlantic. In an advertisement that ran in the September 3, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Yeoman described himself as a “CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER, FROM LONDON.” It was not clear from the advertisement how long he had resided in New York and practiced his trade there. He extended “his best Thanks to the Ladies and Gentlemen of this City for the past Favours” and noted that he “he still continues his Shop … in Hanover Square.” He had been in New York long enough that he already had customers. All the same, he asserted his connections to London, aiming to take advantage of the cachet often derived from the metropolitan center of the empire. For artisans, that cachet was often twofold, an association of their wares with cosmopolitanism and an insinuation that they possessed greater skill due to superior training compared to their competitors from the colonies. For instance, when it came to replacing the parts of an “ever so nice mechanical Construction,” Yeoman stated that he provided that service “as reasonable and neat as if done in London.”
In that regard, the appeals he made in his advertisement paralleled those made by other artisans “FROM LONDON.” Yeoman, however, did not stop there. He added a nota bene that further linked him to artisans on the other side of the Atlantic, noting that he would “undertake to make Clocks for Churches, or Gentlemens Turrets, on an entire new Plan, practised by very few in ENGLAND, and those esteemed the best Mechanicks in Europe.” At the same time that Yeoman was advertising in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, John Simnet, “original maker from London,” inserted advertisements in the New-York Journal. Simnet did not expound on his connections to London in any greater detail, while Yeoman made greater effort in his attempt to guide prospective customers to the conclusion that he did indeed possess greater skill due to his origins. If only the “best Mechanicks in Europe” were capable of making clocks according to this “new Plan,” then Yeoman must have been skilled indeed. At least that was the impression he sought to give in the nota bene that concluded his advertisement. Anxious that describing himself as “FROM LONDON” did not sufficiently distinguish him from other clock- and watchmakers, Yeoman made his case for consumers in New York.