What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Some of the best workmen … that could be had in any part of England.”
In the summer of 1771, Bennett and Dixon introduced themselves to residents of New York as “Jewellers, Gold-smiths, and Lapidaries, from London” and invited prospective customers to their shop near the post office. The partners recently imported “a great variety of jewellery,” including “necklaces, ear rings, egrets, sprigs and pins for ladies hair, rings, lockets, and broaches of all sorts, ladies tortoise-shell combs plain and sett,” and many sorts of buckles. They promised low prices for both wholesale and retail prices.
Yet Bennett and Dixon were not merely purveyors of imported jewelry, accessories, and adornments. They also accepted commissions and fabricated items at their shop. In promoting that aspect of their business, they underscored the level of skill represented among their employees. “[F]or the better carrying on the jewellery, goldsmith and lapidary business,” Bennett and Dixon proclaimed, they “engaged some of the best workmen in those branches, that could be had in any part of England.” The partners imported not only merchandise and materials but also artisans with exceptional skills. Prospective customers did not need to feel anxious that items they ordered from Bennett and Dixon would be of inferior quality or easily distinguished from imported jewelry. Even though New York was far away from London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, consumers could still acquire custom-made jewelry that rivaled anything produced on the other side of the Atlantic. Bennett and Dixon also declared that their customers did not have to pay a premium for jewelry as “good as in the City of London.” Their artisans worked “as cheap” as their counterparts there, keeping prices reasonable for customers who placed special orders.
Colonial consumers often worried that they only had access to second best when compared to goods and services available in English cities, especially London. Advertisers like Bennett and Dixon frequently reassured prospective customers that they had choices that rivaled anything available to consumers in the metropolitan center of the empire.