November 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 14, 1771).

“WATCHES made in Philadelphia.”

When Parliament imposed duties on certain imported goods – glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea – in the Townshend Acts in 1767, colonists responded by adopting nonimportation agreements.  In so doing, they resumed a strategy that helped win repeal of the Stamp Act, using economic leverage in the service of political goals.  At the same time that merchants vowed not to import and sell a wide assortment of items, many colonists also advocated that consumers support “domestic manufactures” by purchasing goods produced in the colonies as alternatives to their imported counterparts.  When Parliament eventually relented and repealed all of the duties except the one on tea, colonial merchants and others resumed trade with Britain.  Imported goods flooded American markets.

Even as consumers eagerly embraced imported goods once again, some American entrepreneurs continued to promote domestic manufactures.  John Sprogell, Jr., for instance, marketed “WATCHES made in Philadelphia” in an advertisement in the November 14, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Like others who advertised goods made in the colonies, Sprogrell promised prospective customers that they would not sacrifice quality.  To that end, he declared that he had “employed journeymen from London” so his shop would produce “the best of WATCHES.”  He offered a guarantee, proclaiming that he would “insure [the watches] for one, two, or three years.”  They would not need any maintenance that would incur “expense to the purchaser,” with the exception of routine cleaning.

As the proprietor of the shop, Sprogell understood that his reputation was on the line.  “The public may be assured,” he asserted, “that he will use his utmost endeavour to give general satisfaction” because “the character of the maker lays at stake.”  Even though the journeymen who labored in the shop did much or all of the work, ultimately the watches were Sprogell’s products.  Inferior work would have an effect on his standing in the marketplace, so even as he arranged a means of providing the same quality as found in London he provided additional security for customers who chose his “WATCHES made in Philadelphia” in hopes that his various pledges and promises would entice them into his shop.

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