GUEST CURATOR: Turner Pomeroy
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“All Kinds of Goldsmith, Silversmith, and Jewelry Work.”
John Champlin, a goldsmith, advertised in the New-London Gazette on April 24, 1772. He advertised “all Kinds of Goldsmith, Silversmith, and Jewelry Work.” He considered being skilled in all three areas very useful, but working with silver was the most prestigious. According to Frances Gruber Saddord, silversmiths worked in “towns up and down the eastern seaboard” in the eighteenth century, but “the three leading cities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia remained the major centers of silver production throughout the colonial period, for the trade flourished primarily in a thriving urban environment.” In addition, “colonial craftsmen relied for their success on a network of family and business ties” since “there were no guilds” in the colonies. As a result, “[i]ntermarriage within the craft was common and many apprentices were related to their masters.” Working as a goldsmith or silversmith could be very profitable. Sometimes families involved in the trade rose in the social ranks.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
The advertisement that Turner selected provides evidence of the network of business ties that provided support to artisans in early America. Although Champlin promoted “all Kinds of Goldsmith, Silversmith, and Jewelry Work” that he produced in his shop, that was not his primary purpose in placing an advertisement in the New-London Gazette. Instead, he wanted readers and prospective customers to know that an employee in his shop did “Clock and Watch making, mending, cleaning and repairing in the very neatest Manner.” Champlin offered assurances to “Any Gentlemen favouring him with their Custom” that they “may firmly rely on its being done with Alacrity and Dispatch.” The goldsmith, silversmith, and jeweler likely believed that diversifying the services available in his shop by adding clock- and watchmaking “in its several Branches” helped in cultivating a larger clientele and generating additional revenue.
Champlin pursued that strategy over the course of several years. In December 1769, James Watson, a clock- and watchmaker “late from London,” placed an advertisement in the New-London Gazette to inform prospective customers that he “removed from Mr. Robert Douglass, silver smith’s shop, to Mr. John Champlin, silver smith’s shop.” Watson acknowledged that he was “a stranger” to the community, one who relied on Champlin to vouch for him. The silversmith did so, “strongly recommend[ing] him to all his customers.” Champlin also stated that he “will warrant [Watson’s] ability and fidelity in any thing he shall undertake in said business” of watch- and clockmaking. A couple of years later, Champlin once again formed a partnership with a fellow artisan, leveraging his resources – his reputation and his shop – for the benefit of both. Former customers who had previously employed Watson could decide for themselves how much stock they put in Champlin’s endorsement of a new clock- and watchmaker. For his part, the smith seemed confident that he had established a good record in that regard.
 Frances Gruber Safford, “Colonial Silver in the American Wing,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41, no. 1 (Summer 1983): 8.