What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Difficult jobbs performed for those who pretend to the business.”
At the end of January 1773, watchmaker Thomas Hilldrup continued expanding his advertising campaign. When he arrived in Hartford in the fall of 1772, he inserted notices in the local newspaper, the Connecticut Courant, starting on September 15. His advertisement ran almost every week throughout the remainder of the year and continued into the new year. Early in 1773, he decided to increase the reach of his marketing by placing the same advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. Not much time passed before he ran that notice in the New-London Gazette as well. With that publication, Hilldrup advertised in all of the newspapers printed in the colony at the time, making his efforts a regional campaign.
Hilldrup made a variety of appeals intended to attract attention from prospective clients who may not have otherwise considered seeking the services of a watchmaker in Hartford rather than one in their own town. When he asked “the candid public to make a tryal of his abilities” in repairing several different kinds of watches, he emphasized his training and experience in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. The watchmaker declared that he “was regularly bread to the finishing business in London,” implying that, as a result, he possessed greater skill than watchmakers who learned the trade in the colonies. To underscore that point, he proclaimed that he did “difficult jobbs … for those who pretend to the business.” In other words, he informed fellow watchmakers who did not possess the same level of skill that they could bring repairs beyond their abilities to him to complete. Such an offer planted a seed of doubt about his competitors and prompted readers to question their capabilities. Hilldrup also attempted to cultivate a clientele by offering free services, pledging “any other jobbs that take up but little time [done] gratis.” That allowed him to meet new clients while also creating a sense of obligation that they would eventually purchase accessories, like chains and keys, at his shop or hire him when their watches needed more extensive repairs.
The newcomer made his presence known in the colony, first by advertising repeatedly in the Connecticut Courant and then by advertising widely in the other newspapers published in the colony. He promoted credentials that he believed eclipsed many of his competitors and offered services intended to incite interest among prospective clients near and far.