April 27

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

Connecticut Courant (April 27, 1773).


Having established himself in Hartford, watchmaker Thomas Hilldrup continued his advertising campaign with a new notice in the April 27, 1773, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  He stated that his “motive was to merit the approbation of the public from his first commencing business here” in the fall of 1772, while also providing an update that he had been successful in that endeavor as measured by “the many repeated favours already confer’d” by customers in the area.  Hilldrup also reminded prospective clients of the services and incentives he offered, including repairing watches “in a perfect and durable manner,” giving a warrantee that they would “perform well, free of any expence for one year,” and providing “advice gratis.”

Those appeals echoed Hilldrup’s earlier advertisements, but other aspects of his notice seemed to comment on a notice that a competitor, Enos Doolittle, placed in the previous issue of the Connecticut Courant.  Doolittle used a headline that read, “Clocks & Watches,” and informed the public that he had been trained in “the business of Clock Making and repairing all kinds of Watches.”  In turn, Hilldrup emphasized that he specialized in watches with a headline that proclaimed, “WATCHES! Only.”  Doolittle also noted that he “employed a journeyman who has serv’d a regular Apprenticeship to the Watchmaking business in London.”  Hilldrup implied that this indicated some sort of shortcoming in the way that Doolittle managed his business.  In a nota bene, marked with a manicule to draw attention, Hilldrup declared, “The public are desired to take notice that I am capable of going through the business myself without any assistance.”  Hilldrup suggested that hiring a journeyman to handle some of the business that came into the shop meant that Doolittle lacked the skill necessary to do the work on his own.  Doolittle, like other artisans who mentioned employees, presented the journeyman’s presence as evidence of a thriving business.

Artisans rarely made direct comparisons between themselves and their competitors when they placed newspaper advertisements during the era of the American Revolution.  Hilldrup was an exception, though he did not explicitly name Doolittle in his notice.  Still, readers of the Connecticut Courant likely noticed that Hilldrup’s advertisement commented on the one placed by his competitor.

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