October 14

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

Massachusetts Spy (October 14, 1773).

“The encouragement they have had … renders a pompous advertisement unnecessary.”

Although they had operated a shop in Boston for quite some time, Thomas Courtney and Son continued to describe themselves as “TAYLORS, from LONDON,” when they advertised in the October 14, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Spy.  Like many tailors, milliners, and other artisans, they believed that associating themselves with the cosmopolitan center of the empire conferred a certain amount of cachet in the eyes of prospective customers.  The tailors placed the notice to alert the public that they moved to a new location but continued to “carry on the different branches of the Taylor and Habit making business, in the truest and most elegant manner.”

Despite trumpeting their London origins in the headline of their advertisement, Courtney and Son asserted that they did not need to publish an extensive description of the quality of their work, the exceptional customer service they provided, or any of the other appeals that often appeared in notices placed by members of the garment trades.  Their work spoke for itself, as demonstrated by the longevity of their business and the clientele they cultivated during their time in Boston.  “The encouragement they have had for six years past in the town and province,” Courtney and Sons proclaimed, “is a flattering proof of the public approbation of their integrity and abilities.”

That being the case, the tailors considered “a pompous advertisement unnecessary.”  On occasion, eighteenth-century advertisers promoted their goods and services by critiquing the kinds of marketing that appeared in the public prints.  They suggested something unsavory in the manner that many of their competitors boasted of their abilities or told elaborate stories about their merchandise.  Courtney and Son cast suspicion on the extravagant prose presented in many advertisements, implying that those advertisers oversold what they could deliver to customers.  In the process, they attempted to enlist savvy consumers in expressing the same skepticism … and demonstrating that they could not be fooled with clever marketing by giving their business to Courtney and Son.  After all, the tailors insisted, their reputation spoke for itself.  Rather than publishing overzealous appeals to prospective customers, Courtney and Sons “sincerely thank[ed] their Friends and customers for past favours” and pledged to “continue to deserve their recommendation.”  They considered their reputation essential in marketing their business.

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