What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Begs the Favour of those who are acquainted with his Abilities and Veracity in Business, to recommend him to Others.”
John Champlin, a goldsmith and jeweler, ran a shop near the courthouse in New London in the early 1770s. In the fall of 1773, he advertised his services and merchandise in an advertisement that ran for several weeks in the New-London Gazette. To entice prospective customers, he declared that he “makes and sells all Kinds of Gold-Smith, Silver-Smith, and Jeweller’s Work as cheap as is sold in this Colony.”
Champlin shared his shop with Daniel Jennings, an artisan who pursued an adjacent trade. Jennings advised readers that he “repairs and hath to sell, all Kinds of Utensils for repairing Clocks and Watches.” Recognizing that he operated within a regional marketplace, he asserted that he set prices “as cheap as can be had in New-York or Boston.” Prospective customers, he suggested, did not need to send their clocks and watches to artisans in either of those urban ports.
Jennings did not mention, perhaps intentionally, the prices for similar goods and services in Hartford, though Thomas Hilldrup, a competitor in that town, had advertised extensively in the New-London Gazette and the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy as well as in the Connecticut Courant, the newspaper published in Hartford. Perhaps Jennings did not mention Hartford because he did not wish to call any more attention to Hilldrup, a relative newcomer whose aggressive advertising campaign targeted prospective customers well beyond the town where he settled.
To secure his share of the market, Jennings issued a plea for “those who are acquainted with his Abilities and Veracity in his Business, to recommend him to Others.” He considered such recommendations as effective or even more effective than the lengthy advertisements that Hilldrup ran in several newspapers. After all, even though Hilldrup was industrious with his advertising he had only begun to establish his reputation in Connecticut. Enlisting satisfied customers could work to Jennings’s advantage if prospective customers trusted word-of-mouth endorsements over flashy newspaper notices. Whether or not Jennings had Hilldrup in mind when he composed his advertisement, he understood that the power of testimonials from colonizers who had engaged his services in the past.