What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Spencer has already given convincing proofs of his abilities.”
In the spring of 1771, Brent Spencer, a “Coach & Coach Harness MAKER,” opened a new shop on Lombard Street in Philadelphia. In an advertisement in the April 4 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he noted that he drew on his experience “in all the branches of Coach, Chariot, Phaeton, and Chaise making” gained in London and Dublin. Like many other artisans who migrated across the Atlantic, he intended that prospective customers would associate his time in those cities with superior skill and training.
That was one way of attempting to establish a reputation in a new place, but Spencer did not ask consumers merely to take his word. Instead, he declared that he already had work on display in the local marketplace. Spencer asserted that he had “already given convincing proofs of his abilities, in executing some of the principal Carriages now running in this city and province.” He did not name his clients, but he did suggest that some of the most prominent residents of Philadelphia and its environs previously hired him. Anyone who had admired or otherwise taken note of carriages already traversing the streets of the busy port city, Spencer suggested, had likely seen some that he constructed.
Given that he already cultivated a clientele among the better sorts, Spencer gave their peers and those who aspired to their ranks an opportunity to acquire one of his carriages. Immediately following his comment about making “some of the principal Carriages” in the city, he noted that he “has now for sale a coach body and a waggon body, both of new construction.” Prospective customers did not need to settle for secondhand carriages that may have previously belonged to friends or acquaintances, not when Spencer could outfit them with carriages that observers would recognize as new.
Spencer concluded his advertisement with assurances about customer service and low prices, two more reasons for consumers to purchase coaches from him. In a short advertisement, he established his experience working in two of the largest cities in the empire, suggested that readers already glimpsed his carriages on the streets of Philadelphia, and promoted new carriages available at his shop. Even for the most affluent colonists, purchasing a carriage was a major investment. Spencer offered many reasons to choose his workshop over others in the city or imported alternatives.