What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Having engaged two Workmen … he proposes shortly to manufacture all Kinds of Stone Ware.”
When Joseph Wilson, a potter, moved to a new location late in the spring of 1770, he placed an advertisement “to inform the Public, particularly his old Customers,” where they could find him. He also reminded readers of the Providence Gazette that “he continues to sell all Kinds of Earthen Ware,” inviting both new and returning customers to visit his shop.
At the conclusion of his advertisement, Wilson included a nota bene to request that prospective customers take note of the employees he recently hired. “Having engaged two Workmen from New-York and Philadelphia,” Wilson declared, “he proposes shortly to manufacture all Kinds of Stone Ware, in the neatest and best Manner.” Although artisans occasionally mentioned others who worked in their shops, they did so relatively rarely in their newspaper advertisements. They usually assumed sole responsibility and took sole credit for the items they produced and sold.
Wilson likely expected to derive certain benefits from mentioning the “two Workmen” that he now employed. Doing so suggested that his business was expanding, indicative of his own skill and careful management as well as demand for his wares. Noting that his new employees came from New York and Philadelphia, two of the largest cities in the colonies, also implied that he cast his net widely to enlist the most skilled assistants who would indeed produce pottery “in the neatest and best manner.”
Most advertisements for consumer goods and services concealed the contributions of the various people who worked in colonial shops and workshops, whether wives and other family members who waited on customers or assistants, apprentices, and enslaved artisans who performed much of the labor. “JOSEPH WILSON, POTTER,” offered a rare acknowledgment that he did not operate the business alone, that others supplied their own skill and expertise in producing the merchandise that he offered for sale.