What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“George Spriggs, Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.”
In the early 1770s, George Spriggs supplied colonists with fruit trees. In September 1771, he placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette to promote “ABOUT four or five Thousand Mulberry Trees of different Sizes,” “a large Assortment of English Fruit Trees,” and “an Assortment of flowering Shrubs.” Those were not just any mulberry trees, Spriggs asserted. They grew from seeds from “the first ripe Fruit of Mulberries, from a Tree of Mr. David Colson’s, which is the largest and finest Fruit that is in America.” He expected consumers to be familiar with Colson and his trees or at least trust his expertise about the significance. He carefully timed his marketing, advising prospective customers that “the best Time of transplanting” the fruit trees “is about the Middle of October.” Anyone interested in purchasing trees or shrubs from Spriggs could plan accordingly.
In addition to establishing a connection to Colson, Spriggs leveraged his connection to a colonist so prominent that readers of the Boston-Gazette almost certainly knew who he was. Before he even described the trees and shrubs he offered for sale, Spriggs described himself as “Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.” It was not the first time he deployed that strategy, seeking to benefit from the celebrity of one of his clients. In February 1770, for instance, he opened another advertisement in the same manner. Nor was he the only advertiser who named a famous client as a means of establishing his credentials. Elsewhere in the Boston-Gazette, Jacob Hemet introduced himself as “DENTIST to her Majesty, and the Princess Amelia.” Doctors and dentists who migrated to the colonies frequently claimed they previously provided their services to nobles and the gentry in Europe, expecting prospective clients to take their word for it. Spriggs, on the other hand, knew that customers could much more easily confirm whether he actually was a “Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.” He did not publish a testimonial from the prominent merchant, but encouraged customers to believe that his association with Hancock was recommendation enough.