What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Having for some years operated for, and with the most proficient of the art, in the above-mentioned metropolis (of London).”
When William Johnson, a “GLOVER and BREECHES-MAKER,” arrived in Philadelphia in the fall of 1772, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Journal to introduce himself to the community and invite prospective clients to visit the shop he opened on Front Street. Like many other artisans who migrated across the Atlantic, Johnson emphasized his experience working in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Until he had time to establish his reputation in the local market, he depended on his connections to London to sell his services. In the headline for his advertisements, he described himself as “lately arrived from LONDON.” In the nota bene that concluded his notice, Johnson declared that he “hopes himself capable to give all possible satisfaction, with respect to the neatness of the fitting, and execution of the workmanship; having for some years operated for, and with the most proficient of the art, in the above-mentioned metropolis (of London).” He opened and closed his advertisement with references to London.
Johnson also intended for the timing of his arrival to resonate with prospective clients. Having “lately arrived from LONDON” suggested that he was familiar with the most recent styles in that “metropolis.” His clients could depend on getting news and advice about current trends, helping them to keep up with new tastes on the other side of the Atlantic and perhaps stay ahead of friends and acquaintances in Philadelphia. Some artisans continued to promote their connections to London long after they relocated to the colonies. Johnson provided details that made it possible for prospective clients to determine for themselves that he did indeed recently arrive in the city and, by extension, his knowledge of fashions in London was as current as possible. He reported that he “lately arrived from LONDON, by Capt. SPARKS.” The “ship Mary and Elizabeth, J. Sparks from London” appeared among the “ARRIVALS” in the shipping news from the “Custom-House, Philadelphia,” in the September 30 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. When Johnson’s advertisement ran in the October 14 edition, he had been in the city for less than three weeks. In addition, merchants, shopkeepers, and others also referenced the arrival of the ship in their advertisements. Randle Mitchell, for instance, stated that he “Just imported” new merchandise “in the Elizabeth and Mary, Capt. Sparks, from London.” Robert Bass, an apothecary, stocked new medicines “JUST IMPORTED in the Mary and Elizabeth, Capt. Sparks from London.”
As yet unknown to prospective clients in Philadelphia, Johnson attempted to leverage his experience in the “metropolis” of London to convince prospective clients to avail themselves of his services. That experience garnered proficiency in his craft, including “the neatness of the firring, and the execution of the workmanship,” while also giving him access to current styles in the most fashionable city in the empire. He included the name of the captain of the vessel that transported him across the Atlantic as a means of confirming that he possessed recent knowledge of the latest trends.