What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“CORDWAINERS from LONDON.”
When cordwainers Henry Field and Josiah Gifford set up shop in Providence they placed an advertisement in the April 14, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette to inform the community that they made and sold “Mens and Womens Shoes, Slippers, [and] Boots.” They advanced some of the most common marketing appeals of the era, pledging that their customers benefited from both the quality of their craftsmanship and the customer service they provided. Field and Gifford asserted that they made footwear “in the strongest, neatest and best Manner.” They followed their trade “in all its Branches,” suggesting that no request or order was beyond their capability. They also pledged that patrons “may depend on being served with Punctuality, Fidelity and Dispatch.” Field and Gifford exercised deference to “such Gentlemen and Ladies, who please to favour them with their Custom.”
Yet before they made any of these appeals Field and Gifford first introduced themselves as “CORDWAINERS from LONDON.” In so doing, they adopted a strategy commonly invoked by artisans who advertised in eighteenth-century newspapers. Those who migrated across the Atlantic, especially artisans who had trained or worked in London, often indicated their place of origin, but not merely by way of introduction. They expected that their connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire carried a certain cachet that gave them a competitive advantage among colonial consumers … or at least leveled the playing field. After all, other artisans benefited from long familiarity within their community. They built relationships with consumers and cultivated reputations over time. As newcomers, Field and Gifford did not have those advantages. Instead, they made their recent arrival in the colonies work to their benefit. Just as colonial consumers tended to look to London and the rest of England when it came to goods, often expressing preferences for imported wares, Field and Gifford encouraged them to express preferences and recognize the value of artisans who also came from the other side of the Atlantic