What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Publick have been greatly imposed on by many botching Pretenders.”
Artisans often highlighted their skill and experience in their advertisements. Their skill and experience, they asserted, meant that prospective customers could depend on them producing items of the best quality. Most artisans who placed newspaper advertisements focused on their own skill and experience, though occasionally some chose to denigrate their competitors. John Simnet, a watchmaker, for instance, engaged in public feuds with his competitors, first in the New-Hampshire Gazette and later in newspapers published in New York. Thomas Pryse, a “Coach-Harness-maker, Saddler, and Upholsterer,” did not make as direct references to his competitors, but he did take an aggressive tone in his advertisement in the November 26, 1772, edition of the Maryland Gazette.
Pryse announced that he “opened a Shop … where he intends carrying on his Trade in all its Branches.” He boasted that he did his work “in a Manner superior to any that ever has attempted it in these Parts,” leaning into his London origins and the training and experience that he gained there before migrating to Annapolis. Such appeals looked a lot like others deployed by artisans, but Pryse then turned up the temperature. In a derisive tone, he declared that “the Publick have been greatly imposed on by many botching Pretenders to that Branch of Business,” prompting him to make assurances that “he is the only one that has been regularly bred” or trained “to Harness-making now in this Province.” That being the case, Pryse was “determined to exert his best Endeavours to give Satisfaction to those that please to favour him with their Custom.” Following his attack on his competitors, he reverted to promises of customer service that mirrored those that appeared in advertisements placed by other artisans. Having made his point that his work was supposedly “superior” to anything made by “botching Pretenders,” he concluded with a list of items he made, sprinkling in phrases like “in the neatest and most approved manner” and “done in the best manner” to underscore his skill and experience.
Even if prospective customers did not care for Pryse’s tone in his advertisement, he challenged them to question the quality of the harnesses, saddles, and upholstery produced by his competitors. In seeding doubts and suggesting that he did better, he may have hoped to convince some consumers to give him a chance even if they had previously been happy with work by other aertisans.