What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Mends and cleans Watches, in as neat a Manner as any Watch-Finisher in Town or Country.”
John Simnet, “Watch-Finisher, and Manufacturer of London and Dublin,” continued his advertising campaign in the May 5, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. In this installment, he took a more aggressive approach than in previous notices, especially concerning his own expertise and the quality of the service he provided compared to other watchmakers in the area. Having previously reduced the length of his advertisements, he found himself in a position of needing to elaborate in greater detail. He boldly proclaimed, “The entire Satisfaction I have given the Public, employed on numbers of imperfect Watches, after ev’ry other Workman hath either practised on them in vain, or given them up, gives me occasion to intimate to Gentlemen, that ‘tis much easier to me to repair a Watch before, than after another has with mistaken Judgment, operated on it.” Although he did not give any names, the watchmaker clearly denigrated his competition. He informed prospective customers that they might as well save themselves the time and expense and bring their watches to him first because the lack of skill of other watchmakers would ultimately cause them to seek out Simnet’s services anyway. He promoted his services in other ways as well, offering to do “Small repairs gratis” and pledging not to charge anything if he did not “do [his] Work perfect.”
Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith was not impressed with this newcomer and the competition he presented. In his own advertisement, conveniently placed next to Simnet’s notice, Griffith stated that he “mends and cleans Watches, in as neat a Manner as any Watch-Finisher in Town and Country, & much cheaper.” He invoked the term Simnet applied to himself, “Watch-Finish,” leaving little doubt that he referred to that rival in particular, even as he made a general appeal about his own skills, the quality of his work, and his low price. Griffith also played on his reputation as someone who had lived and worked in New Hampshire for quite some time. “As the said Griffith is well known in this Province,” he declared, “Gentlemen may with Safety leave their Watches in his Custody and depend upon their being seasonably returned.” Prospective customers could hardly have missed the implication that because Simnet was unfamiliar in the community that he could not be trusted. Griffith further demeaned Simnet, who had previously advertised that he planned to remain in New Hampshire for only a year, as an outsider by proposing that “Every Itenerant, or Walking-Watch-Manufacturer, especially those who carries their whole Stock upon ther Backs, should bring Credentials of their Honesty, before they can be trusted with Brass, much more Silver and Gold Watches.” According to Griffith, it was clear that Simnet was not to be trusted. He went so far as to imply that his competitor trafficked in stolen goods. “Some Men may have Watches to sell,” Griffith cautioned, “which for want of being known, may admit of a Doubt, whether they came honestly by them.” For his part, Simnet attempted to alleviate fears that he would steal watched from customers; the final line of his advertisement advised, “Security deposited in Hand, if requir’d.” In other words, he provided some sort of collateral when customers entrusted him with their watches. Just in case it was not abundantly clear that he targeted Simnet, Griffith invoked another aspect of the newcomer’s advertisements. He warned that by arranging for “mending for the low Price of a Pistereen, he may endanger the Loss of his whole Watch.” Simnet explicitly stated that his price for mending and cleaning was “as low as a Pistereen.”
Simnet had been promoting his services in a series of advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette for several months. Griffith apparently did not appreciate the competition infringing on what he considered his market. While many eighteenth-century advertisers made general comparisons between themselves and others who pursued the same occupation, very rarely did they launch attacks at specific individuals. Griffith, however, launched a savage attack against Simnet, even though he never mentioned his rival by name. In so doing, he attempted to use the skepticism and anxiety of local consumers as a wedge to keep them away from Simnet.