What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WATCHES PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D.”
At a glance, two advertisements from watchmakers that appeared one after the other in the May 19, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette appear fairly straightforward, especially considering their brevity. In the first, John Simnet simply announced, “WATCHES PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D by SIMNET, Watch-Finisher, and Manufacturer of London and Dublin, Opposite Mr. STAVERS’s TAVERN, Portsmouth.” Simnet briefly promoted his credentials, implying that he had obtained both experience and expertise practicing his trade in two of the largest cities in the empire. His competitor’s advertisement was not much longer: “N. Sheafe Griffith, CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER, At his Shop opposite Dr. Langdon’s Meeting-House, WILL speedily and properly repair and rectify any CLOCKS or WATCHED out of Order, in the best and cheapest Manner. Any Clock or Watch sent to said Griffith, will be speedily re-fitted and expeditiously returned.” Griffith went into slightly more detail, emphasizing convenience, quality, and price.
Although both advertisements looked concise on the page, neither advertiser likely expected that readers would consider only the appeals presented to them in the May 19 issue. Both advertisements were part of more extensive campaigns launched by both watchmakers as they engaged in a bitter feud. Drawing on his origins on the other side of the Atlantic, Simnet positioned himself as the superior watchmaker. He had previously proclaimed that Griffith was incompetent. He suggested that his rival actually damaged watches brought to him for repairs, ultimately making it necessary to incur additional expenses to have the job done right by Simnet. For his part, Griffith expressed skepticism of the newcomer, labeling him an itinerant not to be trusted. Griffith implied that Simnet likely peddled stolen goods, so anyone who contracted his services should be wary about their watches potentially going missing. Neither actually named the other, but it was apparent from the copy in their advertisements and their proximity on the page that they meant each other when they catalogued the various shortcomings of their competition.
The latest volley appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette just two weeks earlier. Regular readers would have been aware of the animosity between the two watchmakers. Their disagreement may not have been confined to the public prints; in a town the size of Portsmouth, their disdain for each other could have been the subject of discussion and gossip. Reading their brief advertisements in the May 19 issue without taking into account additional context yields a truncated understanding of the appeals they presented to prospective customers and, more generally, the entire community. Though brief, each advertisement was laden with much more meaning than might appear to casual observers. They must be considered alongside other notices that both watchmakers inserted in the public prints.