What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“SIMNET, Chief WATCHMAKER in AMERICA.”
It was another volley in an ongoing feud that was taking place in the advertisements published in the New-Hampshire Gazette in the spring of 1769. John Simnet proclaimed himself the “Chief WATCHMAKER in AMERICA,” the sort of hyperbole intended to promote his own skills and attract prospective customers, but also designed to taunt his rival, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.
Simnet was a relative newcomer in Portsmouth, having arrived earlier in the year. Griffith quickly determined that he did not appreciate Simnet intruding on his turf and competing for local customers. To protect his share of the market, he published advertisements that disparaged the upstart. In response, Simnet, who had been trained in London and pursued his occupation there for more than two decades, mocked Griffith for not having acquired the same skills. Griffith accused Simnet of being an itinerant who stole watches from his clients. Simnet claimed that Griffith further damaged watches put in his care, ultimately making it necessary for their owners to take the course of action they should have chosen from the start and deliver their watches to Simnet for more competent attention. Throughout all of this, neither watchmaker named his rival, but readers could hardly mistake the target of each allegation in the New-Hampshire Gazette, especially since the printers often positioned their advertisements side-by-side or one after the other.
In this salvo, Simnet offered a guarantee to prospective clients, pledging the “Owner [was] insur’d from future expence, (Accidents excepted).” In other words, Simnet confidently stood by his work, but he would also make additional repairs if he did not manage to completely resolve defects after an initial consultation. Simultaneously, he made a dig at Griffith, denigrating his rival once again without naming him. The unspoken contrast between Simnet as “Chief WATCHMAKER in AMERICA” and Griffith as a backwater dolt infused the advertisement for any reader who had followed the escalating feud over the past several months. As with several previous advertisements, this short notice may have looked rather bland at first glance, but when considered in the context of the advertising campaigns waged by both watchmakers it conveyed much more meaning, despite its brevity.