What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“I will properly Repair, and Rectify, and Refit a WATCH, better by half, in half the Time, and for half his Price.”
The rivalry between watchmakers John Simnet (who regularly referred to himself merely as “SIMNET”) and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith continued in August 1769. Their advertisements conveniently appeared next to each at the top of the second and third columns on the third page of the August 18, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Perhaps a canny compositor sought to create a dramatic scene and increase their entertainment value via their placement on the page.
Griffith placed the more subdued advertisement. In the past, he had directly targeted Simnet, though he had never mentioned the newcomer to the colony by name. Griffith had previously impugned Simnet’s skills by calling him an itinerant and implying that his mobility facilitated theft of the watches he accepted from clients. His advertisement on August 18, however, deployed formulaic language that any watchmaker anywhere in the colonies would have used in the 1760s. Griffith advised prospective customers that he “WILL speedily and properly, repair and rectify any CLOCKS or WATCHES out of Order, in the best and cheapest Manner.” Furthermore, he pledged that “Any CLOCK or WATCH sent to said GRIFFTH, will be speedily re-fitted and expeditiously returned.” In the course of only a few lines, he made appeals to his skill, the quality of his work, price, and convenience. He did not make any overt jabs at Simnet. Perhaps Griffith decided that doing so was unseemly or had not served his purposes or enhanced his reputation in the wake of past attempts.
Simnet, on the other hand, launched another barrage of insults against Griffith in the process of promoting his own work. In particular, he mocked the appeals that Griffith made in his advertisement. “Now here’s a promising Youth,” Simnett taunted, “tells us, he is best, and cheap, & speedy.” In early advertisements Simnet underscored his quarter century of experience in London and Dublin; he leveraged the longevity of his career to suggest that Griffith was an inexperience youth. Calling him “promising” was backhanded, at best. Simnet warned that prospective clients should not even waste their time with Griffith, suggesting that he was one of those “pretenders” who “get well paid, for what they don’t or can’t do.” In contrast, Simnet trumpeted, “I will properly Repair, and Rectify, and Refit a WATCH, better by half, in half the Time, and for half his Price.” He possessed the skills and experience to do so, having served as “Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the old Country.” Griffith had toned down his advertisements, but Simnet still felt enmity toward his rival, voicing it clearly and creatively in yet another advertisement.
Griffith and Simnet made choices about the content of their advertisements, frequently inserting new and updated notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette over the period of several months in 1769. Most advertisers did not directly engage their competitors, but these two watchmakers experimented with pursuing a feud in the public prints as a strategy for garnering attention. That is not to suggest that they coordinated their efforts to create a spectacle; that seems to have happened organically as each made decisions about the copy for their next advertisement. Simnet, newly arrived in New Hampshire, apparently believed that the squabble served him well, but Griffith tired of making his competitor so prominent in his own advertisements. Still, he felt the pressure from Simnet. Griffith rarely advertised before the English watchmaker appeared on the scene, but regularly promoted his services once Simnet launched his barrage of advertising.