What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WATCHES. SIMNET, London-Watch-Maker.”
Over the course of many months, readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette became quite familiar with watchmaker John Simnet and the services he provided in 1769, in large part because he engaged in a public feud with competitor Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith that played out in the advertisements. Simnet once again took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette on the first day of fall in 1769, inserting not one but two advertisements in that issue. One ran on the third page and the other on the fourth page. Like most other colonial newspapers, a standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of only four pages, a single broadsheet with two pages printed on each side and then folded in half. Simnet arranged to have an advertisement appear on both pages that featured paid notices, increasing the likelihood that readers would notice his marketing efforts as they perused the September 22 edition. Having recently moved to a new location, he made sure prospective clients knew exactly where to find him.
One of those advertisements was fairly short … and misspelled the mononym Simnet used in all his advertising. Still, it unmistakably promoted a watchmaker who consistently described himself as “Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the old Country.” Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire less than a year earlier, having previously worked alongside noted artisans in London and Dublin. He advanced those credentials often as a means of implicitly comparing himself to the local competition that did not possess the same training or experience. In the other advertisement, Simnet described himself merely as a “London-Watch-Maker” but made a nod to the reputation he had established in the local marketplace. He declared that he had “near a Year’s Trial, by the Town [of Portsmouth] and adjacent Country.” Prospective customers did not have to rely solely on Simnet’s depiction of his prior experience on the other side of the Atlantic; they could assess for themselves the quality of his work done in New Hampshire now that he had labored there for sufficient time to establish a clientele.
Advertisers rarely placed more than one notice in a single issue of a newspaper in the colonial period. Simnet was an especially aggressive advertiser, both in the tone he took toward a rival and in the frequency that he inserted new advertisements in the public prints. Although he often returned to common themes, he composed distinctive copy for each advertisement. Mere repetition of the same advertisement did not suit the brazen watchmaker. Instead, he kept his self-promotion fresh in every new advertisement.