What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country.”
Watchmaker John Simnet returned to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette early in 1770, placing a short advertisement in the January 12 edition. Brief but bold, Simnet’s newest notice proclaimed, “WATCHES. SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country. —- Parade, PORTSMOUTH.” Simnet reminded readers of the services he provided, but left it to them to fill in the details.
Considered alone, this advertisement may not seem particularly interesting. Simnet did boast of his skill, declaring himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” but he did not do much else to promote his business and attract clients … or so it would seem at a glance. This advertisement, however, must be considered in the larger context of an advertising campaign that Simnet had waged for the past year and his ongoing feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been very familiar with both Simnet’s previous advertisements, those placed by Griffith in response, and the professional (and seemingly even personal) animosity between the two watchmakers. That animosity likely manifested itself in interactions beyond the public prints, so colonists did not necessarily need to read all of the advertisements to know that Simnet and Griffith did not get along and regularly denigrated each other.
Simnet’s assertion that he was the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country” was more than bravado about his skill. It was also an insult intentionally directed at Griffith. Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire after more than two decades working as a watchmaker in London. He received his training and served clients in the largest city in the empire. He frequently suggested that other watchmakers, especially Griffith, could not match his skill, insinuating that Griffith often did more harm than good when tasked with repairing clocks and watches. In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant who was just as likely to steal watches from the residents of Portsmouth as repair them.
Simnet’s advertisement communicated far more than its eleven words might suggest to casual readers unfamiliar with his prior marketing efforts. The watchmaker did more than invite prospective clients to hire his services; he also perpetuated a feud with a rival by trumpeting his own skill and, by implication, demeaning the abilities of his primary competitor.