What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He is as great a Watch-Maker as he is a Mountebank.”
The feud between watchmakers Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith and John Simnet had been playing out in the New-Hampshire Gazette for more than a year when Griffith published a new advertisement in the June 8, 1770, edition. That advertisement further escalated the conflict, though Griffith reacted to a particularly antagonistic advertisement that Simnet first published three weeks earlier. Throughout most of their bickering in the public prints, the watchmakers engaged in innuendo but usually did not name each other. On May 18, however, Simnet asserted that “All who please to apply, may depend on being faithfully served, with such Watches as Mr. Nathaniel Sheaffe Griffith can make, and mending in general as perform’d by that Genius, without any Charge.” In other words, Simnet would fix for free any watches that his competitor further damaged in the process of attempting to repair them. That advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette for several weeks.
In response, Simnet no longer felt compelled not to name his rival. In his next advertisement he informed readers that he provided his services “at a much cheaper rate than the original Simnet, altho’ he has taken such repeated pains to inform the publick of his great skill and accuracy.” Griffith alluded to the series of advertisements Simnet published since arriving in the colony, but then he continued with a description that drew on encounters with Simnet beyond the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Griffith asserted that Simnet went about “vainly flattering himself that the variety of his dress may induce people to believe he is as great a Watch-Maker as he is a Mountebank.” Yet Simnet was a charlatan in all things, according to Griffith, “inimitable in a Branch” of watchmaking “that he is a Novice and a Stranger to,” despite his pretensions.
As a further insult, Griffith copies the format of Simnet’s most recent advertisement, appending a nota bene in which he delivered another scalding critique in the form of a spurious compliment. “I desire to return my thanks to Simnet, Watch Maker, from London,” Griffith proclaimed, “for his good custom for the many Watches I mend and repair after they have been cruely butchered by him.” Griffith reversed the accusation Simnet made in his advertisement, suggesting that he actually had to repair those watches that Simnet damaged through his incompetence. Griffith likely intended that claim to further enrage his rival. He added a parting blow: “For after he is paid his price, I have mine paid the more generous.” Simnet’s customers, Griffith contended, were so frustrated that they gratefully paid Griffith to undo the damage done by the “Watch Maker, from London.”
Once again, the compositor recognized a good story, conveniently placing the two advertisements one after the other. Readers perused Griffith’s advertisements first and then immediately saw Griffith’s rejoinder. Even for those who did not require the services of either watchmaker, this spectacle likely provided entertainment as the war of words continued to escalate in the public prints.