What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR.”
John Simnet’s advertisement in the July 13, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette was uncharacteristically muted compared to others he had recently published. The brief notice looked much like any other that an eighteenth-century watchmaker would insert in the local newspaper: “WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR; Clean’d for those who desire them done cheap, for a Pistereen, and Repairs in Proportion. By J. SIMNET: Parade.” Yet it differed in tone significantly from most of Simnet’s advertisements. He arrived in the Portsmouth area in late 1768 or early 1769. Over the past year and a half he engaged in a very public feud with Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. The rival watchmakers both advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette, sometimes making only oblique references to each other but on other occasions leveling accusations of fraud, incompetence, and lack of character. Most recently, Simnet ran advertisements that compared Griffith to a rat or denigrated his character and skills in verse. Even after several weeks passed, Griffith did not respond to those attacks, at least not in the New-Hampshire Gazette.
Had it not been for this rivalry, I likely would not have selected Simnet’s advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project today. Uriah Hide of Lyme, Connecticut, placed a notice for “Clothiers Shears” made in the colonies in the New-London Gazette. In that advertisement, he developed an argument in favor of giving preference to “the Manufactures of the Colony” over imported “European Manufactures.” I often select advertisements that demonstrate the convergence of politics and consumer culture in the era of the American Revolution, but after spending eighteenth months following the feud between Griffith and Simnet I decided to include the next installment in their story in order to document each volley regardless of whether it was as explosive as the last. It is also worth noting that Simnet’s advertisement appears deceptively simple, especially when compared to his other notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Although brief, his advertisement included an appeal to price and even listed how much he charged for routine maintenance for a year. Relatively few eighteenth-century advertisers included specific prices in their notices, making Simnet’s attempt to entice customers with a guaranteed price notable. Not as lively as most of his advertisements, this one engaged with prospective customers in different ways.