What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WATCHES REPAIR’D by J. SIMNETT.”
Near the end of the summer of 1770, watchmaker John Simnet went quiet in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette. In late June and early July, he placed a series of advertisements attacking his competitor and rival Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. That other watchmaker sometimes responded to Simnet’s taunts in the public prints, but he chose to leave the most recent tirade unanswered. It seemed that Simnet had the last word in the New-Hampshire Gazette.
A very public feud that played out in a series of advertisements over the course of a year and a half in the New-Hampshire Gazette came to an end when Simnet relocated to New York and began placing advertisements for his services there. His first advertisement in his new city ran in the August 23, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. In the largest font that appeared anywhere in the issue (including the masthead) he called attention to the “WATCHES” that he “REPAIR’D in a perfect and durable manner, with expedition, at an easy expence, and kept in good order, for 2s6 sterling per year.”
Simnet also gave his current location and described himself as an “original maker from London,” attempting to take advantage of the cachet associated with training and working in the largest city in the empire. He did not mention that he had not arrived directly from London but had instead spent the last eighteen months in New Hampshire, nor did he proclaim that his skills were superior to those of any of his competitors in New York. He frequently made such pronouncements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, targeting watchmakers in that colony in particular. If prospective customers wished to assume that Simnet was indeed more skilled because he was “an original maker from London,” they were free to do so, but perhaps the sharp-tongued Simnet had learned a lesson during his interactions with Griffith in New Hampshire and opted to cultivate a different persona in the public prints in New York. Only time would tell. After all, his advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette initially took a neutral tone but became increasingly abusive toward another watchmaker over time.