June 27

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-York Journal (June 27, 1771).

“Work that has been damag’d by Watch-Butchers, repair’d.”

For more than a year, starting in the winter of 1769 and continuing well into the summer of 1770, watchmakers John Simnet and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith engaged in a public feud in the advertisements they placed in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Simnet promoted his decades of experience working in London, claiming that Griffith lacked both skill and expertise.  Repairs undertaken by Griffith, according to Simnet, amounted to even greater damage that customers then sought out Simnet to fix.  In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant just as likely to abscond with watches as repair them.  The quarrel between the two watchmakers ended only when Simnet relocated to New York.

Throughout their exchanges in the New-Hampshire Gazette, Simnet usually seemed more aggressive than Griffith, often picking a fight and daring his rival to respond.  Griffith sometimes did, but on other occasions he refused to take the bait.  Instead, he placed advertisements that focused on his own work.  When Simnet moved to New York, he inserted advertisements in local newspapers, but he did not immediately return to the strategy he deployed in New Hampshire.  Eventually, however, the cantankerous watchmaker could not resist.  Ten months after he first advertised in the New-York Journal, he placed a new notice that offered commentary on the skill of other watchmakers without singling out any particular competitor for abuse.  “THE Faults of the original Makers alter’d,” Simnet proclaimed.  “Work that has been damag’d by Watch-Butchers, repaired.”  He once again invoked his extensive experience, “thirty Years Finisher, to the Chief Manufacture in London,” but only after grabbing attention with his indictment of other watchmakers.

Artisans frequently highlighted their training, skill, and experience in their advertisements, intending to demonstrate their competence to prospective customers.  Very few denigrated their competitors, especially not in the colorful language that became a staple for Simnet in his advertisements.  Did Simnet return to this strategy after working in New York for nearly a year because he considered it effective in drumming up business?  Or did he have a prickly personality and could not resist creating a spectacle in his newspaper notices?  It very well may have been some of each.

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