December 5

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

New-York Journal (December 5, 1771).

“JOHN SIMNET, of London, WATCH-FINISHER.”

Nearly six months had passed since John Simnet last placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal, but he concluded the year by placing his notice in every issue published in December 1771.  Simnet, a veteran watchmaker with decades of experience working in shops in London, did not advertise in any of the newspapers published in New York nearly as often as he had advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette when he ran a shop in Portsmouth for about eighteen months in 1769 and 1770.  A rivalry with another watchmaker, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, played an important part in Simnet aggressively taking to the public prints, frequently denigrating his competitor.  Readers may have been amused by the feud between Griffith and Simnet that played out before their eyes in the New-Hampshire Gazette, though Simnet may have alienated as many prospective customers as he gained since his advertisements were often significantly more mean-spirited than those placed by Griffith.

Simnet did not even mention his time in Portsmouth after he relocated from the smaller town to the bustling port of New York.  He presented himself as “JOHN SIMNET, of London, WATCH-FINISHER,” choosing not to acknowledge that he passed through New Hampshire.  He adopted a more evenhanded tone in his advertisements in the New-York Journal, though he could not resist the temptation to make a blanket statement about “Watch-Butchers” who further damaged rather than repaired watches customers entrusted to their care when he advertised in the summer of 1771.  He eschewed such attacks when he once again ran notices in December.  He trumpeted, however, that he was the “only general Manufacturer in this Country,” dismissing the training, skill, and experience of his competitors.  Despite that interlude near the end of his advertisement, Simnet focused most of his effort on positive appeals.  He emphasized price, addressing his notice “to “those who desire to preserve their Money and their WATCHES, And avoid unnecessary Expence.”  He listed prices for some of his services, reporting that he performed “All other Repairs in Proportion, at half what is usually charged.”  The watchmaker also declared that he completed difficult jobs quickly.  Simnet may have learned that such strategies served him better than the antagonistic approach he took to marketing during the time he resided in New Hampshire.

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