What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Watches regulated, and such alterations which don’t require much time; gratis.”
For the past three years, the Adverts 250 Project has tracked newspaper advertisements placed by John Simnet, a “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” first in the New-Hampshire Gazette during the period that he lived and worked in Portsmouth in 1769 and 1770 and then in newspapers published in New York after he migrated to that city. Simnet often promoted his years of experience working in London in his advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, but he also pursued a nasty public feud with one of his competitors. That may have contributed to his decision to leave Portsmouth in favor of New York.
In a new city, Simnet adopted a much less aggressive approach in his advertising. He deployed a variety of marketing strategies that did not focus on denigrating other watchmakers, though he did suggest that he possessed greater skill than any of his rivals. In an advertisement that ran for the first time in the February 20, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, for instance, he trumpeted that he “had more practice, and general knowledge on new work [the mechanisms in watches] than any yet in this country could have.” Drawing on his long experience and superior expertise, he provided a service to anyone considering buying, selling, or repairing watches. Simnet offered to examine watches and inform the owners or prospective buyers of “the first cost, or value of any new, or old watch.” Once they knew the value of watches “with certainty,” they could make informed decisions about buying, selling, or repairing watches.
To generate business and enhance his reputation, Simnet also declared that he made “such alterations which don’t require much time; gratis.” For those jobs that did involve more time and attention, he stated that he “will clean them, fit glasses, springs, inside chains; and perform every particular article in repairing, at half the price, charg’d by any other.” Perhaps Simnet discovered that bargain prices brought more customers to his shop “At the Dial … beside the Coffee-House Bridge” than cantankerous diatribes that insulted his competitors. In this advertisement, he focused on his own skill, asserting that customers could depend on his work keeping their watches in good order for quite some time instead of having them become “an annual or continual expence.” Simnet attempted to leverage his skill and experience “To the Advantage of those who wear WATCHES” as well as his own benefit in earning a livelihood through providing various services.