What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“The Post of Mr. SIMNETT’s Dial is white, to distinguish it.”
John Simnet, a watchmaker, ran several advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal in the spring of 1772. In several of them, he pursued a feud with another watchmaker, James Yeoman, but he did not make any new insinuations about his competitor in a notice that appeared in the Gazette on June 8. In the most aggressive portion of the advertisement, Simnet declared that it was “beneath the Character of a qualified Workman, to extract an Annuity by repairing Watches over and over again.” Such commentary did not apply exclusively to Yeoman or any other rival. Simnet had a long history of accusing most watchmakers of creating work for themselves by making repairs intended to last for only a short time.
Simnet devoted most of this advertisement to promoting various aspects of his own business rather than denigrating Yeoman or other watchmakers. He boasted about his credentials, noting that “during the Term of Apprenticeship” he served as “Finisher to Mr. Webster, Exchange Alley, London.” He also underscored his availability to greet customers “from Five in the Morning till Six in the Evening.” In addition, he listed prices for several common services, such as “Joining a broken Spring or Chain Two Shillings” and a “new Main Spring either Six or Eight Shillings,” so prospective customers could assess the bargains for themselves. To guide them in doing so, Simnet asserted that he set rates “at HALF the Price charg’d by any other” and explained that his customers did not have to worry about “future Expence,” those annual repairs.
The watchmaker did insert one clarification that did not previously appear in other variations of his advertisement that spring. Apparently, another watchmaker set up shop in the vicinity, prompting Simnet to give more explicit directions to his own location. “As there is now another of the Trade adjoining,” he explained, “please with Care to observe the Place; the Post of Mr. SIMNETT’s Dial is white, to distinguish it, and his Shop is low, aside the Coffee-House Bridge, but not the Corner.” In a previous advertisement, he described the device that marked his shop as “the Black Dial, with a White Post.” A competitor may have marked his own shop with a similar device, causing Simnet to focus on the color of the post. Readers familiar with the usual tone in Simnet’s advertisements may have wondered how much time would elapse before he published more colorful commentary about “another of the Trade” with a shop so close to his own.