What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“May have them clean’d again immediately without expence.”
As fall approached in 1772, watchmaker John Simnet marked the second anniversary of his arrival in New York by distributing a new advertisement in the newspapers published in that city. Readers should have been familiar with Simnet and his feud with rival watchmaker John Yeoman. The two exchanged barbs in their newspaper notices over the course of several months. Before moving to New York, Simnet had similarly participated in a war of words with a competitor, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette. In both Portsmouth and New York, Simnet acquired a reputation for acerbic commentary about his competitors.
He took a different approach, however, when marking two years in New York. His most recent advertisement opened with an imitation of Yeoman’s advertisement intended to denigrate the other watchmaker. The new advertisement simply declared, “WATCHES COMPLETELY repair’d, in every particular article, at HALF the price charg’d by any other.” While he made reference to the prices of his competitors in general, Simnet did not deploy any insults aimed directly at Yeoman. Instead, he focused on his credentials, his prices, and ancillary services intended to cultivate relationships with clients. As usual, he trumpeted his experience and origins as a “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London.” He gave a list of prices for cleaning, replacing parts, and mending watches so prospective customers could assess for themselves whether he offered bargains compared to his competitors. He also noted that since two years passed “since the author advertised here, some of the watches he has repair’d may become dirty.” Simnet presented a special deal to his first customers who helped him get established in the city, inviting them to have their watches “clean’d again immediately without expence.” He likely believed that this free service would generate more business.
Despite taking a different tone in this new advertisement, Simnet did not suspend his attacks on Yeoman. His “ingenious Artificer” advertisement and his new notice both appeared in the August 27 edition of the New-York Journal. That may have been an oversight, either on the part of Simnet or the compositor, since only the new advertisement found its way into the newspapers the following week. Even without both advertisements running simultaneously, readers likely remembered Simnet’s cantankerous personality and feud with Yeoman when they encountered the new advertisement that focused solely on promoting Simnet’s positive attributes.