What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“WATCHES Repair’d VERY cheap, and VERY well.”
John Simnet, a watchmaker, was among the advertisers who placed notices in the first issue of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer in the spring of 1773. Simnet had long experience advertising in American newspapers, first in the New-Hampshire Gazette when he arrived in Portsmouth in 1769 and then in the various newspapers published in New York when he relocated in the summer of 1770. Not long before taking advantage of the circulation of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer or Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s-River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, he also placed notices in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant. Simnet always boasted about his own skill and experience, but readers may have found another aspect of his advertisements more memorable. The cantankerous watchmaker often denigrated the skill of his competitors. That led to feuds that played out among the notices in the public prints, first in New Hampshire and then in New York.
By comparison, Simnet submitted an uncharacteristically subdued advertisement for the inaugural issue of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer. A headline, “WATCHES,” in a larger font than anything else in the newspaper, dominated the advertisement. Simnet did not go into his usual detail; instead, he limited the remainder of his notice to just three lines: “Repair’d VERY cheap, and VERY well. By I. SIMNET, at the Low-Shop, aside the Coffee-House Bridge, New-York.” The watchmaker ran the same advertisement the following week, even though he crafted a new advertisement for the April 29 edition of the New-York Journal and the May 3 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. That new advertisement featured the same headline, but Simnet went into greater detail about the services he offered. He proclaimed that he did “CLEANING, Repairing, Glasses, Springs, Chains, &c. fitted at HALF the usual Price.” He performed those tasks so well that his clients were “defended from future Expence.” Simnet offered a warranty of sorts, stating that he would “keep his Work in Order without Charge” if clients did encounter any sort of problems with his repairs. He concluded by noting that he moved to a new location “next to the Sign of the Castle on Murray’s Wharf.”
Why did Simnet opt to run a different advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer than the one he placed in the other newspapers published in the city? Perhaps he took the cost into consideration, not yet prepared to invest in a longer advertisement in a new publication that had not yet proved its viability or its circulation. Simnet was familiar with advertising in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Given that he frequently submitted new notices to both printing offices, he apparently believed that he derived a good return on that investment. Still, the watchmaker may have wished to hedge his bets when a new newspaper appeared, making sure his business was visible to readers in New York and beyond even if he was not yet prepared to pay for a longer advertisement.