January 26

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

Connecticut Courant (January 26, 1773).

“WATCHES … every Particular in repairing at HALF PRICE.”

For the past four years the Adverts 250 Project has traced newspaper advertisements placed by watchmaker John Simnet, first in Portsmouth in the New-Hampshire Gazette for a year and a half in 1769 and early 1770 and then in newspapers published in New York.  In both locations, the cantankerous artisan engaged in public feuds with his competitors and sometimes ran notices that mocked and denigrated them.

At the end of January 1773, Simnet decided to insert an advertisement for his shop in New York in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford.  That put him in competition with Thomas Hilldrup, who had been advertising in the Connecticut Courant for months, Enos Doolittle, who had been advertising in that newspaper for six weeks, and other watchmakers in Hartford and other towns in Connecticut.  It was an unusual choice for an artisan in New York to extend their advertising efforts to newspapers in neighboring colonies, especially when they had the option to run notices in multiple newspapers in New York.  Did Simnet believe that he would gain clients in Hartford?  Perhaps he thought his promotions – “every Particular in repairing at HALF PRICE” and “no future Expence, either for cleaning or mending” – would indeed convince faraway readers to send their watches to him when they needed maintenance.

New-York Journal (January 21, 1773).

Even if those offers caught the attention of prospective customers in Connecticut, the final lines of Simnet’s advertisement likely confused them.  The advertisement previously ran in the New-York Journal for eight weeks, starting on December 3, 1772.  In the most recent edition, published on January 21, 1773, Simnet added a short poem that addressed “Rhyming Pivot, of York, / With Head, light as Cork.”  The “Rhyming Pivot” may have been Isaac Heron, a nearby neighbor and competitor, who included short verses in his advertisement that ran in the New-York Journal for several weeks, starting on December 24.  At the conclusion of Heron’s notice, he asked “brethren of the Pivot,” fellow watchmakers, to confiscate certain watches that had gone missing from his shop if clients brought them to their shops “for repair or sale.”  Simnet, easily agitated, apparently did not like that another watchmaker dared to try to generate business via notices in the public prints.  He responded with his own poem that described his competitor’s merit as “a Joke or a Song” and declared that he belonged on Grub Street in London, known for authors who often lacked talent and the printers and booksellers who peddled works of dubious quality.

The poem may have resonated with readers of the New-York Journal who were familiar with Heron’s advertisement (and may have also witnessed Simnet’s feud with James Yeoman several months earlier), but readers of the Connecticut Courant had no context for understanding it.  Why did Simnet choose to have his updated advertisement reproduced in its entirety rather than the original version, without the poem, that ran for so many weeks in New York.  The ornery watchmaker was usually very calculated in his decisions about marketing.  What made him decide that advertising in the Connecticut Courant was a good investment?  Even if he considered it worth the costs, why did he include a poem that would have confounded prospective clients?

December 27

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

New-York Journal (December 24, 1772).

“Sprigs, which more beauteous makes the fair; / And lockets, various, for the hair.”

Isaac Heron, a watchmaker, operated a shop at the Sign of the Arched Dial in New York in the 1760s and 1770s.  When he decided to promote his services in the public prints in the early 1770s, he published a lively advertisement, one that interspersed commentary and poetry, in the December 24, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal.  Heron may have taken note of the notices placed by his competitors, especially John Simnet and James Yeoman, over the past six months or so.  Often creative beyond the standard appeals that appeared in many other advertisements and sometimes descending into rancorous feuds with each other, Simnet and Yeoman made their newspaper notices memorable for readers.  After observing how those rival watchmakers described their services and characterized their competitors, Heron likely determined that he needed to write copy that did not pale in comparison.  He composed more innovative copy than appeared in one of his earlier advertisements.

For instance, he offered low prices and a guarantee when it came to repairing watches.  Heron declared that he “charges as low … as his neighbors,” other watchmakers, by setting his rates “as near the London prices as possible.”  In what might have been a rebuke to Simnet and Yeoman, Heron stated, “To say more, would neither be prudent nor honest.”  In terms of a guarantee, he pledged that “As usual, he warrants their performance” for a year.  Like other watchmakers who offered similar guarantees, he clarified “accidents and mismanagement of [watches he repaired] excepted.”  Unlike other watchmakers, he elaborated in verse: “Should the all-sustaining hand, him drop, / His movements all, springs, wheels, hands must stop! / Then, like the tale of ‘a bear and fiddle,’ / This bargain—‘breaks off in the middle.’”

In addition to selling and repairing watches, Heron also sold jewelry.  He inserted a rhyming couplet to conclude the list of merchandise he lighted to prospective customers.  A paragraph that included “Ladies elegant steel watch-chains, mens [chains,] seals, trinkets, glasses, strings, and keys by the dozen, … Elegant broach-jewels for their honest breasts; sword-knots, sundries, &c.” concluded with “Sprigs, which more beauteous makes the fair; / And lockets, various, for the hair.”  Neither Simnet nor Yeoman advertised these additional items.  They focused exclusively on their skill and experience as watchmakers.  In terms of both goods and presentation, Heron devised an advertisement that distinguished his services from his competitors.

December 26

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

Dec 26 - 12:26:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 26, 1767).

“He hopes his kind Cust’mers will once again call, / And for their past Favours he thanketh them all.”

Benoni Pearce, a shopkeeper, frequently advertised in the Providence Gazette. His commercial notices usually incorporated some of the advertising strategies most popular in eighteenth-century America, including appeals to price, quality, and consumer choice. Such was the case in a new advertisement that first appeared in the final week of December 1767, though Pearce gave the method of delivery a twist that surely attracted notice from readers of the Providence Gazette. A series of rhyming couplets and a final tercet comprised the advertisement.

Pearce certainly was not the first or only advertiser to promote his wares or his business in verse, but such efforts were infrequent enough that they retained a novel quality when they appeared in newspapers or on broadsides. Their format likely garnered greater attention from prospective customers who would have merely glanced through a list of familiar merchandise but instead carefully examined Pearce’s rhymes. The short poem entertained even as it sought to stimulate consumption, making it – and Pearce’s shop – all the more memorable.

In just half a dozen couplets, Pearce moved through a series of appeals. After reminding readers of his location “upon the West Side,” he announced that he stocked “fresh Goods” selected with care. He made nods toward quality (“the best Kind”) and price (“as cheap as any you’ll find”), before thanking former customers and encouraging them to “once again call.” He concluded by lightheartedly addressing two aspects of commerce and consumer culture that colonists increasingly associated with contemporary political debates.

While other shopkeepers starkly stated that they sold their wares “For CASH” (as Thompson and Arnold did in the advertisement immediately below), Pearce pledged “To take the March Money* for what it was made.” A note at the end of the advertisement, the only portion not in verse, clarified that the “March Money” had been issued in 1762. Paper currency tended to depreciate, so Pearce indicated the current rate: “6 s. equal to a Dollar.” This method of naming a particular currency then in circulation in Rhode Island cleverly addressed the same issue that J. Mathewson raised in the advertisement immediately above. Mathewson plainly stated that he “takes lawful Money, of any Date, equal to Dollars.” Discussions of how to pay could be troublesome, but through his witty rhyme Pearce attempted to make that awkward part of potential transactions at least somewhat amusing.

Finally, in the tercet that concluded the advertisement Pearce weighed in on questions about what kinds of goods should be bought and sold in order to best serve the political and economic welfare of the colonies. An imbalance of trade between Britain and the colonies contributed to a recession. The imposition of new taxes on certain imported goods when the Townshend Act went into effect in November 1767 further exacerbated tensions. Residents of Boston, followed by other towns in New England, had pledged to limit their consumption of imported goods in favor of purchasing local products instead. Pearce endorsed these efforts and indicated that he did his part when he acquired merchandise to sell to his customers because “the Good of his Country doth near his Heart lie.”

Benoni Pearce made several appeals to customers in his advertisement. He had previously made the same appeals in a series of advertisements in the Providence Gazette, but a creative new format – a short poem – enticed readers to take note of this particularly memorable advertisement. Once he had their attention, Pearce increased his chances of making sales.