June 6

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

Providence Gazette (June 6, 1772).

“HE doubts not of giving Satisfaction to such persons as may please him with their Custom.”

Among the various marketing appeals in their newspaper advertisements, merchants and shopkeepers often vowed to provide exemplary customer service.  Several who placed notices in the June 6, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazettedid so.  Edward Thurber, for instance, declared that “Whoever pleases to favour him with their Custom may depend upon the utmost Fidelity, and on having their Business executed with Dispatch.”  An extensive catalog of the “fine Assortment of Grocery, Hard-Ware, and Piece GOODS” for sale at his store “at the Sign of the BRAZEN LION” in the “North End of Providence” comprised most of his advertisement, but he did not intend for that testimonial to consumer choice to eclipse his commitment to customer service.  Gabriel Allen and William Allen also stocked a “compleat Assortment of English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS” at their shop “on the West Side of the GREAT BRIDGE.”  They enhanced their allusion to so many choices with a promise that “Ladies and Gentlemen that are pleased to favour them with their Custom, may depend on the best Treatment.”

Artisans and others who provided services also incorporated customer service into their marketing efforts.  Benjamin Bagnall, Jr., informed the public that he “Carefully CLEANED and MENDED” clocks and watches at his shop, confidently stating that he “doubts not of giving Satisfaction to such Persons as may please to favour him with their Custom.”  In this case, “giving Satisfaction” had more than one meaning.  It implied that Bagnall extended good customer service to his clients, but it also signaled quality and skill, two appeals that artisans often included in their advertisements.  In addition, convenience was an element of the customer service that Bagnall provided.  He claimed that “Watches have been frequently sent to adjacent Places to repair,” presumably because colonizers believed that artisans in Providence did not possess the same skills as their counterparts in Boston and New York.  Such inconvenience was not necessary, Bagnall contended, since he “will endeavour to convince his Employers that there is no Occasion to send [watches] out of the Town.”  In making that pledge, Bagnall brought together customer service, skill, and quality in a single appeal to prospective customers.

May 4

GUEST CURATOR: Tyler Reid

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 4, 1772).

“Be cautious, there are many … counterfeit watches … so bad they cannot be rendered useful.”

John Simnet, a clock- and watchmaker, created this advertisement.  It displays a competitive market in 1772. Simnet emphasizes his “Term of Apprenticeship to Mr. Webster, Exchange Alley, London.”  He thought that his qualifications mattered.  He also mentioned his expertise in cleaning watches and fitting glasses. These skills mattered.  In an article about clocks and clockmakers in eighteenth-century Philadelphia, Michelle Smiley states that clockmaking “was considered an intellectual profession requiring great artisanal skill and scientific knowledge.”  In addition, “the mathematical precision and mechanical intricacy of the profession put it at a superior rank to the crafts of blacksmithing and carpentry.”  In his advertisement, Simnet had a big ego about his skill and knowledge, especially being trained in England and voyaging to the colonies.  He also complained about “counterfeit Watches … so bad they cannot be rendered useful.”  He believed that colonists should be careful when buying watches from others because they might end up receiving broken merchandise.  He wanted customers to think of him as reliable, as someone who sold only good watches that worked well.  According to his advertisements, they could trust him because of his training in England.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

When students in my classes submit their proposed advertisements for approval before moving to the research and writing phases of contributing the Adverts 250 Project, I often recognize the advertisers because I have already perused the newspapers to identify which notices belong in the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  I did not simply recognize the advertiser that Tyler selected for his entry.  Instead, John Simnet has become very familiar to me over the past three years as I have traced his advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette in 1769 and 1770 and then in newspapers published in New York in the early 1770s.  I consider Simnet the most notorious of the advertisers featured on the Adverts 250 Project because he regularly disseminated negative advertisements that demeaned his competitors as much as they promoted his own skill, expertise, training, and experience.  In both Portsmouth and New York, he participated in bitter feuds with competitors in the public prints, sometimes demeaning character as well as their abilities.

Tyler was not yet familiar with Simnet when he selected this advertisement, one of several variations that Simnet published in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal in the spring of 1772.  He chose it because the headline for “WATCHES” caught his interest.  He wanted to learn more about clock- and watchmakers in early America.  This presented an opportunity for me to once again dovetail my teaching and my research, a pedagogical moment that could not be planned in advance when inviting students to select any advertisements they wished to feature.  They usually focus on a single advertisement, an appropriate approach for students working this intensively with primary sources for the first time.  They make all sorts of connections between their advertisements and commerce, politics, and daily life in eighteenth-century America.  Yet we have fewer opportunities to examine the advertisers and their marketing campaigns.  When Tyler chose Simnet’s advertisement from among the hundreds that he might have selected from the first week of May 1772, that gave all the students in my Revolutionary America class a chance to hear more about the clock- and watchmaker’s long history of placing cantankerous advertisements that deviated from the norms of the period.  This context better humanized Simnet, even if it did not make him particularly likeable.  Each advertisement represents a snapshot of a particular moment in the past, but I also underscored the value of examining multiple advertisements, placed over weeks or even years, as a means of constructing an even more robust understanding of the experiences of the advertisers and their world.

May 1

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (May 1, 1772).

“Clocks & Watches Clean’d in the Cheapest and best Manner.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith made brief appeals to price and quality in an advertisement that ran in the May 1, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He succinctly informed prospective customers that he “Clean’d” clocks and watches “in the Cheapest and best Manner” at his shop in Portsmouth.  In addition, he sold “Silver plated Shoe and Knee-Buckles” and other goods.

While this advertisement may not seem noteworthy when considered alone or alongside other notices that ran in the same issue, regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette likely remembered other advertisements placed by Griffith or that mentioned Griffith.  For a period of eighteen months, Griffith participated in a feud with another clock- and watch-maker, John Simnet, an exceptionally public disagreement undertaken in advertisements in the colony’s only newspaper.  Simnet had relocated to New Hampshire after several decades working in London.  Like many artisans who crossed the Atlantic, he attempted to leverage his training and experience in the cosmopolitan center of the empire to woo customers unfamiliar with his work.  His competitors, including Griffith, benefited from having established a reputation among local consumers.  Simnet adopted more aggressive tactics than most artisans, not only promoting his own credentials but also proclaiming that his rivals did inferior work that actually damaged the clocks and watches they pretended to repair.  He singled out Griffith in particular, eventually denigrating his character and intellect as well as his skill.  For his part, Griffith accused the newly-arrived Simnet of being an itinerant likely to abscond with the watches that colonizers entrusted to him.  In general, however, Griffith was much less abusive toward Simnet than Simnet was toward him, at least in the public prints.

After a year and a half in Portsmouth, Simnet relocated once again, this time to New York.  He placed fairly neutral advertisements in the newspapers published in the bustling port, at least at first, but eventually found himself embroiled in another argument with a competitor.  His advertisements became increasingly colorful as he devised new ways to denigrate clock- and watchmaker James Yeoman.

Back in Portsmouth and its environs, many readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette likely remembered the altercation between Griffith and Simnet when they encountered new advertisements from Simnet, no matter how brief or neutral.  Did those memories influence whether they hired Griffith?  Did they think about some of the insults that Griffith leveled at Simnet?  Did they put any stock in Simnet’s accusations against Griffith or dismiss the cantankerous rantings of the interloper?  Did they credit Griffith for the restraint he showed when he eventually decided that the best response to Simnet was to ignore him?  Did they recall being entertained by the vitriolic exchanges, even if they had no need to hire artisans to clean or repair their clocks and watches?  Griffith’s brief announcement published in the spring of 1772 was just one notice among a series of advertisements that likely shaped public perceptions of his business.

April 23

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

New-York Journal (April 23, 1772).

“‘Tis our sole Wish, that the Gent who advertises in Astronomy will favour us with a Specimen.”

John Simnet, “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” seemed to relish nothing more than sparring with an adversary in the public prints.  For eighteenth months in 1769 and 1770, he participated in a feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  After relocating to New York, he initially published advertisements that did not denigrate his competitors, but eventually found himself embroiled in a war of words with James Yeoman.

As part of that altercation, Simnet updated an advertisement that first ran in the March 19, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal.  On April 23, he removed a lengthy paragraph that cast aspersion on Yeoman in favor of a shorter paragraph meant to do the same.  In both, he addressed insults that Yeoman delivered in his advertisements, insults that the rival watchmaker was so committed to circulating that he resubmitted the copy to run for additional weeks.  (The April 9 edition of the New-York Journal included a new version of Yeoman’s advertisement, the type reset with new line breaks and the addition of the issue number in which that iteration first appeared.)  Yeoman listed his credentials for repairing “CLOCKS, ASTRONOMICAL, Musical or Plain” before concluding his advertisement with an assertion that “it is the sole Wish of the said James Yeoman, to obtain Favours only proportioned to the Knowledge he has, and the Satisfaction he affords in his Business.”

In the updated version of his advertisement, Simnet mocked Yeoman by paraphrasing his rival’s words.  “‘Tis our sole Wish,” he declared, “that the Gent who advertises in Astronomy will favour us with a Specimen of his Qualifications in that Science, for if he can cause the Planets, Eclipses, Comets, &c. to move on the Table, ‘twill save the Charge of Telescopes.”  Simnet questioned Yeoman’s ability to repair astronomical clocks, challenging him to provide examples of his work for others to examine.  Earlier in the advertisement, he mentioned the harm done to clocks and watches by “Persons not qualified to practice in this Business.”  The new paragraph more explicitly leveled that accusation at Yeoman.  Simnet seemed to hit his stride in his advertisements when he treated competitors with condescension, a tactic rarely adopted in eighteenth-century advertising.

March 19

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

New-York Journal (March 19, 1772).

“The manufacture he governs is 100 miles from real.”

It was probably only a matter of time before John Simnet, “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” engaged in a war of words with a competitor in New York.  In late 1768, he migrated to New Hampshire and began placing advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Over the next eighteen months, Simnet developed a rivalry with Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a watchmaker who already resided there.  The two waged a feud in their advertisements in the public prints, though Simnet was often more aggressive.  In a series of newspaper notices, the newcomer ridiculed his rival’s skill and intelligence before deciding to relocate to New York in the summer of 1770.  He occasionally published advertisements in his new city, but focused on promoting his own business rather than denigrating competitors.

That changed in March 1772.  In fairness to Simnet, another watchmaker, James Yeoman, seemed to start the dispute when he published an advertisement that seemed to critique the “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London.”  In an advertisement that first ran in the March 12 edition of the New-York Journal, Yeoman listed his credentials, stating that he “received his Instructions in the Business from the ingenious Mr. Neale, (whose great Knowledge in Mechanics was well known),” and declared that he “can with Propriety declare himself a real Manufacturer, having had the Government of a large Manufactory from its Infancy to its Maturity, one Hundred Miles from London.”  Yeoman cast doubt on Simnet’s description of his occupation and work in London.  As a further insult, he declared, “The above is not the Result of Vanity or Parade, for, should it be doubted, proper Testimonial shall be produced to prove the Assertion.”  Yeoman suggested that Simnet’s advertisements consisted of nothing more than puffery.

Perhaps the argument started before anything appeared in print.  Simnet and Yeoman may have exchanged words in person before Yeoman took to the pages of the New-York Journal.  Once Yeoman published his advertisement, Simnet responded in the next issue, updating a notice that previously ran for four weeks.  He doubled the length of his notice, starting with an introduction that instructed that “Persons who write in public on this art, where faith is be reposed, should consult their ability, and have strict regard to – not pull down truth.”  Sinnet did not mention Yeoman by name, but it was clear that his description of “Hocus Pocus” addressed the content of Yeoman’s advertisement.  In ridiculing an unnamed rival, Simnet remarked that the “manufacture he governs is 100 miles from real,” alluding to Yeoman’s claim that he managed “a large Manufactory … one Hundred Miles from London.”  Simnet also quoted Yeoman’s proclamation that he repaired clocks and watches “as cheap as by any Person in this City” in his own notice.  “As cheap as any person in this city,–can we save the value of a bowl of punch, or a turkey by reading that? –alas–No.”  He further underscored that “words are wind, and declare the expresser full of emptiness” before concluding with a poem that cast aspersions on Neale, Yeoman’s mentor.

No matter who started the dispute, Simnet and Yeoman took their argument to the public prints.  Simnet once again had a rival to denigrate in his advertisements.  Purveyors of goods and services rarely resorted to negative advertising, usually preferring to promote their own businesses and largely ignoring their competitors.  They often stated that they possessed the greatest skill or offered the lowest prices, but rarely did they directly critique or even address others who provided the same goods and services.  That made Simnet and Yeoman’s advertisements all the more notable and perhaps even entertaining for readers.

March 16

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

Pennsylvania Packet (March 16, 1772).

“Proposes to engage his performance for one year, provided the owners do not abuse the same.”

When Thomas Morgan, a watch- and clockmaker, relocated from Philadelphia to a shop on Gay Street in Baltimore in the early 1770s, he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet, published in Philadelphia.  Why did he advertise in a newspaper published in the town he left rather than one published in his new town?  Baltimore did not yet have its own newspaper.  Colonizers in Baltimore and the surrounding area depended on the Maryland Gazette, published in Annapolis, and several newspapers published in Philadelphia, including the Pennsylvania Packet, as regional newspapers.  When he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet, Morgan anticipated that prospective customers in Baltimore would see it.

In addition, he deployed other marketing strategies.  He marked his new location in Baltimore with “THE SIGN OF THE ARCH DIAL,” a visual statement to all passersby about what kind of business he operated.  He also offered a guarantee for repairing and cleaning watches and clocks, stating that he would “engage his performance for one year, provided the owners do not abuse the same.”  In other words, the guarantee remained in effect only if customers treated their clocks and watches well.  That included not subjecting their timepieces to “unskilful hands” who did more harm than good.  Morgan lamented that “many good watches are greatly abused for want of experience” by artisans who purported to possess skills that they did not.  In so doing, Morgan made appeals similar to those that John Simnet, a watchmaker in New York, included in his newspaper advertisements.  He also offered guarantees of his work, contingent on how customers treated their clocks and watches, and warned against trusting inexperienced watch- and clockmakers who damaged the timepieces entrusted to them.

Morgan invited “Any Gentleman” to visit his new location in Baltimore, promising that they may “have new Watches and Clocks made after the neat and best construction.”  To encourage those previously unfamiliar with his work, he indicated that he already attracted new clients and “most gratefully acknowledges the many favours received from the Public, and hopes for the continuance of them.”  Morgan hoped that advertising in the Pennsylvania Packet would further ease the transition after setting up shop in a new town.

December 27

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 27, 1771).

“WATCHES and CLOCKS are clean’d and kept in Repair.”

As 1771 came to an end and a new year loomed, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to remind residents of Portsmouth and nearby towns that he “clean’d and kept in Repair” both clocks and watches.  He also sold “all Sorts of Watch Materials lately imported” and “performs gilding Work, either with Gold or Silver.”  He pledged that he performed all of these services “in the cheapest and best Manner.”

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette may have remembered that not so long ago another clock- and watchmaker, John Simnet, frequently placed advertisements that accused Griffith of damaging watches rather than cleaning and repairing them.  Sometimes Simnet identified Griffith by name, but other times he merely made insinuations.  For his part, Griffith expressed less interest in fueling a feud in the public prints, preferring instead to bolster his own business rather than denigrate a competitor.  That did not prevent him, however, from suggesting that Simnet, who had recently relocated to Portsmouth from London, was an itinerant as likely to steal watches as repair them.  In a series of advertisements, Simnet trumpeted his decades of experience in some of the best workshops in London, proclaiming his superior skill.  In addition to pointing out that Griffith lacked formal training, he also implied that his competitor possessed a defective intellect.

Griffith and, especially, Simnet staged quite a performance in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette before the newcomer decided that Portsmouth was not the place for him.  After a year and a half of sparring with Griffith, Simnet moved to New York.  He once again touted the skill and experience he gained on the other side of the Atlantic, but he did select any local competitors to target for abuse.  Perhaps he learned in Portsmouth that some consumers did not appreciate marketing strategies that pivoted on abusing others.  Free of the cantankerous Simnet, Griffith continued placing occasional advertisements that conformed to the standards of the period.  He made positive appeals, such as asserting that he did his work “in the cheapest and best Manner,” but did not make any direct comparisons to other artisans.

December 18

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

Boston Evening-Post (December 16, 1771).

“Benjamin Willard, Clock-Maker.”

Benjamin Willard, one of the most prominent clockmakers in eighteenth-century America, placed an advertisement in the December 16, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post to inform the public that he had moved from Lexington to Roxbury.  He assured customers who had already purchased clocks from him with the intention that he would provide any necessary maintenance that they “still may have the same Care taken by applying to him at Roxbury.”  He also directed customers to his original shop in Grafton, where an employee made clocks “as well as at Roxbury.”  Like many other artisans, Willard promoted domestic manufactures, goods produced in the colonies, as alternatives to imported items.  He declared that consumers acquired clocks made and sold at his shop “on much better Terms than those that are purchased from foreign Countries.”  Accordingly, he advocated that colonists who needed clocks “as well as other kind of Mechanical Performances” should support his workshop, especially since “there have been large Sums of Money sent away for foreign Work which may be retained to the Emolument of this Country.”  The clockmaker referenced trade imbalances with Great Britain that had played a role, along with duties imposed on certain goods, in inspiring nonimportation agreements in Boston and other towns in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

Today, a collection of more than eighty clocks constructed by Willard, his three younger brothers, and three generations of the Willard family are on display at the Willard House and Clock Museum in North Grafton, Massachusetts, the second site mentioned in the advertisement.  Those clocks are exhibited “in the birthplace and original workshop of the Willard clockmakers, along with family portraits, furnishings, and other Willard family heirlooms.”  This public history site allows visitors to “step back in time” (surely the pun was intended!) and “witness a unique and important part of America’s technological, artistic, and entrepreneurial history.”

August 9

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 9, 1771).

“Griffith is now well settled in Business.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith frequently advertised his services as clock- and watchmaker in the New-Hampshire Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  For eighteen months in 1769 and 1770, he placed many of his notices in response to advertisements inserted by John Simnet, a rival who migrated to Portsmouth after gaining decades of experience as a clock- and watchmaker in London.  Simnet repeatedly denigrated colonial clock- and watchmakers in general and Griffith in particular, claiming that those who did not receive their training in England did more harm than good when they attempted to fix broken clocks and watches.  For his part, Griffith sometimes refused to take the bait, but on other occasions published pointed responses to the Simnet, accusing him of being an itinerant just as likely to steal watches as repair them.  Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette observed their feud for months.  When Simnet departed for New York, Griffith continued advertising, but returned to positive messages.

Such was the case in an advertisement that ran in the August 9, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette (though the notice was most likely misdated July 8).  Griffith announced “CLOCK and WATCHES, clean’d & repair’d as usual in the neatest compleatest and cheapest manner.”  Like other artisans, he emphasized quality, skill, and price.  He also made a nod toward customer service, stating that “his Customers and others may depend on being well used, with Punctuality.”  Griffith also mentioned that he was “now well settled in Business,” testifying to his experience without having to draw comparisons to a competitor with decades of experience who formerly mocked him in the public prints.  A year after Simnet removed to New York, many readers likely still remembered the war of words between the watchmakers that regularly played out in the newspaper.  Griffith likely experienced some relief at no longer being at the receiving end of Simnet’s harangues.  No longer debating whether he needed to respond to Simnet or how vociferously, Griffith ran advertisements that promoted his business without launching attacks on his competitors.  That may have suited him just fine, but readers lost out on one source of entertainment that formerly appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

July 14

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

Maryland Gazette (July 11, 1771).

“He further proposes to engage his Performance for One Year.”

In the summer of 1771, Thomas Morgan announced to “the Publick” that he “has opened a Shop” in Annapolis, “WHERE he intends to carry on the Business of Watch and Clock-making, in all its various Branches.”  In an advertisement that ran in the Maryland Gazette for five weeks, he assured “Gentlemen that will please to favour him with their Custom” that they would receive attentive and efficient service when they visited his shop.  Most artisans, as well as many other purveyors of goods and services, made similar promises about customer service in their newspaper advertisements.

In addition to making clocks and watches, Morgan also cleaned and repaired them.  To entice prospective patrons to give him a chance to demonstrate his skill, he proclaimed that he performed those services “in the best Manner.”  Furthermore, he offered a guarantee, a marketing strategy commonly adopted by watch- and clockmakers.  John Simnet, a watchmaker who set up shop in New Hampshire, in the late 1760s and migrated to New York in the early 1770s, declared in one of his advertisements that “Such Watches as have been repaired by me, if become foul, or require Alteration, may be clean’d, &c. gratis.”  Similarly, Morgan asserted that he would “engage his Performance for One Year, provided the Owner don’t abuse the same.”  Patrons who experienced difficulty could return their timepieces to his shop for additional repairs and cleaning free of charge, though Morgan assessed whether the problems originated with any sort of misuse on the part of owners.

While such guarantees protected the interests of clients, they also testified to the confidence watch- and clockmakers had in their abilities.  Artisans like Morgan and Simnet would not have offered guarantees if they anticipated that they would have to expend significant time and resources in fulfilling them.  Guarantees also communicated to customers that even though Morgan and Simnet would address any problems that arose, they strove to do the job right the first time.