What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WATCHES justly valued for those who are about to buy, or swop elsewhere.”
John Simnet, who billed himself as the “only regular London watch-maker here,” regularly advertised in the newspapers published in New York. As November 1773 came to a close, he inserted notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the New-York Journal, and Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer. Over the years, he gained a reputation for his cantankerous advertisements in which he feuded with his competitors. Such aggressive strategies did not account for the only appeals that the watchmaker made to the public. In many of his advertisements, he listed his prices, demonstrating the deals available at his workshop to prospective clients who did some comparison shopping. Simnet asserted, for instance, that he performed “every particular in repairing [watches] at HALF the price charg’d by others.” Furthermore, he “will keep them in proper order in future, gratis,” a valuable service for his customers. He also did appraisals: “WATCHES justly valued for those who are about to buy, or swop elsewhere.”
Those appeals, along with his colorful personality, helped to distinguish Simnet’s advertisements from those placed by other watchmakers. In the November 25 edition of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, another aspect of his advertisement attracted attention. The watchmaker joined the ranks of advertisers who decided to have a decorative border enclose his notice. In recent months, that became a style associated with New York’s newest newspaper. Simnet ran the same copy that appeared in the New-York Journal on the same day and a few days earlier in the November 22 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but only his notice in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer featured a border. Simnet joined six other advertisers who opted for that visual element to enhance their notices and attract the attention of readers. Like most other advertisers, he devised the copy on his own, but entrusted the format to the compositors in each printing office. In this case, however, he apparently made a request to incorporate a border after observing so many other advertisements in that newspaper receive that treatment. Considering how much Simnet craved attention, arguably even more than most advertisers, readers familiar with his reputation and his previous notices may have been surprised that it took him so long to run an advertisement with a visual element gaining in popularity.