December 5

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

New-York Journal (December 5, 1771).

“JOHN SIMNET, of London, WATCH-FINISHER.”

Nearly six months had passed since John Simnet last placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal, but he concluded the year by placing his notice in every issue published in December 1771.  Simnet, a veteran watchmaker with decades of experience working in shops in London, did not advertise in any of the newspapers published in New York nearly as often as he had advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette when he ran a shop in Portsmouth for about eighteen months in 1769 and 1770.  A rivalry with another watchmaker, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, played an important part in Simnet aggressively taking to the public prints, frequently denigrating his competitor.  Readers may have been amused by the feud between Griffith and Simnet that played out before their eyes in the New-Hampshire Gazette, though Simnet may have alienated as many prospective customers as he gained since his advertisements were often significantly more mean-spirited than those placed by Griffith.

Simnet did not even mention his time in Portsmouth after he relocated from the smaller town to the bustling port of New York.  He presented himself as “JOHN SIMNET, of London, WATCH-FINISHER,” choosing not to acknowledge that he passed through New Hampshire.  He adopted a more evenhanded tone in his advertisements in the New-York Journal, though he could not resist the temptation to make a blanket statement about “Watch-Butchers” who further damaged rather than repaired watches customers entrusted to their care when he advertised in the summer of 1771.  He eschewed such attacks when he once again ran notices in December.  He trumpeted, however, that he was the “only general Manufacturer in this Country,” dismissing the training, skill, and experience of his competitors.  Despite that interlude near the end of his advertisement, Simnet focused most of his effort on positive appeals.  He emphasized price, addressing his notice “to “those who desire to preserve their Money and their WATCHES, And avoid unnecessary Expence.”  He listed prices for some of his services, reporting that he performed “All other Repairs in Proportion, at half what is usually charged.”  The watchmaker also declared that he completed difficult jobs quickly.  Simnet may have learned that such strategies served him better than the antagonistic approach he took to marketing during the time he resided in New Hampshire.

May 2

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

May 2 - 5:2:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 2, 1767).

“They hope to accommodate their Customers with whatever they may want.”

Thompson and Arnold frequently advertised in the Providence Gazette. At a glance, their notices resembled those placed by shopkeepers in newspapers throughout the colonies, but Thompson and Arnold often added at least one additional element to distinguish their marketing from the efforts of their competitors.

Consider today’s advertisement. It made several of the standard appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements for consumer goods and services: price (“at the cheapest Rate”), choice (an “Assortment of English and India Goods”), current fashions (the “Assortment” was “new and fresh”), and connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire (“imported in the last Ships from LONDON”). To underscore the extent of consumer choice, Thompson and Arnold listed dozens of items in a dense paragraph. Like other retailers, they packed a variety of appeals into a relatively short advertisement.

Most of their counterparts incorporated one or more of these strategies but did little to elaborate on them. Thompson and Arnold, on the other hand, supplemented the formulaic format and language of these appeals with an animated nota bene, an entire paragraph that expanded on their low prices and the extensive choices they presented to customers. The shopkeepers boasted that they could “accommodate their Customers with whatever they may want” not only because they stocked so much merchandise but also because their inventory was superior to what could be found anywhere else in Providence. Their customers benefited from the convenience of what has become known as one-stop shopping; Thompson and Arnold had “a greater variety, and a larger quantity of goods than can be found in any one store in this town.” Potential customers did not need to worry about popular or inexpensive items selling out!

Unlike other shopkeepers that mentioned prices once at the beginning of an advertisement or perhaps again at the end, Thompson and Arnold doubled down on their low prices in their nota bene. They beat the prices they charged in the past (“they will now sell their goods much cheaper than they have yet sold”), but they also undersold their competitors (“cheaper than can be bought elsewhere in this town”).

Given that some advertisements lingered in colonial newspapers for weeks or months, Thompson and Arnold also affixed a date (“May 2, 1767,” the date of that issue of the Providence Gazette) so readers and potential customers would be aware of the timeliness of the appeals they made.

On their own, the introduction and list of goods in Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement replicated many other advertisement for consumer goods published in the 1760s, advancing multiple appeals to potential customers but each of them briefly. To garner additional attention and generate more business, Thompson and Arnold inserted an additional paragraph elaborating on two of those appeals, price and choice.