July 30

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

South-Carolina Gazette (July 30, 1772).

“WHO … can doubt of the amazing Effects of that powerful and invaluable Medicine?”

A feud between Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, and Powell, Hughes, and Company, printers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, played out in the pages of their newspapers in the summer of 1772.  This feud did not concern their work as printers, nor did it appear in editorials.  Instead, they sniped at each other in advertisements hawking a popular patent medicine, “Dr. KEYSER’S famous PILLS.”

According to advertisements that frequently appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina, colonial printers often supplemented their revenues from newspaper subscriptions, advertising, job printing, books, and stationery by selling patent medicines.  Doing so required no specialized knowledge of the cures.  The printers merely needed to supply the directions that often accompanied the nostrums they peddled.  In addition, many consumers were already familiar with the most popular patent medicines, the eighteenth-century equivalent of over-the-counter medications.

Powell, Hughes, and Company ran a lengthy advertisement for “Dr. Keyser’s GENUINE Pills” in the July 9 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  They opened by stating that “numerous Trials have proved [the pills] to be the safest, best, mildest, and most agreeable Medicine ever discovered, for the Cure of the VENEREAL DISEASE, from the slightest Infection to the most inveterate State of that dreadful and almost unconquerable Disorder.”  They provided a long history of the medicine and its efficacy, concluding with a guarantee “to return the Money, if a complete Cure is not performed, provided the Patient adheres to the Manner of taking [the pills], as is given in the printed Directions.”

In the next issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, distributed on July 14, Crouch positioned his own extensive advertisement for “A CONSIGNMENT” of patent medicines on the front page.  The list of medicines began with “A FRESH PARCEL of Dr. KEYSER’s FAMOUS PILLS, With FULL DIRECTIONS for their Use in all CASES.”  Rather than publish the history of that medicine in his advertisement, Crouch alerted readers that they could read “A NARRATIVE of the Effects of Dr. KESYER’s MEDICINE, with an Account of its ANALYSIS, by the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences.”  He further elaborated, “It were needless to trouble the public with more Encomiums on the Effects of this Remedy.”

That statement, as well as competition for customers, raised the ire of Powell, Hughes, and Company.  Two days later, they updated their previous advertisement, inserting an introductory paragraph that directly addressed Crouch’s advertisement.  The partners, “far from thinking ‘it NEEDLESS to trouble the Public with more Encomiums of the Effects of this Remedy,’ look upon it as their Duty to insert the following Particulars of Keyser’s invaluable Medicine, in order that the Afflicted in this Province, may, in some Respects be made acquainted with the Virtues of the most efficacious Medicine ever discovered, and know where to apply for Relief, without the Danger of having other Pills imposed on them instead the GENUINE.”  Powell, Hughes, and Company implied that Crouch carried counterfeit pills before inserting their original advertisement in its entirety.

Crouch objected to that insinuation.  In the July 21 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he added a short note to his previous advertisement.  Crouch now stated that he carried “A FRESH PARCEL of Dr. KEYSER’s FAMOUS PILLS, (perhaps the only REAL ONES that can be had in the Province at present) With FULL DIRECTIONS for their Use in all CASES.”  He turned the accusation back to Powell, Hughes, and Company, suggesting that it was they, not he, who attempted to dupe the public with counterfeit and ineffective medicines.

That prompted Powell, Hughes, and Company to double down on their insistence that Crouch peddled counterfeits.  On July 23, they expanded the new introduction of their advertisement, reiterating the “NEEDLESS to trouble the Public” quotation and adding a note about “the Danger of having a spurious Sort imposed on them, notwithstanding any forcible ‘PERHAPS’ to the Contrary.”  Furthermore, they “assured” prospective customers that the pills they carried “were received from Mr. Keyser, therefore there can be no ‘Perhaps’ entertained of THEIR not being the GENUINE, unless it is by such who are naturally Obstinate and Conceited, without one good Quality to entitle them to be either.”

The back-and-forth continued in the next edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Crouch and his competitors carefully monitored what each said about the other in their new advertisements.  Crouch placed “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” on the first page of the July 28 edition, leading with a new advertisement for “Dr. KEYSER’s famous PILLS” limited to a single paragraph that focused primarily on the controversy that had been brewing for the past few weeks.  He once again stated that he sold the pills and declared that “he really believes (without forcible making Use of the Word “PERHAPS”) they are the only REAL ONES that can be had in the Province at present.”  For the first time, he named his competitors, noting that “it is asserted (with a Degree of Scurrility) to the Contrary, in the latter Part of the Introduction to an Advertisement for the Sale of Keyser’s Pills, by Powell, Hughes, & Co. in a Gazette of the 23d Instant, said to be printed by these People.

Crouch devoted the remainder of his advertisement to upbraiding his competitors and defending his reputation.  “In regard to the mean, rascally Insinuations against men, contained in said Introduction,” the printer stated, “I am happy in knowing that they do not, nor cannot in the least AFFECT me, especially as coming from such Hands.”  He then suggested, “I think it would have been much more to their Credit, to have endeavoured to convince the Public, in a Manner different from what they did, that my Surmise was wrong, respecting the Pills sold by them.”  He concluded with an assertion that “as to my good or bad Qualities, they are submitted to Candour and Impartiality of the respectable Public, whose Favours I shall always make my chief Study to merit; without fearing the Malice or Baseness of any Individual.”

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 28, 1772).

Powell, Hughes, and Company did not interpret that as an overture to make peace or change their tone.  On July 30, they began with the “New Advertisements” in the South-Carolina Gazette by reprinting Crouch’s advertisement “From the South-Carolina GAZETTE, AND Country Journal, of July 28, 1772.  [No. 348.]” in its entirety.  They made sure that readers could examine the original, though they also added “(t b c t f.)” to the final line, a notation that signaled to the compositor to continue inserting the advertisement until instructed to remove it.  In so doing, they implied that Crouch intended to publicly shame them indefinitely.  Yet they felt no remorse.  Instead, they implied that Crouch suffered from the effects of venereal disease himself, especially cognitive deterioration, composing his latest advertisement only after taking a pill he acquired from Powell, Hughes, and Company.  “WHO,” they asked, “after perusing the foregoing masterly Piece, produced by a SINGLE Dose of Dr. Keyser’s GENUINE Pills, sold by POWELL, HUSGHES, & Co. … can doubt of the amazing Effects of that powerful and invaluable Medicine?”  They further intimated that Crouch suffered from venereal disease by asking, “After so copious a Discharge by ONE Dose, what may not be expected from a SECOND, or should THAT Patient take a WHOLE BOX?”  Powell, Hughes, and Company snidely asserted that Crouch’s mental faculties were so far gone due to venereal disease that a single dose managed to give him only a few moments of clarity but he needed much more medicine to cease ranting and raving.

Powell, Hughes, and Company compounded the insult in a short paragraph that commented on Crouch’s grammar, further imputing that the effects of venereal disease made it difficult for him to string together coherent sentences.  “In the mean Time,” they proclaimed, “the Reader is desired to correct TWO egregious Blunder, by inserting FORCIBLY for forcible, and THOSE PEOPLE instead of these People.  The Word RASCALLY may stand, as ONE distinguishing Mark of the happy Talents and Abilities of the ingenious Author, as a —.”  Pettiness descended into other insults unfit to print in the newspaper.

These exchanges demonstrate that Crouch and Powell, Hughes, and Company did not peruse each other’s publications solely in search of news items to reprint in their own.  They also paid attention to advertisements, especially when their competitors marketed ancillary goods, like patent medicines, to supplement their revenues.  These printers found themselves in competition to sell “Dr. KEYSER’S famous PILLS.”  Rather than pursue their own marketing efforts, they chose to take umbrage at the strategies deployed by the other.  Many purveyors of patent medicines stated in their advertisements that they did not need to offer additional information because the public was already so familiar with the product.  Crouch may or may not have intended such an observation as a critique of Powell, Hughes, and Company’s advertisement.  Whatever his intention, that was enough to garner a response that further escalated into a feud between rival printers hawking patent medicines.

July 19

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

New-York Journal (July 16, 1772).

“WATCHES, HORIZONTAL, REPEATING, or PLAIN.”

By coincidence or by design, the compositor made the feud between rival watchmakers James Yeoman and John Simnet difficult to overlook in the July 16, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, placing their advertisements next to each other.  The two had been sparring in the public prints for months, but their advertisements did not previously appear in such close proximity.

Yeoman devised a distinctive headline for his advertisement: “WATCHES, / HORIZONTAL, REPEATING, or PLAIN; / CLOCKS, / ASTRONOMICAL, Musical or / Plain.”  He then asserted that “he can with Propriety declare himself a realManufacturer, having had the Government of a large Manufactory from its Infancy to its Maturity, one Hundred Miles from London.”  In so doing, he answered allegations that Simnet made about Yeoman’s lack of skill and experience.  Yeoman also proclaimed that he could supply “proper Testimonials … to prove the Assertion” that he managed a “large Manufactory” in England.  A notation on the final line, “27,” indicated that the advertisement first appeared in issue 1527 on April 9.

For his part, Simnet had a history of mocking his competitors.  In this instance, he appropriated Yeoman’s headline for his own advertisement: “WATCHES, / HORIZONTAL, REPEATING, or PLAIN; CLOCKS, / ASTRONOMICAL, MUSICAL.”  He then insinuated that Yeoman greatly exaggerated his abilities, asking “IS any ingenious Artificer (or Spirit) within 100 Miles, capable of making either, or a Thing in Imitation of either?”  The reference to “100 Miles” underscored that Simnet sought to twist the contents of Yeoman’s advertisement against his competitor.

By the time Simnet’s advertisement first appeared in the New-York Journal on July 2, readers were familiar with Yeoman’s notice, making it difficult to overlook the derision of the intentional replication and alteration of the original.  Positioning the notices next to each other served Simnet’s purposes, even for readers who quickly scanned the advertisements and missed the interplay between notices when they previously appeared on different pages.

June 29

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

Jun 29 - 6:29:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 29, 1770).

“A SQUIB—-To the Tune of Miss Dawson’s Hornpipe.”

In June 1770, watchmaker John Simnet was unrelenting in the criticism of rival Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.  For three consecutive weeks, he published advertisements featuring new insults in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  For nearly a year and a half the two watchmakers traded barbs in the public prints, beginning almost as soon as Simnet set up shop in the colony, but their exchanges had previously been intermittent.  Neither had previously directed so many advertisements at the other so quickly.  Simnet likely incurred additional fees in choosing this manner of pursuing his vendetta against Griffith.  Advertisers usually paid a flat fee for setting type and running notices for several weeks; inserting a notice once and replacing it with a different advertisement the following week created more work in the printing office.  Auctioneers tended to run new advertisements with details about upcoming sales every week, but other purveyors of goods and services usually ran their advertisements for multiple weeks.

Simnet commenced this series of advertisements on June 15 with a two-part notice that first compared Griffith to a rat and then published one of his bills for the public to determine whether Griffith charged fair prices.  In another two-part advertisement on June 22, Simnet reiterated the rat metaphor and supplemented it with a poem that denigrated both Griffith’s character and skills as a watchmaker.  The advertisement in the June 29 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazetteagain had two parts.  The first was fairly innocuous, deploying strategies that any watchmaker might have incorporated into an advertisement.  It briefly stated, “WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR: Clean’d for thos who desire them done cheap, for a Pistereen, and Repairs in Proportion.  By J. SIMNET: Parade.”  It was in the second portion, “A SQUIB—-To the Tune of Miss Dawson’s Hornpipe,” that Simnet attacked Griffith.  That poem was not nearly as clever as the one Simnet published the previous week.  It mocked Griffith’s appearance and “foolish Face,” but did not mention his character nor the quality of his work.  Yet it may have been all the more memorable as a means of repeatedly demeaning Griffith since Simnet provided instructions for setting it to music.  Reader could sing or hum a bit to themselves, intentionally to see how Simnet’s lyrics fit the tune and unintentionally if the music got stuck in their heads.  Rather than create an advertising jingle that made his own business more memorable, Simnet attempted to use music in a manner that encouraged the community of readers to repeatedly belittle his competitor.

June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:22:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 22, 1770).

“His Clocks with both Hands gives the Lye,
His Tongue ne’er speaks the Truth.”

After placing an advertisement in which he compared his rival to a rat, watchmaker John Simnet did not bother to wait for a response from Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith before escalating their feud once again.  In the June 15, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Simnet placed an advertisement with two parts.  The first portion included the rat metaphor and the second portion a copy of a bill that Griffith issued to one of his customers.  Simnet called on “Judges” to insect the watch and assess whether the bill was reasonable before Griffith’s customer paid for the repairs and reclaimed his watch.

In the next edition, Simnet once again placed an advertisement in two parts.  The first reiterated the rat metaphor and a reference to Griffith as a “rough Clockmaker.”  The second portion was new; Simnet found new ways to denigrate Griffith in a short poem:

Near Portsmouth Stocks SHEEP G—ffi—h lives
(A Turkey legged Youth,)
His Clocks with both Hands gives the Lye,
His Tongue ne’er speaks the Truth,
Stand off, ye Pettyfogging Knaves;
This can you all out do,
Long NAT, can Filch us of our Time;
And of our Money too.

Although the poem was no great work of literature, it did include a couple of clever turns of phrase that simultaneously invoked measuring time and deficiencies in both Griffith’s character and skills as a watchmaker.  According to Simnet, Griffith’s clocks did not keep accurate time, yet another way that the supposed liar deceived his clients; nobody could expect Griffith to deliver the truth via any means, not in conversation nor on the dial of his clocks.  Simnet also accused Griffith of stealing from his clients in multiple ways.  He stole their money when demanding payment for inferior work.  He also stole their time in more than one fashion, through depriving them of knowing the correct time and also through wasting their time in dealing with him at all.

For his part, Griffith had not yet submitted a new advertisement for publication in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Instead, his notice that called Simnet a mountebank and a novice who “cruely butchered” watches ran once again.  Throughout their feud in the public prints, Griffith had been the more measured in his approach.

In the era of the imperial crisis that ultimately became the American Revolution, some colonists expressed their political views in advertisements that promoted their business endeavors.  By paying to insert their notices in newspapers, they gained some level of editorial authority.  Simnet and Griffith, however, did not leverage that authority to address current events.  Instead, they used it to engage in a dispute that repeatedly unfolded before the eyes of readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Purchasing advertising space allowed colonists to express their views and have conversations … or engage in arguments … seemingly with little editorial intervention from the printers.

June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:15:1770 New Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 15, 1770).

“If Rats could speak, they would declare their Sentiments.”

As spring turned to summer in 1770, the rivalry between watchmakers John Simnet and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith got even more heated.  In the June 8 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Griffith escalated their feud by publishing an advertisement calling Simnet a mountebank as well as a novice and stranger to the trade.  He had shown some restraint in taking several weeks to respond to an earlier advertisement in which Simnet had disparaged Griffith’s skill and stated that the watches he returned to customers “never had been properly repaired.”  Simnet, usually the more aggressive of the two competitors, published his response in the next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, once again escalating the war of words.

In that advertisement, Simnet did not promote his own proficiency but instead leveled two attacks at Griffith.  In the first, he compared Griffith to a rat scrounging for survival and expecting others to provide the sustenance he needed for no other reason that he needed it.  “[I]f Rats could speak,” Simnet proclaimed, “they would declare their Sentiments, say they must eat, and we live by gnawing down what you endeavour to rear.”  Simnet then declared that he tolerated his rival, “this Creature … with few Cloaths to cover his Flesh, and but very little Flesh to cover his Bones.”  In this metaphor, Griffith was not even a good rat who managed “to eat the Fruits of others Labour.”  All the same, Siment warned others to “take care” in their dealings with his competitor.

To that point in the advertisement, Simnet had not yet named Griffith, though readers of the New-Hampshire Gazettewould have been very familiar with the enmity the two watchmakers felt for each other.  The compositor also helped readers make the connection by once again placing the two advertisements one after another.  In the previous issue Simnet’s earlier advertisement came first, followed immediately by Griffith’s response.  In the June 15 edition, Griffith’s advertisement appeared once again, this time with a response from Griffith underneath it so readers moved directly from to the other.

In making his second attack, Simnet did name the “rough Clockmaker” that readers already knew Simnet compared to a rat.”  Simnet published a “Copy of a Bill by Nath’l. Sheaff Griffith, on Mr. Samuel Pickering of Greenland, for repairing his Watch.”  Simnet asserted that “Mr. Pickering desires the Watch may be inspected by Judges, before he pays for it,” but “Griffith refuses, and now keeps it in his Possession.”  Whatever the accuracy of that account, it suggested to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that Griffith did not want his lack of skill exposed to even greater scrutiny.  To that end, he was in a standoff with a customer over the price he charged for repairing a watch.  According to Simnet, Griffith expected Pickering to pay £1.4.11 without independent confirmation that he made appropriate repairs.  He demanded that Pickering pay before he would return the watch.  By publicizing that Pickering wished for “Judges” to examine Griffith’s work as well as the charges that appeared on the bill, Simnet further escalated his own dispute with the rival watchmaker by encouraging others to intervene.

Did this help or hurt Simnet in an era when advertisers rarely mentioned their competitors by name?  It was bold enough that Simnet declared that “Most of those who profess this Employ in this Country, are rough Clockmakers.”  Most artisans emphasized their own skill, stating that they were as proficient or better than others who followed their trade, but they usually did not denigrate the work performed by others as a means of enhancing their own status.  Ever since he arrived in New Hampshire after pursuing his trade for more than two decades in London, Simnet had disparaged local clock- and watchmakers, starting with general comments and eventually targeting Griffith in particular.  Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette may have considered the ongoing feud between Simnet and Griffith amusing, but was it effective or ultimately too unseemly at a time when advertisements did not often incorporate insults and barbs directed at the competition?  The true beneficiary of this series of advertisements may very well have been the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette who earned additional revenues every time that Griffith or Simnet chose to publish a new volley.

June 8

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

Jun 8 - 7:8:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 8, 1770).

“He is as great a Watch-Maker as he is a Mountebank.”

The feud between watchmakers Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith and John Simnet had been playing out in the New-Hampshire Gazette for more than a year when Griffith published a new advertisement in the June 8, 1770, edition.  That advertisement further escalated the conflict, though Griffith reacted to a particularly antagonistic advertisement that Simnet first published three weeks earlier.  Throughout most of their bickering in the public prints, the watchmakers engaged in innuendo but usually did not name each other.  On May 18, however, Simnet asserted that “All who please to apply, may depend on being faithfully served, with such Watches as Mr. Nathaniel Sheaffe Griffith can make, and mending in general as perform’d by that Genius, without any Charge.”  In other words, Simnet would fix for free any watches that his competitor further damaged in the process of attempting to repair them.  That advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette for several weeks.

In response, Simnet no longer felt compelled not to name his rival.  In his next advertisement he informed readers that he provided his services “at a much cheaper rate than the original Simnet, altho’ he has taken such repeated pains to inform the publick of his great skill and accuracy.”  Griffith alluded to the series of advertisements Simnet published since arriving in the colony, but then he continued with a description that drew on encounters with Simnet beyond the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Griffith asserted that Simnet went about “vainly flattering himself that the variety of his dress may induce people to believe he is as great a Watch-Maker as he is a Mountebank.”  Yet Simnet was a charlatan in all things, according to Griffith, “inimitable in a Branch” of watchmaking “that he is a Novice and a Stranger to,” despite his pretensions.

As a further insult, Griffith copies the format of Simnet’s most recent advertisement, appending a nota bene in which he delivered another scalding critique in the form of a spurious compliment.  “I desire to return my thanks to Simnet, Watch Maker, from London,” Griffith proclaimed, “for his good custom for the many Watches I mend and repair after they have been cruely butchered by him.”  Griffith reversed the accusation Simnet made in his advertisement, suggesting that he actually had to repair those watches that Simnet damaged through his incompetence.  Griffith likely intended that claim to further enrage his rival.  He added a parting blow: “For after he is paid his price, I have mine paid the more generous.”  Simnet’s customers, Griffith contended, were so frustrated that they gratefully paid Griffith to undo the damage done by the “Watch Maker, from London.”

Once again, the compositor recognized a good story, conveniently placing the two advertisements one after the other.  Readers perused Griffith’s advertisements first and then immediately saw Griffith’s rejoinder.  Even for those who did not require the services of either watchmaker, this spectacle likely provided entertainment as the war of words continued to escalate in the public prints.

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 18, 1770).

“That there may be no Cause of a single Complaint, any Person may have any Alteration without further Expence.”

The feud continued!  For more than a year watchmakers Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith and John Simnet traded barbs in the advertisements they placed in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The rivalry ran almost as soon as Simnet arrived in the colony, having previously spent more than two decades as a watchmaker in London.  The newcomer had been quiet for a few months, but in the middle of May 1770 he placed an explosive new advertisement.  Both Simnet and Griffith usually relied on innuendo, rarely naming their competition but instead making pointed comments that readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have known how to interpret after being exposed to the series of advertisements the two watchmakers inserted in the public prints.  In his newest advertisement, however, Simnet began with innuendo and then escalated his attack by naming Griffith in a nota bene at the conclusion.

Simnet sarcastically informed prospective customers … and the entire readership of the New-Hampshire Gazette … that “All who please to apply, may depend on being faithfully and punctually served, with such Watches as Mr. Nathaniel Sheaffe Griffith can make, and mending in general as perform’d by that Genius, without any Charge, and welcome.”  In other words, anyone who bought a watch or had it repaired by Griffith would certainly discover it was defective.  Rather than rely on the work of “that Genius,” they should instead bring their watches to Simnet, who would fix the problems caused by Simnet and do it for free.  That was the consolation he could provide to those who had been duped by that charlatan Griffith.

Such accusations built on the insinuations that appeared earlier in the advertisement.  Simnet proclaimed “that most of the WA[T]CHES he has been employed on, had before pass’d through the Hands of the best Performers hereabouts” and even though they had been subjected to such care still “they were in bad Condition, and never had been properly repaired.”  Even in recognizing the supposed “best Performers hereabout,” Simnet denigrated Griffith’s skill.  He went on to say that prior repairs had not been worth the money charged, especially since the “best Performers” used inferior materials.  Simnet then offered to make “any Alteration without further Expence” to benefit customers who had previously been the victims of watchmakers who did not possess his expertise.  He had thoroughly made his point by then; the nota bene was an even saucier addition.

The compositor for the New-Hampshire Gazette decided to have some fun with the placement of Simnet’s advertisement, inserting it immediately below Griffith’s most recent notice.  Although Griffith pledged that his clients would be served “cheaper than by any other Watchmaker,” he had otherwise ignored Simnet.  His competitor’s newest advertisement revived the rivalry, likely to the amusement of the compositor and many readers.

January 12

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

Jan 12 1770 - 1:12:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 12, 1770).

“SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country.”

Watchmaker John Simnet returned to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette early in 1770, placing a short advertisement in the January 12 edition. Brief but bold, Simnet’s newest notice proclaimed, “WATCHES. SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country. —- Parade, PORTSMOUTH.” Simnet reminded readers of the services he provided, but left it to them to fill in the details.

Considered alone, this advertisement may not seem particularly interesting. Simnet did boast of his skill, declaring himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” but he did not do much else to promote his business and attract clients … or so it would seem at a glance. This advertisement, however, must be considered in the larger context of an advertising campaign that Simnet had waged for the past year and his ongoing feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been very familiar with both Simnet’s previous advertisements, those placed by Griffith in response, and the professional (and seemingly even personal) animosity between the two watchmakers. That animosity likely manifested itself in interactions beyond the public prints, so colonists did not necessarily need to read all of the advertisements to know that Simnet and Griffith did not get along and regularly denigrated each other.

Simnet’s assertion that he was the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country” was more than bravado about his skill. It was also an insult intentionally directed at Griffith. Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire after more than two decades working as a watchmaker in London. He received his training and served clients in the largest city in the empire. He frequently suggested that other watchmakers, especially Griffith, could not match his skill, insinuating that Griffith often did more harm than good when tasked with repairing clocks and watches. In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant who was just as likely to steal watches from the residents of Portsmouth as repair them.

Simnet’s advertisement communicated far more than its eleven words might suggest to casual readers unfamiliar with his prior marketing efforts. The watchmaker did more than invite prospective clients to hire his services; he also perpetuated a feud with a rival by trumpeting his own skill and, by implication, demeaning the abilities of his primary competitor.

December 28

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

Dec 28 - 12:28:1769 Advert 1 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (December 28, 1769).

Advertisement in Reply to Mr. Samuel Anthony’s, inserted in the first Page of this Paper.”

It began as an advertisement concerning “a Negro Man named Cuffe, about 22 years of Age” who made his escape from Edward Bardin. That advertisement followed a standard format, offering a physical description of Cuffe, listing the clothes he wore when he departed, offering a reward for his capture and return, and warning “Masters of Vessels” and others against “harbouring, concealing or carrying off” Cuffe. Bardin’s advertisement generated a response that called into question whether Cuffe actually escaped from Bardin. Samuel Anthony inserted a notice in the December 25, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette to advise the public that Isaac Winslow had sold Cuffe to him and, in turn, Anthony had sold Cuffe to James Lloyd. Anthony suggested that Cuffe had not escaped from Bardin, advising that “All Persons are therefore hereby caution’d against taking up said Negro as they may depend on being prosecuted therefor by Dr. Lloyd, who purchas’d him fairly, and is determined to defend his Right to him by Law against all Persons whatever.” That same advertisement included details of several transactions that had transferred Cuffe from one enslaver to another.[1]

Dec 28 - 12:28:1769 Advert 2 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (December 28, 1769).

Three days later, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter carried both advertisements. The compositor helpfully placed them one after another on the front page, inserting a heading to inform readers that Anthony’s notice was a “NOTIFICATION in Answer to the above ADVERTISEMENT.” Bardin had apparently seen Anthony’s advertisement in the Boston-Gazette. He penned a response on December 27, in time for it to appear in the December 28 edition of the Weekly News-Letter, but not early enough for it to run alongside the other advertisements. Instead, the compositor once again devised a header, this one labeling Bardin’s notice as an “Advertisement in Reply to Mr. Samuel Anthony’s, inserted in the first Page of this Paper.” This new addition to the feud between Bardin and Anthony filled as much space as the other two notices combined, going into even more detail about the agreements Bardin, Anthony, Winslow, and Lloyd made concerning Cuffe. Bardin concluded by asserting, “[A]s I am threatned by Doctor Lloyd to be sued to the uttermost of the Law if I dare or any one else to touch the said Negro, as he claims him as his Property, I am determined for to know by the Law who has the best Right to him,” excluding the possibility that Cuffe had the “best Right” to himself.

This series of advertisements suggests that Cuffe never “RAN-away” from Bardin. Instead, Bardin advertised that Cuffe escaped and offered a reward for his capture and return as a ploy for getting him back from others who claimed that they now rightfully held him in bondage. The subsequent advertisements did not report that Cuffe had escaped amid all the confusion over whom “has the best Right to him.” Bardin adapted the standard runaway advertisement to suit other purposes.

**********

[1] Bardin and Anthony both described Cuffe as a “Servant,” but neither provided other details that identified him as an indentured servant rather than an enslaved man. For instance, they both provided extensive details about the agreements they negotiated concerning Cuffe, but neither mentioned how much time remained of his indenture. Although Black men, women, and children were sometimes indentured rather than enslaved in colonial New England, in this instance it appears that Bardin and Anthony conflated the words “servant” and “slave” in describing Cuffe.

October 27

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

Oct 27 - 10:27:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 27, 1769).

“Any Clock or Watch, sent to said Griffith, will be speedily refitted.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a “CLOCK and WATCH MAKER” from the colonies, and John Simnet, a “LONDON WATCH MAKER” who had migrated to Portsmouth nearly a year earlier, both placed advertisements in the October 27, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Neither advertisement ran for the first time; both appeared sporadically over the course of several weeks that fall. The rival watchmakers each attempted to keep their name visible to the general public and, especially, prospective customers.

The series of notices that Griffith and Simnet inserted in the New-Hampshire Gazette tell a fairly unique story about advertising in early America. Most advertisers sought to attract customers to maintain or even increase their own share of a crowded market. Most advertisers, however, did not deploy advertising as a means of depriving specific rivals of their own ability to participate in the marketplace. On the other hand, Griffith and Simnet almost certainly saw advertising as a zero sum game; any benefit that accrued to one necessarily occurred to the detriment of the other.

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette watched their feud unfold over the course of many months. Even though the watchmakers did not mention each other by name, their advertisements often included very pointed references that made clear their disdain for the competition. Their advertisements sometimes took a remarkably adversarial tone as Griffith and Simnet each critiqued and denigrated both the skill and the character of their rival. Even though neither advertisement in the October 27 edition leveled any accusations against the other watchmaker, readers likely would have found it impossible to peruse those notices without taking into consideration the usual enmity that motivated the two men.

Modern advertising frequently plays on unspoken rivalries. Commercials for fast food franchises and brands of soda, for instance, often rely on consumers taking into account the competition, even without making any direct reference to that competition. Griffith and Simnet developed a similar strategy in the eighteenth century. Promoting their own businesses included efforts to reduce the market share of their rival, sometimes launched explicitly but other times implicitly incorporated into their marketing.