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