July 2

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

New-York Journal (July 2, 1772).

“Mr. SIMNET boasts with Gratitude the abundant Favours of the Gentry.”

The cantankerous John Simnet, “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” inserted a colorful new advertisement in the July 2, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal.  He simultaneously promoted his own business, mending watches, while mocking James Yeoman, a competitor.  The two traded insults back and forth in a series of advertisements in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in 1772.  For many weeks, Yeoman advertised that he made and repaired “WATCHES, HORIZONTAL, REPEATING, or PLAIN; CLOCKS, ASTRONOMICAL, Musical or Plain,” prompting Simnet to replicate that headline in the headline of his own notice.  He then posed a question: “IS any ingenious Artificer (of Spirit) within 100 Miles, capable of making either, or a Thing in Imitation of either?”  The question alone carried the implication that Yeoman did not possess the skill or expertise to deliver on his promises.  Not satisfied to leave it at that, Simnet provided a snide answer to the question, suggesting that Yeoman might be able to make something that looked like and astronomical or musical clock, but of such poor quality that “‘tis not worth a Dollar.”  Even that would constitute “a wonderful Rarity.”

Simnet then shifted to discussing his own business, “boast[ing] with Gratitude the abundant Favours of the Gentry, &c. in Town and Country, which surpass Expectation.”  In other words, he claimed that discerning customers from near and far entrusted their watches to him for repairs.  He expressed just a little bit of surprise at how many hired him, while also explaining that serving so many customers “enable[d] him to continue to reduce the Price of mending Work.”  More customers meant that he could afford to lower his rates.  He made another dig at Yeoman and other competitors, describing prices as “very—very high.”  In contrast, he did repairs “at HALF Price.”  Simnet eventually made appeals related to his own business, but only after denigrating another watchmaker.  Most advertisers did not resort to such tactics.  Did Simnet have a difficult personality?  Or did he believe that he ultimately benefited from any sort of attention that he could draw to his business?

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:28:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 28, 1770).

“THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”

At first glance the advertisement did not look much different than others that offered books and pamphlets for sale: “Very lately published in the City of Philadelphia, and to be sold by the Printer hereof, two Discourses by a Layman of the Church of England.”  Hugh Gaine inserted that notice in the May 28, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He offered further description of the “Discourses,” stating that they contemplated “the two following Texts; Matt. xv. 15. 25, Then came she and worshipped him saying, Lord help me; Isaiah xlv. 15. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel the Saviour.”  Gaine likely drew directly from the title page in composing that portion of the advertisement.

That part of the advertisement could have stood alone.  It provided the same amount of information as others placed by printers and booksellers in colonial American newspapers.  It was in the second portion that the printer made a sales pitch that distinguished this particular advertisement from others for books and pamphlets that ran in the same issue and in other newspapers.  Gaine informed prospective readers that “THIS Pamphlet was published for the Benefit of Prisoners of Philadelphia Goal [Jail].”  Purchasing it, he suggested, was an act of charity and an expression of concern for the public good.  If that was not enough to influence readers to buy the pamphlet, then they could consider it an opportunity to practice philanthropy at a bargain.  Gaine asserted that even though the pamphlet sold for eight pence in Philadelphia, he charged only “the small Sum” of four pence for each copy.  He ran a half-price sale.

Though brief, Gaine’s advertisement contained two marketing strategies that the printer expected would resonate with prospective customers: a bargain price and an opportunity to aid the less fortunate.  That he sold the pamphlet also enhanced Gaine’s own reputation, demonstrating that he supported efforts to benefit the prisoners in Philadelphia. Eighteenth-century advertisements should not be dismissed as simple because they were short or lacked striking visual elements.  In a few short sentences, Gaine made a powerful case for purchasing the pamphlet.