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