April 23

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

New-York Journal (April 23, 1772).

“‘Tis our sole Wish, that the Gent who advertises in Astronomy will favour us with a Specimen.”

John Simnet, “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” seemed to relish nothing more than sparring with an adversary in the public prints.  For eighteenth months in 1769 and 1770, he participated in a feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  After relocating to New York, he initially published advertisements that did not denigrate his competitors, but eventually found himself embroiled in a war of words with James Yeoman.

As part of that altercation, Simnet updated an advertisement that first ran in the March 19, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal.  On April 23, he removed a lengthy paragraph that cast aspersion on Yeoman in favor of a shorter paragraph meant to do the same.  In both, he addressed insults that Yeoman delivered in his advertisements, insults that the rival watchmaker was so committed to circulating that he resubmitted the copy to run for additional weeks.  (The April 9 edition of the New-York Journal included a new version of Yeoman’s advertisement, the type reset with new line breaks and the addition of the issue number in which that iteration first appeared.)  Yeoman listed his credentials for repairing “CLOCKS, ASTRONOMICAL, Musical or Plain” before concluding his advertisement with an assertion that “it is the sole Wish of the said James Yeoman, to obtain Favours only proportioned to the Knowledge he has, and the Satisfaction he affords in his Business.”

In the updated version of his advertisement, Simnet mocked Yeoman by paraphrasing his rival’s words.  “‘Tis our sole Wish,” he declared, “that the Gent who advertises in Astronomy will favour us with a Specimen of his Qualifications in that Science, for if he can cause the Planets, Eclipses, Comets, &c. to move on the Table, ‘twill save the Charge of Telescopes.”  Simnet questioned Yeoman’s ability to repair astronomical clocks, challenging him to provide examples of his work for others to examine.  Earlier in the advertisement, he mentioned the harm done to clocks and watches by “Persons not qualified to practice in this Business.”  The new paragraph more explicitly leveled that accusation at Yeoman.  Simnet seemed to hit his stride in his advertisements when he treated competitors with condescension, a tactic rarely adopted in eighteenth-century advertising.

March 19

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

New-York Journal (March 19, 1772).

“The manufacture he governs is 100 miles from real.”

It was probably only a matter of time before John Simnet, “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” engaged in a war of words with a competitor in New York.  In late 1768, he migrated to New Hampshire and began placing advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Over the next eighteen months, Simnet developed a rivalry with Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a watchmaker who already resided there.  The two waged a feud in their advertisements in the public prints, though Simnet was often more aggressive.  In a series of newspaper notices, the newcomer ridiculed his rival’s skill and intelligence before deciding to relocate to New York in the summer of 1770.  He occasionally published advertisements in his new city, but focused on promoting his own business rather than denigrating competitors.

That changed in March 1772.  In fairness to Simnet, another watchmaker, James Yeoman, seemed to start the dispute when he published an advertisement that seemed to critique the “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London.”  In an advertisement that first ran in the March 12 edition of the New-York Journal, Yeoman listed his credentials, stating that he “received his Instructions in the Business from the ingenious Mr. Neale, (whose great Knowledge in Mechanics was well known),” and declared that he “can with Propriety declare himself a real Manufacturer, having had the Government of a large Manufactory from its Infancy to its Maturity, one Hundred Miles from London.”  Yeoman cast doubt on Simnet’s description of his occupation and work in London.  As a further insult, he declared, “The above is not the Result of Vanity or Parade, for, should it be doubted, proper Testimonial shall be produced to prove the Assertion.”  Yeoman suggested that Simnet’s advertisements consisted of nothing more than puffery.

Perhaps the argument started before anything appeared in print.  Simnet and Yeoman may have exchanged words in person before Yeoman took to the pages of the New-York Journal.  Once Yeoman published his advertisement, Simnet responded in the next issue, updating a notice that previously ran for four weeks.  He doubled the length of his notice, starting with an introduction that instructed that “Persons who write in public on this art, where faith is be reposed, should consult their ability, and have strict regard to – not pull down truth.”  Sinnet did not mention Yeoman by name, but it was clear that his description of “Hocus Pocus” addressed the content of Yeoman’s advertisement.  In ridiculing an unnamed rival, Simnet remarked that the “manufacture he governs is 100 miles from real,” alluding to Yeoman’s claim that he managed “a large Manufactory … one Hundred Miles from London.”  Simnet also quoted Yeoman’s proclamation that he repaired clocks and watches “as cheap as by any Person in this City” in his own notice.  “As cheap as any person in this city,–can we save the value of a bowl of punch, or a turkey by reading that? –alas–No.”  He further underscored that “words are wind, and declare the expresser full of emptiness” before concluding with a poem that cast aspersions on Neale, Yeoman’s mentor.

No matter who started the dispute, Simnet and Yeoman took their argument to the public prints.  Simnet once again had a rival to denigrate in his advertisements.  Purveyors of goods and services rarely resorted to negative advertising, usually preferring to promote their own businesses and largely ignoring their competitors.  They often stated that they possessed the greatest skill or offered the lowest prices, but rarely did they directly critique or even address others who provided the same goods and services.  That made Simnet and Yeoman’s advertisements all the more notable and perhaps even entertaining for readers.

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:3:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 3, 1770).

“… practised by very few in ENGLAND, and those esteemed the best Mechanicks in Europe.”

Like many other artisans who migrated to the colonies in the eighteenth-century, James Yeoman emphasized his origins on the other side of the Atlantic.  In an advertisement that ran in the September 3, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Yeoman described himself as a “CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER, FROM LONDON.”  It was not clear from the advertisement how long he had resided in New York and practiced his trade there.  He extended “his best Thanks to the Ladies and Gentlemen of this City for the past Favours” and noted that he “he still continues his Shop … in Hanover Square.”  He had been in New York long enough that he already had customers.  All the same, he asserted his connections to London, aiming to take advantage of the cachet often derived from the metropolitan center of the empire.  For artisans, that cachet was often twofold, an association of their wares with cosmopolitanism and an insinuation that they possessed greater skill due to superior training compared to their competitors from the colonies.  For instance, when it came to replacing the parts of an “ever so nice mechanical Construction,” Yeoman stated that he provided that service “as reasonable and neat as if done in London.”

In that regard, the appeals he made in his advertisement paralleled those made by other artisans “FROM LONDON.”  Yeoman, however, did not stop there.  He added a nota bene that further linked him to artisans on the other side of the Atlantic, noting that he would “undertake to make Clocks for Churches, or Gentlemens Turrets, on an entire new Plan, practised by very few in ENGLAND, and those esteemed the best Mechanicks in Europe.” At the same time that Yeoman was advertising in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, John Simnet, “original maker from London,” inserted advertisements in the New-York Journal.  Simnet did not expound on his connections to London in any greater detail, while Yeoman made greater effort in his attempt to guide prospective customers to the conclusion that he did indeed possess greater skill due to his origins.  If only the “best Mechanicks in Europe” were capable of making clocks according to this “new Plan,” then Yeoman must have been skilled indeed.  At least that was the impression he sought to give in the nota bene that concluded his advertisement.  Anxious that describing himself as “FROM LONDON” did not sufficiently distinguish him from other clock- and watchmakers, Yeoman made his case for consumers in New York.