July 14

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

Jul 14 - New-Hampshire Gazette Jul 14
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 14, 1769).

“Finisher to Mr. GRAY and Mr. ELLICOT, WATCH-MAKERS to his late and present MAJESTY.”

John Simnet was an industrious advertiser, perhaps in part due to competition with a rival watchmaker in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Their competition descended into a feud that took place via their advertisements in the public prints in 1769. Simnet regularly published new advertisements rather than instructing the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to once again insert notices that previously appeared in the pages of their newspaper. As a result, the copy in Simnet’s advertisements featured greater variation than readers encountered in notices placed by others who regularly advertised consumer goods and services. His new advertisements often contained variations on appeals he previously presented to prospective clients and new information intended to entice those not yet convinced by what they already knew about the watchmaker and his business.

Such was the case for an advertisement in the July 14, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Simnet reiterated a promise that he had previously presented: “Such Watches as have been repaired by me, if become foul, or require Alteration, may be clean’d, &c. gratis.” In other words, Simnet offered a guarantee for his work and pledged free service and maintenance if he did not manage to completely fix the problem the first time. As for new appeals to prospective clients, the watchmaker emphasized convenience by providing a timetable for his services: “WATCHES Clean’d in thirty Minutes—Repair’d in six Hours.” Customers did not even need to part with their watches overnight. That same week he announced this timetable in an advertisement in the Essex Gazette, but he had not previously discussed the amount of time necessary to make repairs except to state that he did his work “expeditiously.” Finally, Simnet expanded on an appeal that he deployed in earlier advertisements. He had noted his twenty-five years of experience in London, but in his newest advertisement he associated himself with prominent watchmakers, declaring that he had worked as “Finisher and Manufacturer to all of NOTE” in the watchmaking trade in England and Ireland. Most significantly, Simnet proclaimed that he had previously been employed as “Finisher to Mr. GRAY and Mr. ELLICOT, WATCH-MAKERS to his late and present MAJESTY.” He had worked on watches for George II and George III. Simnet did not name his local rival in this advertisement, but the competition almost certainly could not claim to have served such eminent clients! Supplying this additional information enhanced the reputation Simnet cultivated throughout his advertising campaign.

July 11

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

Jul 11 - 7:11:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 11, 1769).

“WATCHES CLEANED in 30 Minutes.”

John Simnet, a watchmaker from London, made his presence in Portsmouth known in 1769 with a series of advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Initially he inserted notices with the intention of cultivating his clientele, but over the course of several months he found himself engaged in a public feud with Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a local watchmaker who took exception to Simnet intruding in his territory. For the most part, Simnet confined his advertisements to the New-Hampshire Gazette, though shortly after his arrival in New England he had placed one notice in the Boston Weekly News-Letter in an attempt to draw on that market. To that end, he offered to “pay the Carriage to and fro” for clients in Boston who sent their watches to him in Portsmouth via “Mr. Noble’s Stage.” In the summer of 1769, Simnet made another attempt to enlarge his market by placing an advertisement in the Essex Gazette.

Simnet advanced many of the same appeals that he had consistently deployed in his previous notices, but he also supplied new information for prospective customers. To establish his credentials, he proclaimed that he previously worked as “Finisher to Mr. Tompion, Graham, Storey, Toulmin; and every other Maker (of Note) in London.” Simnet had not previously mentioned the names of his former associates, only noted that he had followed his occupation in London for some time before migrating to New England. He likely did not expect colonists to recognize all of the watchmakers he listed, but did intend to impress them with the assertion that he had worked alongside and been entrusted by the most prominent watchmakers in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. As a newcomer in New England, Simnet was largely unfamiliar to his prospective customers, making it all the more necessary to convince them of the reputation he had previously established in London.

In addition, Simnett made several other appeals. He promised convenience and quality, pledging to clean watches in thirty minutes and “perfectly” repair them in six hours. Prospective customers would not have to part with their watches for days or weeks while he worked on them. He set prices that matched those charged in London, but also offered a guarantee. When he promised “no future Expence (Accidents excepted),” prospective customers understood that he would perform further repairs for free if he did not successfully fix watches the first time. This deal, however, applied only to recurring problems that Simnet did not manage to resolve, not to new issues caused by “Accidents” or wear and tear. Finally, Simnet declared, “Security deposited in Hand for Watches, if required.” In other words, he provided collateral of some sort when customers entrusted him with their watches. This had not been part of Simnet’s first advertisements, but after his rival Griffith accused him of stealing watches Simnet began incorporating such assurances into his marketing efforts.

In a short advertisement, Simnet advanced multiple appeals to convince prospective customers to hire him to clean and repair their watches. He underscored his own skill and experience by trumpeting the names of prominent watchmakers in London who had previously employed him. He also emphasized convenience, quality, and price while offering two types of guarantees. For the first, he made additional repairs for free if his initial efforts were not successful. For the second, he supplied collateral when accepting watches for repair. Simnet included some of the most common appeals that appeared in advertisement placed by artisans in eighteenth-century America, yet he also adapted his notice to address his own recent experiences with a rival who attempted to undermine his business.

June 2

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

Jun 2 - 6:2:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 2, 1769)

“SIMNET, Chief WATCHMAKER in AMERICA.”

It was another volley in an ongoing feud that was taking place in the advertisements published in the New-Hampshire Gazette in the spring of 1769. John Simnet proclaimed himself the “Chief WATCHMAKER in AMERICA,” the sort of hyperbole intended to promote his own skills and attract prospective customers, but also designed to taunt his rival, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.

Simnet was a relative newcomer in Portsmouth, having arrived earlier in the year. Griffith quickly determined that he did not appreciate Simnet intruding on his turf and competing for local customers. To protect his share of the market, he published advertisements that disparaged the upstart. In response, Simnet, who had been trained in London and pursued his occupation there for more than two decades, mocked Griffith for not having acquired the same skills. Griffith accused Simnet of being an itinerant who stole watches from his clients. Simnet claimed that Griffith further damaged watches put in his care, ultimately making it necessary for their owners to take the course of action they should have chosen from the start and deliver their watches to Simnet for more competent attention. Throughout all of this, neither watchmaker named his rival, but readers could hardly mistake the target of each allegation in the New-Hampshire Gazette, especially since the printers often positioned their advertisements side-by-side or one after the other.

In this salvo, Simnet offered a guarantee to prospective clients, pledging the “Owner [was] insur’d from future expence, (Accidents excepted).” In other words, Simnet confidently stood by his work, but he would also make additional repairs if he did not manage to completely resolve defects after an initial consultation. Simultaneously, he made a dig at Griffith, denigrating his rival once again without naming him. The unspoken contrast between Simnet as “Chief WATCHMAKER in AMERICA” and Griffith as a backwater dolt infused the advertisement for any reader who had followed the escalating feud over the past several months. As with several previous advertisements, this short notice may have looked rather bland at first glance, but when considered in the context of the advertising campaigns waged by both watchmakers it conveyed much more meaning, despite its brevity.

May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 19, 1769)

“WATCHES PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D.”

At a glance, two advertisements from watchmakers that appeared one after the other in the May 19, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette appear fairly straightforward, especially considering their brevity. In the first, John Simnet simply announced, “WATCHES PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D by SIMNET, Watch-Finisher, and Manufacturer of London and Dublin, Opposite Mr. STAVERS’s TAVERN, Portsmouth.” Simnet briefly promoted his credentials, implying that he had obtained both experience and expertise practicing his trade in two of the largest cities in the empire. His competitor’s advertisement was not much longer: “N. Sheafe Griffith, CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER, At his Shop opposite Dr. Langdon’s Meeting-House, WILL speedily and properly repair and rectify any CLOCKS or WATCHED out of Order, in the best and cheapest Manner. Any Clock or Watch sent to said Griffith, will be speedily re-fitted and expeditiously returned.” Griffith went into slightly more detail, emphasizing convenience, quality, and price.

Although both advertisements looked concise on the page, neither advertiser likely expected that readers would consider only the appeals presented to them in the May 19 issue. Both advertisements were part of more extensive campaigns launched by both watchmakers as they engaged in a bitter feud. Drawing on his origins on the other side of the Atlantic, Simnet positioned himself as the superior watchmaker. He had previously proclaimed that Griffith was incompetent. He suggested that his rival actually damaged watches brought to him for repairs, ultimately making it necessary to incur additional expenses to have the job done right by Simnet. For his part, Griffith expressed skepticism of the newcomer, labeling him an itinerant not to be trusted. Griffith implied that Simnet likely peddled stolen goods, so anyone who contracted his services should be wary about their watches potentially going missing. Neither actually named the other, but it was apparent from the copy in their advertisements and their proximity on the page that they meant each other when they catalogued the various shortcomings of their competition.

The latest volley appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette just two weeks earlier. Regular readers would have been aware of the animosity between the two watchmakers. Their disagreement may not have been confined to the public prints; in a town the size of Portsmouth, their disdain for each other could have been the subject of discussion and gossip. Reading their brief advertisements in the May 19 issue without taking into account additional context yields a truncated understanding of the appeals they presented to prospective customers and, more generally, the entire community. Though brief, each advertisement was laden with much more meaning than might appear to casual observers. They must be considered alongside other notices that both watchmakers inserted in the public prints.

May 5

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

May 5 - 5:5:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 5, 1769).

“Mends and cleans Watches, in as neat a Manner as any Watch-Finisher in Town or Country.”

John Simnet, “Watch-Finisher, and Manufacturer of London and Dublin,” continued his advertising campaign in the May 5, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. In this installment, he took a more aggressive approach than in previous notices, especially concerning his own expertise and the quality of the service he provided compared to other watchmakers in the area.  Having previously reduced the length of his advertisements, he found himself in a position of needing to elaborate in greater detail. He boldly proclaimed, “The entire Satisfaction I have given the Public, employed on numbers of imperfect Watches, after ev’ry other Workman hath either practised on them in vain, or given them up, gives me occasion to intimate to Gentlemen, that ‘tis much easier to me to repair a Watch before, than after another has with mistaken Judgment, operated on it.” Although he did not give any names, the watchmaker clearly denigrated his competition. He informed prospective customers that they might as well save themselves the time and expense and bring their watches to him first because the lack of skill of other watchmakers would ultimately cause them to seek out Simnet’s services anyway. He promoted his services in other ways as well, offering to do “Small repairs gratis” and pledging not to charge anything if he did not “do [his] Work perfect.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith was not impressed with this newcomer and the competition he presented. In his own advertisement, conveniently placed next to Simnet’s notice, Griffith stated that he “mends and cleans Watches, in as neat a Manner as any Watch-Finisher in Town and Country, & much cheaper.” He invoked the term Simnet applied to himself, “Watch-Finish,” leaving little doubt that he referred to that rival in particular, even as he made a general appeal about his own skills, the quality of his work, and his low price. Griffith also played on his reputation as someone who had lived and worked in New Hampshire for quite some time. “As the said Griffith is well known in this Province,” he declared, “Gentlemen may with Safety leave their Watches in his Custody and depend upon their being seasonably returned.” Prospective customers could hardly have missed the implication that because Simnet was unfamiliar in the community that he could not be trusted. Griffith further demeaned Simnet, who had previously advertised that he planned to remain in New Hampshire for only a year, as an outsider by proposing that “Every Itenerant, or Walking-Watch-Manufacturer, especially those who carries their whole Stock upon ther Backs, should bring Credentials of their Honesty, before they can be trusted with Brass, much more Silver and Gold Watches.” According to Griffith, it was clear that Simnet was not to be trusted. He went so far as to imply that his competitor trafficked in stolen goods. “Some Men may have Watches to sell,” Griffith cautioned, “which for want of being known, may admit of a Doubt, whether they came honestly by them.” For his part, Simnet attempted to alleviate fears that he would steal watched from customers; the final line of his advertisement advised, “Security deposited in Hand, if requir’d.” In other words, he provided some sort of collateral when customers entrusted him with their watches. Just in case it was not abundantly clear that he targeted Simnet, Griffith invoked another aspect of the newcomer’s advertisements. He warned that by arranging for “mending for the low Price of a Pistereen, he may endanger the Loss of his whole Watch.”  Simnet explicitly stated that his price for mending and cleaning was “as low as a Pistereen.”

Simnet had been promoting his services in a series of advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette for several months. Griffith apparently did not appreciate the competition infringing on what he considered his market. While many eighteenth-century advertisers made general comparisons between themselves and others who pursued the same occupation, very rarely did they launch attacks at specific individuals. Griffith, however, launched a savage attack against Simnet, even though he never mentioned his rival by name. In so doing, he attempted to use the skepticism and anxiety of local consumers as a wedge to keep them away from Simnet.

March 19

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 17, 1769).

“WATCHES PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D.”

This advertisement stood out to me because John Simnet sold watches and also provided a service related to watches. He “PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D” watches. Pocket watches were intricate and watchmakers were the only people that could fix them. Simnet promoted himself as a skilled artisan in this advertisement, making it known that he would be able to fix watches correctly and quickly. According to the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, “Most colonists with watchmaking skills sold and repaired imported watches instead of making them.” Simnet’s advertisement seems to demonstrate that trend. He emphasized repairing watches at the beginning and did not mention “Gold and Silver Watches for Sale” until the end. He may have made those watches during the time he lived in London and Dublin and brought them across the Atlantic to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors also states that advertisements “show that a small number of watches were made in America” in the mid 1770s.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

To drum up business when he arrived in New England, John Simnet placed a series of advertisements in colonial newspapers. This notice from the March 17, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette was a variation on others that he had previously inserted in the same newspaper, though it scaled back on some of the appeals to price, quality, and experience in the earlier advertisements.

Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 16, 1769).

All of Simnet’s advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, were rather restrained compared to the much lengthier advertisement that he inserted in the February 16, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. In that notice he expended far more prose to convince prospective clients of his skills as a watchmaker. He lamented that “many People are put to Expence to no Purpose by those who undertake to repair their Watches,” suggested that some artisans who claimed to be skilled watchmakers charged fees for their efforts but did not produce results. Others, he proclaimed, caused further injury as a result of their attentions, leaving “many good Pieces of Work spoiled or damaged by unskilful Practitioners.” Such was not the case with Simnet! To demonstrate that prospective clients could entrust their watches to him, he provided his credentials: “Citizen of LONDON, and principal Manufacturer in England and Ireland, Inventor of and Skeleton Watch-Finisher.” He had acquired and refined his skills throughout his long experience as a watchmaker on the other side of the Atlantic. He made only a nod in that direction in his shorter advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, noting in one that he had been “Twenty-Five Years Watch-maker in London” and in another describing himself as “Watch-Finisher, and Manufacturer of London and Dublin,” but not indicating his years of experience.

In his lengthier advertisement in the Boston Weekly News-Letter, Simnet also emphasized customer service to a greater degree. Attempting to enlarge his market beyond Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he addressed “Gentlemen in or near Boston.” Realizing that most would not travel to the neighboring colony just to have their watches cleaned or repaired, he offered them the “Convenience” of paying for “the Carriage to and fro, for all Watches sent by Mr. Noble’s Stage” to his shop “opposite Mr. Stavers’s Tavern.” This was an eighteenth-century version of mail order service. A savvy entrepreneur, Simnet absorbed the costs of shipping to make his services more attractive to faraway clients. He also offered a premium to colonists who owned watches made by certain manufacturers: “All Watches of the name Upjohn, or Story clean’d gratis.” Simnet did not specify his connection to those watchmakers, but that probably mattered little to prospective clients interested in this free service. For Simnet, it may have been merely a way to initiate or cement relationships with clients.

Why were Simnet’s advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette truncated compared to the one in the Boston Weekly News-Letter? Perhaps the watchmaker felt that he faced less competition in Portsmouth but needed to distinguish himself if he hoped to enlarge his market to include Boston and its environs. He advanced a variety of appeals in each advertisement, but some of them better demonstrated the marketing innovations he was capable of devising.

February 24

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 24, 1769).

“Watches repair’d or clean’d.”

In late February 1769, the New Hampshire Gazette featured an attractive advertisement for John Simnet’s watchmaking services, including repairs and cleaning. The advertisement points out that Simnet was an experienced watchmaker who had moved to America from London. Colonists still felt connected to the mother country so readers may have appreciated Simnet’s ties to Britain. In fact, most colonists identified as British and emphasized English culture, especially fashion and consumer goods. The colonists looked towards London, where taste and style were set. T.H. Breen has called this the Anglicization of consumer culture in the colonies.[1]

Readers may have been enticed by the price of Simnet’s repair and cleaning services. He appealed to the general public by offering the best deal, promising customers “less Expence than usual in this Country.” Breen states, “Consumer demand was the driving engine of economic change. Knowledge of the availability of these goods sparked desire, and though humble buyers obviously could not afford quality items, they purchased what they could.”[2] Simnet’s advertisement assured readers that his price was affordable for a greater number of customers, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In her first entry as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, Chloe has focused on some of the appeals that watchmaker John Simnet made to prospective customers. Price was a popular marketing strategy throughout the colonies, but Chloe also points out that colonists continued to emphasize their cultural connections to London and the rest of the empire even as they contended with Parliament over the Townshend Acts and other measures after the Seven Years War.

Simnet also incorporated other appeals in his advertisement. Deceptively short, it presented a multitude of reasons that anyone who needed watches “repair’d or clean’d” should call on Simnet at his shop across the street from Staver’s Tavern. Like many artisans, Simnet promoted both his skill and experience. For instance, he informed readers that he had worked at his trade for twenty-five years. As Chloe mentions, he had spent that time in London. That likely had a double resonance for colonial consumers. Not only did it establish a connection to the cosmopolitan center of the empire, it also suggested that Simnet had acquired greater expertise than many colonial watchmakers for having operated his business in such a competitive environment for so long. Simnet came right out and said so when he proclaimed that he performed his services “in a neater manner … than usual in this Country.” Many artisans, especially those who had migrated from London like Simnet, attempted to convince potential customers that they had the skills to deliver services equal to their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. With his declaration that he cleaned and repaired watches better than others in New Hampshire, Simnet opted for a slightly different approach, one more aggressive toward his local competitors.

Simnet did not require a lot of words or a lot of space in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Instead, he deployed multiple marketing strategies in just a few lines. In addition to his purported skill as a watchmaker, he demonstrated his familiarity with the most common appeals artisans made in advertisements in eighteenth-century America.

**********

[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 497.

[2] Breen, “Empire of Goods,” 476.