August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:31:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 31, 1770).

“Watches will be well repaired, Clocks put in good Order.”

It was the first advertisement that watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith placed in the New-Hampshire Gazette in more than two months.  On the last day of August 1770, he inserted a brief notice stating that he “HEREBY informs the Public, that he has removed to s Shop between the two Taverns, Foss and Tiltons, where Watches will be well repaired, Clocks put in good Order, in the best Manner.”  Griffith struck a different tone in this advertisement than the last one he published.  Previously, he devoted a much longer advertisement to insulting competitor and rival watchmaker John Simnet, who was “as great a Watch-Maker as he is a Mountebank,” according to Griffith.  In turn, Simnet placed a trio of advertisements that pilloried Griffith.  Those notices went unanswered.

Griffith did not return to the public prints while Simnet remained in New Hampshire.  Perhaps he knew that his cantankerous rival planned to call it quits in Portsmouth and relocate to New York.  If that was the case, Griffith may not have considered it worth his effort to prolong a feud with a competitor who was headed out of town, even one who had been as abusive as Simnet had been during the eighteen months that he worked in New Hampshire and placed advertisements in the local newspaper.  Indeed, Simnet began advertising in the New-York Journal a week before Griffith once again placed a notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

For Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, this meant less revenue generated from advertisements related to the conflict between Griffith and Simnet.  It also meant that they lost content that previously helped fill the pages and quite likely entertained readers who enjoyed watching the altercation between the watchmakers.  The last time Griffith and Simnet placed advertisements in the same edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, they conveniently appeared one after the other in order to better craft a narrative for readers.  Anyone who regularly read that newspaper would have already been familiar with the ongoing squabble that played itself in the public prints.  Life may have become more placid for Griffith after Simnet’s departure, but reading the New-Hampshire Gazette also became a little less interesting for anyone who enjoyed witnessing the bickering and creative taunts between the watchmakers.

August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:23:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 23, 1770).

“WATCHES REPAIR’D by J. SIMNETT.”

Near the end of the summer of 1770, watchmaker John Simnet went quiet in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  In late June and early July, he placed a series of advertisements attacking his competitor and rival Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.  That other watchmaker sometimes responded to Simnet’s taunts in the public prints, but he chose to leave the most recent tirade unanswered.  It seemed that Simnet had the last word in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

A very public feud that played out in a series of advertisements over the course of a year and a half in the New-Hampshire Gazette came to an end when Simnet relocated to New York and began placing advertisements for his services there.  His first advertisement in his new city ran in the August 23, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  In the largest font that appeared anywhere in the issue (including the masthead) he called attention to the “WATCHES” that he “REPAIR’D in a perfect and durable manner, with expedition, at an easy expence, and kept in good order, for 2s6 sterling per year.”

Simnet also gave his current location and described himself as an “original maker from London,” attempting to take advantage of the cachet associated with training and working in the largest city in the empire.  He did not mention that he had not arrived directly from London but had instead spent the last eighteen months in New Hampshire, nor did he proclaim that his skills were superior to those of any of his competitors in New York.  He frequently made such pronouncements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, targeting watchmakers in that colony in particular.  If prospective customers wished to assume that Simnet was indeed more skilled because he was “an original maker from London,” they were free to do so, but perhaps the sharp-tongued Simnet had learned a lesson during his interactions with Griffith in New Hampshire and opted to cultivate a different persona in the public prints in New York.  Only time would tell.  After all, his advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette initially took a neutral tone but became increasingly abusive toward another watchmaker over time.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:13:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 13, 1770).

“WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR.”

John Simnet’s advertisement in the July 13, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette was uncharacteristically muted compared to others he had recently published.  The brief notice looked much like any other that an eighteenth-century watchmaker would insert in the local newspaper:  “WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR; Clean’d for those who desire them done cheap, for a Pistereen, and Repairs in Proportion.  By J. SIMNET:  Parade.”  Yet it differed in tone significantly from most of Simnet’s advertisements.  He arrived in the Portsmouth area in late 1768 or early 1769.  Over the past year and a half he engaged in a very public feud with Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.  The rival watchmakers both advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette, sometimes making only oblique references to each other but on other occasions leveling accusations of fraud, incompetence, and lack of character.  Most recently, Simnet ran advertisements that compared Griffith to a rat or denigrated his character and skills in verse.  Even after several weeks passed, Griffith did not respond to those attacks, at least not in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Had it not been for this rivalry, I likely would not have selected Simnet’s advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project today.  Uriah Hide of Lyme, Connecticut, placed a notice for “Clothiers Shears” made in the colonies in the New-London Gazette.  In that advertisement, he developed an argument in favor of giving preference to “the Manufactures of the Colony” over imported “European Manufactures.”  I often select advertisements that demonstrate the convergence of politics and consumer culture in the era of the American Revolution, but after spending eighteenth months following the feud between Griffith and Simnet I decided to include the next installment in their story in order to document each volley regardless of whether it was as explosive as the last.  It is also worth noting that Simnet’s advertisement appears deceptively simple, especially when compared to his other notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Although brief, his advertisement included an appeal to price and even listed how much he charged for routine maintenance for a year.  Relatively few eighteenth-century advertisers included specific prices in their notices, making Simnet’s attempt to entice customers with a guaranteed price notable.  Not as lively as most of his advertisements, this one engaged with prospective customers in different ways.

June 29

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

Jun 29 - 6:29:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 29, 1770).

“A SQUIB—-To the Tune of Miss Dawson’s Hornpipe.”

In June 1770, watchmaker John Simnet was unrelenting in the criticism of rival Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.  For three consecutive weeks, he published advertisements featuring new insults in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  For nearly a year and a half the two watchmakers traded barbs in the public prints, beginning almost as soon as Simnet set up shop in the colony, but their exchanges had previously been intermittent.  Neither had previously directed so many advertisements at the other so quickly.  Simnet likely incurred additional fees in choosing this manner of pursuing his vendetta against Griffith.  Advertisers usually paid a flat fee for setting type and running notices for several weeks; inserting a notice once and replacing it with a different advertisement the following week created more work in the printing office.  Auctioneers tended to run new advertisements with details about upcoming sales every week, but other purveyors of goods and services usually ran their advertisements for multiple weeks.

Simnet commenced this series of advertisements on June 15 with a two-part notice that first compared Griffith to a rat and then published one of his bills for the public to determine whether Griffith charged fair prices.  In another two-part advertisement on June 22, Simnet reiterated the rat metaphor and supplemented it with a poem that denigrated both Griffith’s character and skills as a watchmaker.  The advertisement in the June 29 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazetteagain had two parts.  The first was fairly innocuous, deploying strategies that any watchmaker might have incorporated into an advertisement.  It briefly stated, “WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR: Clean’d for thos who desire them done cheap, for a Pistereen, and Repairs in Proportion.  By J. SIMNET: Parade.”  It was in the second portion, “A SQUIB—-To the Tune of Miss Dawson’s Hornpipe,” that Simnet attacked Griffith.  That poem was not nearly as clever as the one Simnet published the previous week.  It mocked Griffith’s appearance and “foolish Face,” but did not mention his character nor the quality of his work.  Yet it may have been all the more memorable as a means of repeatedly demeaning Griffith since Simnet provided instructions for setting it to music.  Reader could sing or hum a bit to themselves, intentionally to see how Simnet’s lyrics fit the tune and unintentionally if the music got stuck in their heads.  Rather than create an advertising jingle that made his own business more memorable, Simnet attempted to use music in a manner that encouraged the community of readers to repeatedly belittle his competitor.

June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:22:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 22, 1770).

“His Clocks with both Hands gives the Lye,
His Tongue ne’er speaks the Truth.”

After placing an advertisement in which he compared his rival to a rat, watchmaker John Simnet did not bother to wait for a response from Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith before escalating their feud once again.  In the June 15, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Simnet placed an advertisement with two parts.  The first portion included the rat metaphor and the second portion a copy of a bill that Griffith issued to one of his customers.  Simnet called on “Judges” to insect the watch and assess whether the bill was reasonable before Griffith’s customer paid for the repairs and reclaimed his watch.

In the next edition, Simnet once again placed an advertisement in two parts.  The first reiterated the rat metaphor and a reference to Griffith as a “rough Clockmaker.”  The second portion was new; Simnet found new ways to denigrate Griffith in a short poem:

Near Portsmouth Stocks SHEEP G—ffi—h lives
(A Turkey legged Youth,)
His Clocks with both Hands gives the Lye,
His Tongue ne’er speaks the Truth,
Stand off, ye Pettyfogging Knaves;
This can you all out do,
Long NAT, can Filch us of our Time;
And of our Money too.

Although the poem was no great work of literature, it did include a couple of clever turns of phrase that simultaneously invoked measuring time and deficiencies in both Griffith’s character and skills as a watchmaker.  According to Simnet, Griffith’s clocks did not keep accurate time, yet another way that the supposed liar deceived his clients; nobody could expect Griffith to deliver the truth via any means, not in conversation nor on the dial of his clocks.  Simnet also accused Griffith of stealing from his clients in multiple ways.  He stole their money when demanding payment for inferior work.  He also stole their time in more than one fashion, through depriving them of knowing the correct time and also through wasting their time in dealing with him at all.

For his part, Griffith had not yet submitted a new advertisement for publication in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Instead, his notice that called Simnet a mountebank and a novice who “cruely butchered” watches ran once again.  Throughout their feud in the public prints, Griffith had been the more measured in his approach.

In the era of the imperial crisis that ultimately became the American Revolution, some colonists expressed their political views in advertisements that promoted their business endeavors.  By paying to insert their notices in newspapers, they gained some level of editorial authority.  Simnet and Griffith, however, did not leverage that authority to address current events.  Instead, they used it to engage in a dispute that repeatedly unfolded before the eyes of readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Purchasing advertising space allowed colonists to express their views and have conversations … or engage in arguments … seemingly with little editorial intervention from the printers.

June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:15:1770 New Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 15, 1770).

“If Rats could speak, they would declare their Sentiments.”

As spring turned to summer in 1770, the rivalry between watchmakers John Simnet and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith got even more heated.  In the June 8 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Griffith escalated their feud by publishing an advertisement calling Simnet a mountebank as well as a novice and stranger to the trade.  He had shown some restraint in taking several weeks to respond to an earlier advertisement in which Simnet had disparaged Griffith’s skill and stated that the watches he returned to customers “never had been properly repaired.”  Simnet, usually the more aggressive of the two competitors, published his response in the next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, once again escalating the war of words.

In that advertisement, Simnet did not promote his own proficiency but instead leveled two attacks at Griffith.  In the first, he compared Griffith to a rat scrounging for survival and expecting others to provide the sustenance he needed for no other reason that he needed it.  “[I]f Rats could speak,” Simnet proclaimed, “they would declare their Sentiments, say they must eat, and we live by gnawing down what you endeavour to rear.”  Simnet then declared that he tolerated his rival, “this Creature … with few Cloaths to cover his Flesh, and but very little Flesh to cover his Bones.”  In this metaphor, Griffith was not even a good rat who managed “to eat the Fruits of others Labour.”  All the same, Siment warned others to “take care” in their dealings with his competitor.

To that point in the advertisement, Simnet had not yet named Griffith, though readers of the New-Hampshire Gazettewould have been very familiar with the enmity the two watchmakers felt for each other.  The compositor also helped readers make the connection by once again placing the two advertisements one after another.  In the previous issue Simnet’s earlier advertisement came first, followed immediately by Griffith’s response.  In the June 15 edition, Griffith’s advertisement appeared once again, this time with a response from Griffith underneath it so readers moved directly from to the other.

In making his second attack, Simnet did name the “rough Clockmaker” that readers already knew Simnet compared to a rat.”  Simnet published a “Copy of a Bill by Nath’l. Sheaff Griffith, on Mr. Samuel Pickering of Greenland, for repairing his Watch.”  Simnet asserted that “Mr. Pickering desires the Watch may be inspected by Judges, before he pays for it,” but “Griffith refuses, and now keeps it in his Possession.”  Whatever the accuracy of that account, it suggested to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that Griffith did not want his lack of skill exposed to even greater scrutiny.  To that end, he was in a standoff with a customer over the price he charged for repairing a watch.  According to Simnet, Griffith expected Pickering to pay £1.4.11 without independent confirmation that he made appropriate repairs.  He demanded that Pickering pay before he would return the watch.  By publicizing that Pickering wished for “Judges” to examine Griffith’s work as well as the charges that appeared on the bill, Simnet further escalated his own dispute with the rival watchmaker by encouraging others to intervene.

Did this help or hurt Simnet in an era when advertisers rarely mentioned their competitors by name?  It was bold enough that Simnet declared that “Most of those who profess this Employ in this Country, are rough Clockmakers.”  Most artisans emphasized their own skill, stating that they were as proficient or better than others who followed their trade, but they usually did not denigrate the work performed by others as a means of enhancing their own status.  Ever since he arrived in New Hampshire after pursuing his trade for more than two decades in London, Simnet had disparaged local clock- and watchmakers, starting with general comments and eventually targeting Griffith in particular.  Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette may have considered the ongoing feud between Simnet and Griffith amusing, but was it effective or ultimately too unseemly at a time when advertisements did not often incorporate insults and barbs directed at the competition?  The true beneficiary of this series of advertisements may very well have been the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette who earned additional revenues every time that Griffith or Simnet chose to publish a new volley.

June 8

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

Jun 8 - 7:8:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 8, 1770).

“He is as great a Watch-Maker as he is a Mountebank.”

The feud between watchmakers Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith and John Simnet had been playing out in the New-Hampshire Gazette for more than a year when Griffith published a new advertisement in the June 8, 1770, edition.  That advertisement further escalated the conflict, though Griffith reacted to a particularly antagonistic advertisement that Simnet first published three weeks earlier.  Throughout most of their bickering in the public prints, the watchmakers engaged in innuendo but usually did not name each other.  On May 18, however, Simnet asserted that “All who please to apply, may depend on being faithfully served, with such Watches as Mr. Nathaniel Sheaffe Griffith can make, and mending in general as perform’d by that Genius, without any Charge.”  In other words, Simnet would fix for free any watches that his competitor further damaged in the process of attempting to repair them.  That advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette for several weeks.

In response, Simnet no longer felt compelled not to name his rival.  In his next advertisement he informed readers that he provided his services “at a much cheaper rate than the original Simnet, altho’ he has taken such repeated pains to inform the publick of his great skill and accuracy.”  Griffith alluded to the series of advertisements Simnet published since arriving in the colony, but then he continued with a description that drew on encounters with Simnet beyond the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Griffith asserted that Simnet went about “vainly flattering himself that the variety of his dress may induce people to believe he is as great a Watch-Maker as he is a Mountebank.”  Yet Simnet was a charlatan in all things, according to Griffith, “inimitable in a Branch” of watchmaking “that he is a Novice and a Stranger to,” despite his pretensions.

As a further insult, Griffith copies the format of Simnet’s most recent advertisement, appending a nota bene in which he delivered another scalding critique in the form of a spurious compliment.  “I desire to return my thanks to Simnet, Watch Maker, from London,” Griffith proclaimed, “for his good custom for the many Watches I mend and repair after they have been cruely butchered by him.”  Griffith reversed the accusation Simnet made in his advertisement, suggesting that he actually had to repair those watches that Simnet damaged through his incompetence.  Griffith likely intended that claim to further enrage his rival.  He added a parting blow: “For after he is paid his price, I have mine paid the more generous.”  Simnet’s customers, Griffith contended, were so frustrated that they gratefully paid Griffith to undo the damage done by the “Watch Maker, from London.”

Once again, the compositor recognized a good story, conveniently placing the two advertisements one after the other.  Readers perused Griffith’s advertisements first and then immediately saw Griffith’s rejoinder.  Even for those who did not require the services of either watchmaker, this spectacle likely provided entertainment as the war of words continued to escalate in the public prints.

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 18, 1770).

“That there may be no Cause of a single Complaint, any Person may have any Alteration without further Expence.”

The feud continued!  For more than a year watchmakers Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith and John Simnet traded barbs in the advertisements they placed in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The rivalry ran almost as soon as Simnet arrived in the colony, having previously spent more than two decades as a watchmaker in London.  The newcomer had been quiet for a few months, but in the middle of May 1770 he placed an explosive new advertisement.  Both Simnet and Griffith usually relied on innuendo, rarely naming their competition but instead making pointed comments that readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have known how to interpret after being exposed to the series of advertisements the two watchmakers inserted in the public prints.  In his newest advertisement, however, Simnet began with innuendo and then escalated his attack by naming Griffith in a nota bene at the conclusion.

Simnet sarcastically informed prospective customers … and the entire readership of the New-Hampshire Gazette … that “All who please to apply, may depend on being faithfully and punctually served, with such Watches as Mr. Nathaniel Sheaffe Griffith can make, and mending in general as perform’d by that Genius, without any Charge, and welcome.”  In other words, anyone who bought a watch or had it repaired by Griffith would certainly discover it was defective.  Rather than rely on the work of “that Genius,” they should instead bring their watches to Simnet, who would fix the problems caused by Simnet and do it for free.  That was the consolation he could provide to those who had been duped by that charlatan Griffith.

Such accusations built on the insinuations that appeared earlier in the advertisement.  Simnet proclaimed “that most of the WA[T]CHES he has been employed on, had before pass’d through the Hands of the best Performers hereabouts” and even though they had been subjected to such care still “they were in bad Condition, and never had been properly repaired.”  Even in recognizing the supposed “best Performers hereabout,” Simnet denigrated Griffith’s skill.  He went on to say that prior repairs had not been worth the money charged, especially since the “best Performers” used inferior materials.  Simnet then offered to make “any Alteration without further Expence” to benefit customers who had previously been the victims of watchmakers who did not possess his expertise.  He had thoroughly made his point by then; the nota bene was an even saucier addition.

The compositor for the New-Hampshire Gazette decided to have some fun with the placement of Simnet’s advertisement, inserting it immediately below Griffith’s most recent notice.  Although Griffith pledged that his clients would be served “cheaper than by any other Watchmaker,” he had otherwise ignored Simnet.  His competitor’s newest advertisement revived the rivalry, likely to the amusement of the compositor and many readers.

January 12

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

Jan 12 1770 - 1:12:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 12, 1770).

“SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country.”

Watchmaker John Simnet returned to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette early in 1770, placing a short advertisement in the January 12 edition. Brief but bold, Simnet’s newest notice proclaimed, “WATCHES. SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country. —- Parade, PORTSMOUTH.” Simnet reminded readers of the services he provided, but left it to them to fill in the details.

Considered alone, this advertisement may not seem particularly interesting. Simnet did boast of his skill, declaring himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” but he did not do much else to promote his business and attract clients … or so it would seem at a glance. This advertisement, however, must be considered in the larger context of an advertising campaign that Simnet had waged for the past year and his ongoing feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been very familiar with both Simnet’s previous advertisements, those placed by Griffith in response, and the professional (and seemingly even personal) animosity between the two watchmakers. That animosity likely manifested itself in interactions beyond the public prints, so colonists did not necessarily need to read all of the advertisements to know that Simnet and Griffith did not get along and regularly denigrated each other.

Simnet’s assertion that he was the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country” was more than bravado about his skill. It was also an insult intentionally directed at Griffith. Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire after more than two decades working as a watchmaker in London. He received his training and served clients in the largest city in the empire. He frequently suggested that other watchmakers, especially Griffith, could not match his skill, insinuating that Griffith often did more harm than good when tasked with repairing clocks and watches. In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant who was just as likely to steal watches from the residents of Portsmouth as repair them.

Simnet’s advertisement communicated far more than its eleven words might suggest to casual readers unfamiliar with his prior marketing efforts. The watchmaker did more than invite prospective clients to hire his services; he also perpetuated a feud with a rival by trumpeting his own skill and, by implication, demeaning the abilities of his primary competitor.

December 8

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

Dec 8 - 12:8:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 8, 1769).

“WATCHES … preserv’d in perfect Repair … by JOHN SIMNETT.”

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have already been familiar with John Simnett’s work by the time he placed a short advertisement in the December 8, 1769, edition. For nearly a year he had advertised regularly, but, more significantly, he had also engaged in a feud with competitor Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith in the public prints. Although the two watchmakers usually refrained from mentioning the other by name, their advertisements made clear that neither much liked the other. Most of their advertisements included some sort of insult in addition to promoting their own work.

On occasion, however, one or both placed advertisements that did not include a negative characterization of the other. Such was the case with Simnet’s notice in the December 8 issue. Relatively brief compared to many of his others, it simply stated: “WATCHES For Two and Six Pence Sterling per Year, preserv’d in perfect Repair, (Accidents excepted) by JOHN SIMNETT, near the Parade.” Simnet introduced his trade, set the rate for the service he provided, clarified the terms, and informed prospective clients of his location, all without taking a swipe at Griffith.

Many readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette might have noticed other variations that made this advertisement different from most of Simnet’s others. The watchmaker usually identified himself only as “Simnet.” Dancing and fencing masters most often adopted a mononym in their newspaper advertisements, but this watchmaker who migrated from London after pursuing his trade there for two decades determined that he merited the flair of going by a single name in the press. He presented himself as much more capable than competitors who had trained and worked exclusively in the colonies, thus meriting the mononym as a proclamation of his illustriousness. Why did he include both his first name and surname in this advertisement, departing from his usual marketing strategy? Did he react to comments from others about his tone and demeanor in his advertisements?