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.

July 8

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

Jul 8 - 7:8:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette Extraordinary (July 8, 1768).

“Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith looks upon himself to be greatly abused.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith was not pleased with a “scandalous anonimous Piece” that appeared on the front page of the July 1, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Although the author did not explicitly name Griffith, it did not take much deduction to determine that “a Man of this abandoned Character, named – N–th–el S––fe G–fi–th, of Hampton” was none other than Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. The article purported that Griffith had “descended into some Sink for Human Excrements, (from whence it was wished he could never have gotten out, as it was the most proper Place for his Abode)” and then “proceeded to the Meeting-House in Hampton, and in a dirty, filthy and polluted Manner discharged the same upon the Linings and Cushings of a Gentleman’s Pew.” The article went into further detail about how Griffith had not only befouled the pew but, more generally, a house of worship shared by the entire community. It then attributed various moral failings to the perpetrator of this “atrocious and sacrilegious Insult.”

Horrified by this account, Griffith placed an advertisement in the next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Although Griffith could not control the editorial decisions made by the printers, he did exercise greater latitude when it came to paid notices. He wanted the printers to give him equal time and an opportunity to redeem himself in the face of the “scandalous anonimous Piece.” To that end, his advertisement addressed the printers directly, insisting that they “acquaint the Public in [their] next Paper that he shall the next Week publickly acquit himself to their Satisfaction of the scandalous and sacrilegious Acts he is in that Piece charged with.” For the moment, this advertisement did not allow the tale from the previous week to go unanswered. It informed the community, in addition to the printers, that Griffith did not accept the account as presented in the most recent issue. Griffith’s advertisement also made the case that the printers must allow him a more extensive answer, not as an advertisement at his own expense but as a news item, not unlike the “scandalous anonimous Piece.” Perhaps Griffith also believed that by ramping up interest in the dispute among readers that the printers would be more likely to publish his rebuttal.

The next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, did not feature any items signed by Griffith, neither as news items or advertisements. Griffith may have agonized too long over his response to submit it in time for publication. The issue did include a anonymous piece addressed “To the PRINTERS” that expounded on fourteen “RULES AGAINST SLANDER.” Perhaps Griffith submitted those rules to lay the groundwork for his own response. Perhaps the printers, disappointed not to have Griffith’s response in hand, inserted the “RULES AGAINST SLANDER” themselves as a means of keeping the controversy fresh and encouraging readers to look for more developments in subsequent issues. Perhaps other members of the community, disgusted by the entire exchange, took it upon themselves to provide their own commentary about how to treat one another.

The plot thickened two weeks after Griffith’s advertisement appeared in the July 8 edition. A response from Griffith attributed the “cruel Piece” to “the circumstantial Evidence known to all the Inhabitants of Hampton, to have the Character of as infamous a Liar, as ever existed on this Globe, the scandalous Author of the defamatory Piece, only excepted.” Furthermore, Griffith described the alleged witness as “A Girl who for Ten Dollars more, and another green Gown, may perhaps be induced to swear as roundly & plumply to the Point, as the Author could wish or desire.” Griffith met the attacks against his character with provocative accusations of his own.

Advertisements sometimes entertained colonists because they contained scandal. Runaway wife advertisements, for instance, reflected as poorly on the husbands who placed them as the wives who fled. Sometimes the scandal played out in greater detail when wives or relatives placed responses. In other instances, colonists turned to advertisements to pursue their feuds with rivals they believed had wronged them in some way. News items sometimes presented tabloid accounts of certain people and events, but colonists also made room among the advertisements for a good bit of gossip. On occasion, scandal flowed back and forth between news items and paid notices in eighteenth-century America.