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.

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.

March 16

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 16, 1770).

“He has the best of clarified Oyl, for Clock and Watches.”

By the time that Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith placed his advertisement in the March 16, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, he and fellow clock- and watchmaker John Simnet had been engaged in a public feud for more than a year.  They often traded barbs in their advertisements, though they also published notices that focused exclusively on promoting their own skills and service.  Their rivalry may have prompted both to advertise more regularly.  Griffith certainly did not take to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to address “his Customers and others” nearly so frequently before Simnet set up shop in Portsmouth and began his own advertising campaign in early 1769.

For the most part, Griffith ignored Simnet in his March 16 advertisement, though he did proclaim that he provided his services “cheaper than by any other Watchmaker.”  He emphasized the supplies he had in his shop, “all sorts of materials for Clocks and Watches,” as well as customer service, promising that “those who Employ him, may depend on being faithfully and punctually served.”  He also added a component that did not previously appear in his advertisements.  In a separate short paragraph, Griffith stated that “He has the best of clarified Oyl, for Clock and Watches, which prevents their stoping in cold Weather.”  For the first time, Griffith marketed a product related to his business, a product that allowed his customers to care for their clocks and watches.  That product also generated additional revenue for Griffith by expanding his retail activities.

Griffith may have been selling “clarified Oyl” all along.  If that was the case, then it seems that his competition with Simnet in the public prints likely prompted him to incorporate this ancillary product into his marketing efforts.  Rather than merely taking swipes at his rival, Griffith devised new means of distinguishing himself and his business in order to entice readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to become patrons of his shop.

February 2

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

Feb 2 - 2:2:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 2, 1770).

“He still carries on Clock and Watch making as usual.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a clock- and watchmaker, was a prolific advertiser who frequently inserted notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette. The frequency of his advertisements may have been occasioned in large part by his rivalry with John Simnet, a competitor who previously practiced the trade in London for several years before migrating to the colonies and setting up shop in the same market as Griffith. Both men advertised and, in a rare occurrence in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, departed from merely promoting their own services in favor of denigrating the skill and even the character of the other. They did not explicitly name their rival, but context made the intent of their remarks clear to readers.

Simnet, the newcomer, was the more aggressive. In his first advertisement for 1770, he proclaimed himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” a bit of boasting that disparaged Griffith as much as it bolstered Simnet. First appearing in the New-Hampshire Gazette on January 12, that brief but provocative notice continued for several weeks. On February 2, Griffith placed a new advertisement, his first of the year. As he had done sometimes, but not always, in the past, Griffith refused to engage with Simnet. Without much fanfare, he sought to inform “his Customers, and others, that he still carries on Clock and Watch making as usual, at his Shop opposite Dr. Langdon’s Meeting House.”

Although he did not spar with Simnet, Griffith did offer appeals intended to resonate with prospective clients. He acknowledged his previous customers and stated that he continued his trade “as usual,” establishing his prior service to local consumers and the stability of his business. Griffith also reported that he had “all Sorts of Materials for said Business,” reassuring readers that he possessed the supplies necessary for his work. Griffith’s advertisement was not as flashy as Simnet’s, but perhaps it did not need to be. Griffith had much deeper roots in the community and may have believed that he did not need to be as strident as Simnet in his advertisements.

October 27

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

Oct 27 - 10:27:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 27, 1769).

“Any Clock or Watch, sent to said Griffith, will be speedily refitted.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a “CLOCK and WATCH MAKER” from the colonies, and John Simnet, a “LONDON WATCH MAKER” who had migrated to Portsmouth nearly a year earlier, both placed advertisements in the October 27, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Neither advertisement ran for the first time; both appeared sporadically over the course of several weeks that fall. The rival watchmakers each attempted to keep their name visible to the general public and, especially, prospective customers.

The series of notices that Griffith and Simnet inserted in the New-Hampshire Gazette tell a fairly unique story about advertising in early America. Most advertisers sought to attract customers to maintain or even increase their own share of a crowded market. Most advertisers, however, did not deploy advertising as a means of depriving specific rivals of their own ability to participate in the marketplace. On the other hand, Griffith and Simnet almost certainly saw advertising as a zero sum game; any benefit that accrued to one necessarily occurred to the detriment of the other.

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette watched their feud unfold over the course of many months. Even though the watchmakers did not mention each other by name, their advertisements often included very pointed references that made clear their disdain for the competition. Their advertisements sometimes took a remarkably adversarial tone as Griffith and Simnet each critiqued and denigrated both the skill and the character of their rival. Even though neither advertisement in the October 27 edition leveled any accusations against the other watchmaker, readers likely would have found it impossible to peruse those notices without taking into consideration the usual enmity that motivated the two men.

Modern advertising frequently plays on unspoken rivalries. Commercials for fast food franchises and brands of soda, for instance, often rely on consumers taking into account the competition, even without making any direct reference to that competition. Griffith and Simnet developed a similar strategy in the eighteenth century. Promoting their own businesses included efforts to reduce the market share of their rival, sometimes launched explicitly but other times implicitly incorporated into their marketing.

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 1, 1769).

“He will mend and clean a WATCH for one half what Simnet will, let him mend as cheap as he will.”

Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette were treated to the next chapter in the ongoing feud between watchmakers Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith and John Simnet when they perused the September 1, 1769, edition. Griffith had previously toned down his rhetoric targeting his rival, but a new development caused him to make direct comparisons to Simnet once again. A week earlier Griffith placed an advertisement to inform the community that “some VILLAIN or VILLAINS … broke open” his shop and stole a gold watch, five or six silver watches, several gold rings, and other items. To make matters worse, the stolen watches did not come exclusively from Griffith’s inventory. Many belonged to clients who had left them for repair. Griffith offered a reward to “Whoever apprehends said Thief or Thieves, so that the above Articles may be procured again.” Griffith faced ruin!

That advertisement ran a second time on September 1, this time immediately above an updated version of an advertisement that appeared two weeks earlier. The original advertisement did not make any allusions to Simnet; it simply encouraged prospective clients to entrust their watches to Griffith’s care if they wished to have them “speedily re-fitted and expeditiously returned.” He did his work “in the best and cheapest Manner.” Given the calamity that he had just experienced, however, the revised advertisement included a second paragraph that explicitly named his competitor. “AS said Nathaniel Sheaffe Griffith has begun anew, he will mend and clean a WATCH for one half what Simnet will, let him mend as cheap as he will.” Griffith went to extreme measures to save his business. No matter how much his rival might try to undercut his price, he vowed to charge only half as he faced the challenge of rebuilding.

Griffith also had a retort for Simnet’s oft-repeated credentials, which appeared once again in an advertisement immediately below Griffith’s revised notice. Simnet consistently argued that his training and experience made him the most skilled watchmaker in New Hampshire. He described himself as “Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the old Country.” Exasperated with the implied disparagement from Simnet, Griffith allowed that “I am not a Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the Old Country; but if I don’t do my Work well, I charge nothing.” Griffith valued honest labor and he expected prospective clients to value it as well. He also attempted to make up for not coming from the same background as his rival by pledging not to charge if clients found his work wanting.

Both Griffith and Simnet ran advertisements proclaiming that they set their prices at half what their competitor charged, giving prospective clients an opportunity to haggle for really low prices. A clever compositor arranged all three advertisements in a single column to better tell a dramatic story of their rivalry and the catastrophe that had recently befallen Griffith. Even readers who did not have watches to be repaired could be entertained by this spectacle as events continued to unfold.