July 2

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

New-York Journal (July 2, 1772).

“Mr. SIMNET boasts with Gratitude the abundant Favours of the Gentry.”

The cantankerous John Simnet, “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” inserted a colorful new advertisement in the July 2, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal.  He simultaneously promoted his own business, mending watches, while mocking James Yeoman, a competitor.  The two traded insults back and forth in a series of advertisements in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in 1772.  For many weeks, Yeoman advertised that he made and repaired “WATCHES, HORIZONTAL, REPEATING, or PLAIN; CLOCKS, ASTRONOMICAL, Musical or Plain,” prompting Simnet to replicate that headline in the headline of his own notice.  He then posed a question: “IS any ingenious Artificer (of Spirit) within 100 Miles, capable of making either, or a Thing in Imitation of either?”  The question alone carried the implication that Yeoman did not possess the skill or expertise to deliver on his promises.  Not satisfied to leave it at that, Simnet provided a snide answer to the question, suggesting that Yeoman might be able to make something that looked like and astronomical or musical clock, but of such poor quality that “‘tis not worth a Dollar.”  Even that would constitute “a wonderful Rarity.”

Simnet then shifted to discussing his own business, “boast[ing] with Gratitude the abundant Favours of the Gentry, &c. in Town and Country, which surpass Expectation.”  In other words, he claimed that discerning customers from near and far entrusted their watches to him for repairs.  He expressed just a little bit of surprise at how many hired him, while also explaining that serving so many customers “enable[d] him to continue to reduce the Price of mending Work.”  More customers meant that he could afford to lower his rates.  He made another dig at Yeoman and other competitors, describing prices as “very—very high.”  In contrast, he did repairs “at HALF Price.”  Simnet eventually made appeals related to his own business, but only after denigrating another watchmaker.  Most advertisers did not resort to such tactics.  Did Simnet have a difficult personality?  Or did he believe that he ultimately benefited from any sort of attention that he could draw to his business?

April 23

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

New-York Journal (April 23, 1772).

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

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

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

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

April 15

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (April 13, 1772).

“Such Alterations which don’t engage much Time, GRATIS.”

John Simnet, a watchmaker, placed rather colorful newspaper advertisements over the course of several years in the late 1760s and 1770s, first in the New-Hampshire Gazette and later in newspapers published in New York.  During the time that he resided in New Hampshire, he engaged in nasty feud with a fellow watchmaker, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.  Having trained and worked in London, Simnet accused Griffith of not possessing the same level of skill and suggested that Griffith actually damaged the watches he attempted to repair.  In a series of advertisements, Simnet denigrated Griffith’s character, intellect, and skill.

That rivalry may have played a part in Simnet’s decision to relocate to New York.  He once again turned to the public prints to promote his business.  For a time, he focused primarily on his own credentials and expertise, but old habits died hard.  Simnet eventually found himself embroiled in another feud with a fellow watchmaker, though James Yeoman appears to have been the first to pursue their disagreement in print with an advertisement that seemed to critique Simnet’s credentials without naming him.  Given his personality, Simnet may have initiated the insults in person before the dispute moved into advertisements in the newspapers.  Regardless of who started it, Simnet had extensive experience demeaning a competitor in print.  In March 1772, he deployed some of the same strategies that he used against Griffith a few years earlier.

Even though he could not resist placing negative advertisements about Yeoman, Simnet may have learned from his experience in New Hampshire that consumers did not respond well to marketing campaigns that revolved entirely around disparaging others.  In his next advertisement, published in the April 13, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, he returned to the kinds of appeals that he incorporated into his notices when he first arrived in New York.  He gave prospective customers a careful accounting of how much they could expect to pay for various goods and services, such as “a new Chain Six Shillings” and “the Price of joining a broken Spring or Chain Two Shillings.”  He also promoted his prices while offering a guarantee, stating that he set rates for “every particular Article in repairing, at HALF the Price charg’d by any other, and no future Expence while the Materials, that is, Wheels and Pinions will endure.”  Simnet declared that it was “beneath the Character of a qualified Workman, to extract an Annuity by repairing Watches over and over again.”  That may have been a subtle critique of his many competitors, but not a targeted attack on Yeoman or any other watchmaker in New York.  To draw customers to his shop, Simnet also offered “such Alterations which don’t engage much Time, GRATIS.”

Simnet has been a fascinating character to track over the past three years, in large part because he deviated so significantly from one of the standard advertising practices of the period.  He sometimes placed advertisements that vilified his rivals rather than focusing on his expertise and experience.  Yet Simnet did not always go negative.  He also published advertisements that incorporated the tone and appeals usually found in newspaper notices by artisans.  In some cases, he also crafted innovative appeals, including free services to entice prospective customers into his shop in hopes of establishing relationships with them.  As an advertiser, he covered a greater range of appeals, positive and negative, than just about anyone else marketing their goods and services in the colonies in the decade before the American Revolution.

March 19

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

New-York Journal (March 19, 1772).

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

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

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

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

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