What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WATCHES and CLOCKS are clean’d and kept in Repair.”
As 1771 came to an end and a new year loomed, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to remind residents of Portsmouth and nearby towns that he “clean’d and kept in Repair” both clocks and watches. He also sold “all Sorts of Watch Materials lately imported” and “performs gilding Work, either with Gold or Silver.” He pledged that he performed all of these services “in the cheapest and best Manner.”
Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette may have remembered that not so long ago another clock- and watchmaker, John Simnet, frequently placed advertisements that accused Griffith of damaging watches rather than cleaning and repairing them. Sometimes Simnet identified Griffith by name, but other times he merely made insinuations. For his part, Griffith expressed less interest in fueling a feud in the public prints, preferring instead to bolster his own business rather than denigrate a competitor. That did not prevent him, however, from suggesting that Simnet, who had recently relocated to Portsmouth from London, was an itinerant as likely to steal watches as repair them. In a series of advertisements, Simnet trumpeted his decades of experience in some of the best workshops in London, proclaiming his superior skill. In addition to pointing out that Griffith lacked formal training, he also implied that his competitor possessed a defective intellect.
Griffith and, especially, Simnet staged quite a performance in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette before the newcomer decided that Portsmouth was not the place for him. After a year and a half of sparring with Griffith, Simnet moved to New York. He once again touted the skill and experience he gained on the other side of the Atlantic, but he did select any local competitors to target for abuse. Perhaps he learned in Portsmouth that some consumers did not appreciate marketing strategies that pivoted on abusing others. Free of the cantankerous Simnet, Griffith continued placing occasional advertisements that conformed to the standards of the period. He made positive appeals, such as asserting that he did his work “in the cheapest and best Manner,” but did not make any direct comparisons to other artisans.