October 13

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

Oct 13 - 11:13:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 13, 1769).

Subscribers are desired to send for their Books.”

Subscription notices for books regularly appeared in colonial newspapers, but not all proposed publications eventually went to press. Printers used subscription notices to gauge the market for books they considered printing. Only when sufficient numbers of customers “subscribed” – reserved a copy in advance and, in some cases, made a deposit – did printers produce books advertised in subscription notices. In some cases, they also specified that they would not print surplus copies but instead limit publication to copies for subscribers exclusively. This mediated risk for printers, publishers, and booksellers in eighteenth-century America.

An advertisement in the October 13, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette provided an update for “subscribers” who had responded to a subscription notice that appeared in the same newspaper several months earlier. That notice, dated “Boston, July 2d, 1769,” presented “PROPOSALS for Printing by Subscription, A Volume of curious Papers, to serve as an Appendix to Lieutenant-Governor HUTCHINGSON’S History of Massachusetts-Bay.” The new advertisement indicated that the proposed work indeed went to press. “JUST PUBLISHED,” it proclaimed.

The original notice called on subscribers to submit their names to “T. & J. FLEET, Printers in Boston, D. & R. FOWLE at Portsmouth, & Bulkeley Emerson, at Newbury-Port.” The printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette collaborated with other printers in encouraging the project. The subsequent advertisement, however, suggested the limits of their responsibilities as local agents for a project that originated in Boston. T. & J. Fleet printed the octavo tome there. They also assumed the lead in distributing it to subscribers. The notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette stated, “Subscribers are desired to send for their Books to T. and J. FLEET, at the Heart and Crown, in Cornhill, Boston.” The Fleets apparently did not send copies to Portsmouth for local distribution by the Fowles. Instead, the Fowles fulfilled their obligations to the project by running an advertisement in their newspaper. The participation required of local agents when printing books by subscription varied from publication to publication.

September 22

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

Sep 22 - 9:22:1769 Ad 1 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 22, 1769).

“WATCHES. SIMNET, London-Watch-Maker.”

Over the course of many months, readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette became quite familiar with watchmaker John Simnet and the services he provided in 1769, in large part because he engaged in a public feud with competitor Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith that played out in the advertisements. Simnet once again took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette on the first day of fall in 1769, inserting not one but two advertisements in that issue. One ran on the third page and the other on the fourth page. Like most other colonial newspapers, a standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of only four pages, a single broadsheet with two pages printed on each side and then folded in half. Simnet arranged to have an advertisement appear on both pages that featured paid notices, increasing the likelihood that readers would notice his marketing efforts as they perused the September 22 edition. Having recently moved to a new location, he made sure prospective clients knew exactly where to find him.

Sep 22 - 9:22:1769 Ad 2 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 22, 1769).

One of those advertisements was fairly short … and misspelled the mononym Simnet used in all his advertising. Still, it unmistakably promoted a watchmaker who consistently described himself as “Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the old Country.” Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire less than a year earlier, having previously worked alongside noted artisans in London and Dublin. He advanced those credentials often as a means of implicitly comparing himself to the local competition that did not possess the same training or experience. In the other advertisement, Simnet described himself merely as a “London-Watch-Maker” but made a nod to the reputation he had established in the local marketplace. He declared that he had “near a Year’s Trial, by the Town [of Portsmouth] and adjacent Country.” Prospective customers did not have to rely solely on Simnet’s depiction of his prior experience on the other side of the Atlantic; they could assess for themselves the quality of his work done in New Hampshire now that he had labored there for sufficient time to establish a clientele.

Advertisers rarely placed more than one notice in a single issue of a newspaper in the colonial period. Simnet was an especially aggressive advertiser, both in the tone he took toward a rival and in the frequency that he inserted new advertisements in the public prints. Although he often returned to common themes, he composed distinctive copy for each advertisement. Mere repetition of the same advertisement did not suit the brazen watchmaker. Instead, he kept his self-promotion fresh in every new advertisement.

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.

August 18

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

Aug 18 - 8:18:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 18, 1769).

“I will properly Repair, and Rectify, and Refit a WATCH, better by half, in half the Time, and for half his Price.”

The rivalry between watchmakers John Simnet (who regularly referred to himself merely as “SIMNET”) and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith continued in August 1769. Their advertisements conveniently appeared next to each at the top of the second and third columns on the third page of the August 18, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Perhaps a canny compositor sought to create a dramatic scene and increase their entertainment value via their placement on the page.

Griffith placed the more subdued advertisement. In the past, he had directly targeted Simnet, though he had never mentioned the newcomer to the colony by name. Griffith had previously impugned Simnet’s skills by calling him an itinerant and implying that his mobility facilitated theft of the watches he accepted from clients. His advertisement on August 18, however, deployed formulaic language that any watchmaker anywhere in the colonies would have used in the 1760s. Griffith advised prospective customers that he “WILL speedily and properly, repair and rectify any CLOCKS or WATCHES out of Order, in the best and cheapest Manner.” Furthermore, he pledged that “Any CLOCK or WATCH sent to said GRIFFTH, will be speedily re-fitted and expeditiously returned.” In the course of only a few lines, he made appeals to his skill, the quality of his work, price, and convenience. He did not make any overt jabs at Simnet. Perhaps Griffith decided that doing so was unseemly or had not served his purposes or enhanced his reputation in the wake of past attempts.

Simnet, on the other hand, launched another barrage of insults against Griffith in the process of promoting his own work. In particular, he mocked the appeals that Griffith made in his advertisement. “Now here’s a promising Youth,” Simnett taunted, “tells us, he is best, and cheap, & speedy.” In early advertisements Simnet underscored his quarter century of experience in London and Dublin; he leveraged the longevity of his career to suggest that Griffith was an inexperience youth. Calling him “promising” was backhanded, at best. Simnet warned that prospective clients should not even waste their time with Griffith, suggesting that he was one of those “pretenders” who “get well paid, for what they don’t or can’t do.” In contrast, Simnet trumpeted, “I will properly Repair, and Rectify, and Refit a WATCH, better by half, in half the Time, and for half his Price.” He possessed the skills and experience to do so, having served as “Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the old Country.” Griffith had toned down his advertisements, but Simnet still felt enmity toward his rival, voicing it clearly and creatively in yet another advertisement.

Griffith and Simnet made choices about the content of their advertisements, frequently inserting new and updated notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette over the period of several months in 1769. Most advertisers did not directly engage their competitors, but these two watchmakers experimented with pursuing a feud in the public prints as a strategy for garnering attention. That is not to suggest that they coordinated their efforts to create a spectacle; that seems to have happened organically as each made decisions about the copy for their next advertisement. Simnet, newly arrived in New Hampshire, apparently believed that the squabble served him well, but Griffith tired of making his competitor so prominent in his own advertisements. Still, he felt the pressure from Simnet. Griffith rarely advertised before the English watchmaker appeared on the scene, but regularly promoted his services once Simnet launched his barrage of advertising.

August 11

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

Aug 11 - 8:11:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 11, 1769).

Most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing.”

During the summer of 1769, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, cooperated with other printers to incite demand for “a Volume of curious Papers, to serve as an Appendix to Lieutenant-Governor HUTCHINSON’S History of Massachusetts-Bay,” a work frequently advertised in newspapers in Boston and other parts of New England. To that end, the Fowles inserted a subscription notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Printers had dual purposes in circulating such “PROPOSALS” as newspaper advertisements and, sometimes, separate subscription papers. They aimed to stimulate demand, but they also conducted market research by assessing demand. They did not move forward with projects if consumers did not express sufficient demand. Such was the case with this “Volume of curious Papers.” The subscription notice starkly stated that the “Work will begin as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers appear to defrey the Expence.” Those who wished to reserve a copy needed to submit their names to T. and J. Fleet in Boston, Bulkeley Emerson in Newburyport, or the Fowles in Portsmouth.

In their efforts to encourage colonists to subscribe to the work, the printers vowed that “No more Books will be printed than what are subscribed for.” This created a sense of urgency for prospective subscribers, warning that if they did not make a commitment soon that eventually it would be too late to acquire a copy so they better not waver. The printers also presented a challenge that made colonists responsible for preserving the history and heritage of New England. The subscription notice concluded with a short paragraph that outlined their duty: “As most of these Papers will, probably, be irrecoverably lost in a few Years, unless they be preserved by Printing, it is hoped that a sufficient Number of Subscribers will soon appear, from a regard to the Public, as well as for the sake of their particular Entertainment.” The printers did not envision carefully storing the original documents as a means of safeguarding them for future generations. Instead, the best form of preservation occurred through multiplication. Taking the volume to press would guarantee that the contents of those “curious Papers” would survive long beyond the originals becoming “irrecoverably lost” through deterioration or mishap over the years. Colonists had a civic duty, “a regard to the Public,” to play a role in preventing that loss, according to the printers. Rather than thinking about purchasing and reading the “Volume of curious Papers” as a form of “particular Entertainment” only for themselves, the subscription notice challenged colonists to think of it as a service to their community. Consumption need not be frivolous; it could also serve a purpose in the interests of the greater good.

July 28

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

Jul 28 - 7:28:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 28, 1769)

They will be Sold as cheap as at any Shop in Boston.”

Robert Robertson advertised a “large Assortment of English GOODS” available at his shop in Portsmouth in the July 28, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Samuel Bowles and Stephen Hardy advertised similar wares. All three listed dozens of items; collectively, their advertisements filled almost an entire column in that issue, presenting consumers with many choices. Prospective customers could choose among the merchandise, but they could also choose among the purveyors. To help them make those choices, Bowles and Robertson each described their prices as “very cheap.”

Robertson, however, did more than deploy a standard appeal to price. He concluded his advertisement with a nota bene that underscored the bargains at his shop: “As the above Goods are a Consignment to me, they will be Sold as cheap as at any Shop in Boston.” In making this pronouncement, Robertson acknowledged that he competed not only with Bowles and Hardy and other shopkeepers in Portsmouth but also with all of the merchants and shopkeepers not so far away in the largest and busiest port in New England. Their advertisements filled the pages of the several newspapers printed in that city that certainly found their way to Portsmouth. Robertson revealed that he expected at least some of his prospective customers engaged in comparison shopping, not only in Portsmouth but ranging farther away as well. He also suggested that consumers in New Hampshire had grown accustomed to paying higher prices than their counterparts in Massachusetts.

Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes proclaimed that they matched or beat the prices of their local competitors in the 1760s; only rarely did they address prices throughout an entire region or make comparisons to prices in other cities and towns. Robertson was innovative in that regard, but it may well have been innovation born of necessity if he suspected that he regularly lost business when colonists in New Hampshire visited Boston or sent away for goods supplied by the merchants and shopkeepers who resided there.

July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 21, 1769).

“BOard and Deck NAILS, here manufactur’d.”

Noah Parker depended on the public’s familiarity with current events when he placed his advertisement for “NAILS” in the July 21, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. For more than a year, colonists in New England and beyond had been addressing two significant issues at the intersection of commerce and politics: a trade imbalance with Great Britain and new laws enacted by Parliament that levied duties on certain goods imported into the colonies. Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others devised remedies for the situation. First, they called for the encouragement of “domestic manufactures” or local production of goods usually imported. To be effective, local production required local consumption, making all colonists responsible for successful outcomes as producers, consumers, or both. Purchasing domestic manufactures kept money within the colonies and prevented funds from flowing to the other side of the Atlantic. These efforts became enmeshed with nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of the Townshend Acts. By refusing to import goods until Parliament repealed the offensive acts, colonists aimed to exert economic pressure to achieve political purposes. Domestic manufactures were an important alternative to imported goods, especially once committees formed to enforce nonimportation agreements.

In the 1760s, nails almost invariably appeared among the imported hardware listed in newspaper advertisements from New England to Georgia. Even merchants and shopkeepers who did not stock much other hardware frequently noted that they stocked nails at their shops and stores. Parker presented an alternative for both retailers and consumers, proclaiming that his “BOard and Deck NAILS” were “here manufactur’d.” Realizing that prospective customers were often skeptical of the quality of locally produced goods, he offered assurances that these nails “have been proved far to exceed any imported.” Not only were these nails as good as any imported from England, they were better! How could customers go wrong by acquiring domestic manufactures that exceeded their imported counterparts in quality? Parker did not belabor the point, likely considering it unnecessary. After all, tensions between Parliament and the colonies were the talk of the town and the subject of article after article in the public prints. Though succinct, Parker’s advertisement resonated with public discussions about the significance of domestic manufacturers and nonimportation agreements.

July 14

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

Jul 14 - New-Hampshire Gazette Jul 14
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 14, 1769).

“Finisher to Mr. GRAY and Mr. ELLICOT, WATCH-MAKERS to his late and present MAJESTY.”

John Simnet was an industrious advertiser, perhaps in part due to competition with a rival watchmaker in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Their competition descended into a feud that took place via their advertisements in the public prints in 1769. Simnet regularly published new advertisements rather than instructing the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to once again insert notices that previously appeared in the pages of their newspaper. As a result, the copy in Simnet’s advertisements featured greater variation than readers encountered in notices placed by others who regularly advertised consumer goods and services. His new advertisements often contained variations on appeals he previously presented to prospective clients and new information intended to entice those not yet convinced by what they already knew about the watchmaker and his business.

Such was the case for an advertisement in the July 14, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Simnet reiterated a promise that he had previously presented: “Such Watches as have been repaired by me, if become foul, or require Alteration, may be clean’d, &c. gratis.” In other words, Simnet offered a guarantee for his work and pledged free service and maintenance if he did not manage to completely fix the problem the first time. As for new appeals to prospective clients, the watchmaker emphasized convenience by providing a timetable for his services: “WATCHES Clean’d in thirty Minutes—Repair’d in six Hours.” Customers did not even need to part with their watches overnight. That same week he announced this timetable in an advertisement in the Essex Gazette, but he had not previously discussed the amount of time necessary to make repairs except to state that he did his work “expeditiously.” Finally, Simnet expanded on an appeal that he deployed in earlier advertisements. He had noted his twenty-five years of experience in London, but in his newest advertisement he associated himself with prominent watchmakers, declaring that he had worked as “Finisher and Manufacturer to all of NOTE” in the watchmaking trade in England and Ireland. Most significantly, Simnet proclaimed that he had previously been employed as “Finisher to Mr. GRAY and Mr. ELLICOT, WATCH-MAKERS to his late and present MAJESTY.” He had worked on watches for George II and George III. Simnet did not name his local rival in this advertisement, but the competition almost certainly could not claim to have served such eminent clients! Supplying this additional information enhanced the reputation Simnet cultivated throughout his advertising campaign.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 25, 1769).

“He hereby offers, and assures a FREE PARDON.”

In late May 1769 Major General Alexander Mackay issued a pardon to “Soldiers who have deserted from His Majesty’s Troops quartered” in Boston, provided that they returned and surrendered by the last day of June. It was not, however, a blanket pardon; Mackay did exclude nearly twenty deserters who had committed other crimes. Instead of the promise of a pardon, he offered a reward for “apprehending and securing them in any of the public Goals [jails].” To get the word out about the pardons (and the rewards for the excluded soldiers), Mackay had one of his officers, “C. FORDYCE, Major of the Brigade,” insert notices in the public prints.

Dated May 23, the notice first appeared in the Boston Chronicle and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (published on the same broadsheet and distributed with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) on May 25. Within a week, the same notice ran in all of the newspapers published in Boston, appearing in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (published in the same broadsheet and distributed with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) at the first opportunity on May 29.

Over the next several weeks, publication of the notice concerning Mackay’s pardon radiated out from Boston. It next appeared in the Essex Gazette on May 30 and then the New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette on June 2. The notice soon found its way into both newspapers published in Rhode Island, running in the Providence Gazette on June 3 and in the Newport Mercury on June 5. A week later, the same notice appeared in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant. With the exception of the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven, the notice about the pardon ran in every newspaper in New England. (Copies of the Connecticut Journal for June 9 and 23 were not available for consultation. The notice may have appeared in one or both of those issues of the newspaper published at the furthest distance from Boston.)

At the same time that more newspapers featured the notice, most continued to include it in subsequent editions. It ran in every issue of the Boston Chronicle, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Connecticut Courant, the Essex Gazette, the New-London Gazette, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette from the time of first insertion through the end of June. It appeared in most issues of the Boston Post-Boy and the New-Hampshire Gazette, though it quickly disappeared from the Boston Evening-Post after only two insertions. In total, the notice ran at least fifty-one times in at least eleven newspapers published in New England over the course of five weeks. It made sense to print the notice far and wide considering that deserters were likely to leave Boston to evade capture.

Although information about the pardon could have been considered news, in each instance the notice appeared among the advertisements in every newspaper that carried it. Purveyors of consumer goods and services sometimes published advertisements in multiple newspapers in their city, but a coordinated advertising campaign of this magnitude was extraordinary in 1769. Members of the book trade sometimes inserted subscription notices among the advertisements in as many newspapers as possible, but even their efforts did not usually match the campaign created by Fordyce. He harnessed the power of the press to spread news of the pardons throughout New England, depending on both distribution networks and subsequent word of mouth to inform deserters that they would receive forgiveness if they only returned to their posts.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 23, 1769).

“FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS … propose to celebrate the FEAST of St. JOHN the Baptist.”

Any of the “BRETHREN of the Antient and Honourable Society of FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS in New-Hampshire” who read the colony’s only newspaper could hardly have missed the calls to attend gatherings on Saturday, June 24, 1769. Not one but two advertisements about their events ran in the June 23 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, both of them placed in prominent places on the page. In addition, an announcement dated June 14 also appeared in the previous issue published on June 16.

Of the two notices that circulated on June 23, one was the first item in the first column on the second page, making it difficult for readers to overlook. Even those who skimmed the contents of the page were more likely to give that first item more attention. In it, John Marsh invited his “BRETHREN” to celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist at the King George Tavern the following day. A nota bene further clarified that dinner would be “on Table precisely at Two o’Clock.” Readers encountered a similar advertisement the previous week, though it had since been updated to reflect that the feast would occur “TO-MORROW” rather than later in the month. This required the compositor to reset some, but not all, of the type for the advertisement. Marsh had to make special arrangements (and may have incurred additional expenses) for this when he submitted the copy to the printing office.

Jun 23 - 6:16:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 16, 1769).

The other notice in the June 23 edition ran across all four columns in the margin at the bottom of the first page. Wider than the masthead (due to the continued disruption on the paper supply), its unique placement on the page also would have attracted the attention of the curious. This advertisement notified masons of another event taking place the following day. Marsh instructed them “to attend at the Lodge-Room” at nine o’clock in the evening “to proceed thence in procession to Queen’s-Chapel, where a Sermon suitable to the Occasion, will be preached by the Rev. Mr. BROWN.” Its position in the margin suggested that this notice had been a late submission to the printing office, inserted after the type had been set. Given that Marsh could not wait a week to insert the notice in the next edition, the printers made special provisions to include his notice (and collect the fees).

Limited to only two pages, that edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured an advertisement from the masons on both pages. Many readers likely read them in quick succession, first the notice at the bottom of the front page and then, flipping over the broadsheet, immediately the first item in the first column on the other side. Informing “BRETHREN” of the gatherings taking place on June 24 was not merely a matter of inserting notices in the newspaper. Where those notices appeared on the page also facilitated getting the word out, especially for the sermon that had not previously been promoted in the public prints.

Jun 23 - 6:23:1769 Page 1 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 23, 1769).