January 12

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

Jan 12 1770 - 1:12:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 12, 1770).

“SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country.”

Watchmaker John Simnet returned to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette early in 1770, placing a short advertisement in the January 12 edition. Brief but bold, Simnet’s newest notice proclaimed, “WATCHES. SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country. —- Parade, PORTSMOUTH.” Simnet reminded readers of the services he provided, but left it to them to fill in the details.

Considered alone, this advertisement may not seem particularly interesting. Simnet did boast of his skill, declaring himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” but he did not do much else to promote his business and attract clients … or so it would seem at a glance. This advertisement, however, must be considered in the larger context of an advertising campaign that Simnet had waged for the past year and his ongoing feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been very familiar with both Simnet’s previous advertisements, those placed by Griffith in response, and the professional (and seemingly even personal) animosity between the two watchmakers. That animosity likely manifested itself in interactions beyond the public prints, so colonists did not necessarily need to read all of the advertisements to know that Simnet and Griffith did not get along and regularly denigrated each other.

Simnet’s assertion that he was the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country” was more than bravado about his skill. It was also an insult intentionally directed at Griffith. Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire after more than two decades working as a watchmaker in London. He received his training and served clients in the largest city in the empire. He frequently suggested that other watchmakers, especially Griffith, could not match his skill, insinuating that Griffith often did more harm than good when tasked with repairing clocks and watches. In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant who was just as likely to steal watches from the residents of Portsmouth as repair them.

Simnet’s advertisement communicated far more than its eleven words might suggest to casual readers unfamiliar with his prior marketing efforts. The watchmaker did more than invite prospective clients to hire his services; he also perpetuated a feud with a rival by trumpeting his own skill and, by implication, demeaning the abilities of his primary competitor.

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.

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.

September 27

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

Sep 27 - 9:27:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 27, 1768).

“ONE might be apt to think by Mr. Champneys’s advertisement that GEORGE LIVINGSTON is actually dead.”

George Livingston demonstrated his appreciation for drama in an advertisement offering his services as a broker in the September 27, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. “ONE might be apt to think by Mr. Champneys’s advertisement,” the broker acerbically observed, “that GEORGE LIVINGSTON is actually dead: Blessed be GOD the case is not so: He is still in the land of the living, and steps forth to inform his friends and the public, that he is in some measure able to do BUSINESS.” After such a theatrical introduction, Livingston returned to the familiar refrains that appeared in advertisements placed by others in his line of work. Familiar as Livingston’s appeals to his “FIDELITY and PUNCTUALITY” may have been, they likely garnered more notice from prospective clients as a result of Livingston’s unusual method of introducing himself.

Livingston inserted his advertisement in response to one from his former business partner that appeared the previous week as well as again in the same issue as the rebuttal. In that notice, Champneys announced that he “FOLLOWS the FACTORAGE BUSINESS by himself.” He offered his services to friends and former customers, promising that “they may depend on the same Diligence and constant Attendance as formerly.” Although some colonists placed advertisements when they dissolved business partnerships, Champneys did not mention Livingston at all. Neither advertisement reveals the conditions of their parting. Livingston’s notice could suggest that he took some umbrage at Champneys seemingly erasing their former association, but he also noted that he “proposes doing his business on Mr. Champneys’s, formerly Mr. Simmons’s, wharf.” They were not on such poor terms that Livingston refused to become a tenant of Champneys. Perhaps the two had parted amicably. Perhaps Champneys even laughed at the joke made possible by his own advertisement, even as the two brokers competed for the same clients. Formerly partners, they were now rivals in business. Invoking humor may have been a means for Livingston to attract his share of clients without denigrating his former partner’s own “FIDELITY and PUNCTUALITY.” Just because they were business rivals did not mean that Champneys and Livingston could not also be friendly rivals.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:18:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 18, 1768).

“No Man can be more careful, and vigilant, than the Master of said Office.”

John Gerrish had a bone to pick with Elias Dupee. Gerrish operated the North-End Vendue-Office. Dupee, his rival, ran the New-Auction Room. The two competed for both clients who supplied merchandise and bidders who purchased those wares.

On February 15, 1768, Dupee placed advertisements impugning Gerrish’s reputation in two newspapers, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy. Gerrish was so concerned about the accusations leveled against him that he did not wait a week to respond in the publications that originally ran Dupee’s advertisement. Instead, he published his own rebuttal just three days later in the Massachusetts Gazette. After devoting just a few lines to promoting his upcoming auction, Gerrish addressed Dupee’s allegations at length. Though he never mentioned his rival by name, Gerrish did closely paraphrase a portion of Dupee’s advertisement.

Dupee had offered a reward “to be paid to any Body, who shall bring to Justice, one John Taylor, who Stole out of the New Auction Room, the Night the Fire was, a blue Surtout Coat, and had it Sold at the North-Vendue Office.” Anyone who resided in Boston would have know that John Gerrish was the auctioneer at the North-End Vendue-Office, especially anyone who regularly read any of the local newspapers. Gerrish, like Dupee and Joseph Russell from the Auction-Room in Queen Street, advertised regularly in several newspapers.

In his advertisement, Dupee explicitly accused Taylor of being a thief, but he also implicitly alleged that Gerrish was Taylor’s fence when he stated that the stolen coat had been “Sold at the North-Vendue Office.” Such allegations had the potential to do significant damage to Gerrish’s reputation, scaring away bidders who did not wish to obtain stolen merchandise as well as suppliers who did not want their own names or ware associated with illicit business practices. Gerrish answered Dupee’s charges with a detailed timeline. The “Coat Sold for Taylor” had entered the North-End Vendue-Office ten days before the fire at Dupee’s New Auction Room, therefore it could not have been the same coat stolen the night of the fire. In addition, Gerrish identified discrepancies between the quality and price of the coat auctioned at his establishment and the one stolen from Dupee. Furthermore, the coat had been on display and “every Day exposed for Sale,” suggesting that many witnesses could attest to having seen it at the North-End Vendue-Office. Some of them could confirm the quality and value of that coat.

Gerrish acknowledged the possibility that Taylor had stolen a coat from Dupee, but if he had it was not the one that Gerrish auctioned. “Taylor may be a Thief,” he stated, “but verily he did not look more like one, than the Advertiser.” Dupee had attacked Gerrish’s reputation. Gerrish responded in kind. He also underscored, just in case readers had not followed all the complexity of his timeline, that “there is not the least probability, that the Coat Advertised, is the same that was Sold at the North-End Vendue-Office.”

Gerrish concluded with a message for prospective clients and potential bidders. “No Man can be more careful, and vigilant, than the Master of said Office, in endeavouring to detect suspected persons, –he has detected several, –let others beware.” Many colonists participated in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century via an informal economy that included secondhand and stolen goods. Newspaper advertisements frequently alerted readers about stolen goods. In addition, court records show that theft and fencing regularly occurred. That being the case, Gerrish devoted significant effort to demonstrating that he conducted a legitimate business that did not truck in stolen wares. He needed buyers and sellers, as well as the community more generally, to trust in his character if he wished to continue his business and compete against the rival auction houses in Boston.

Feb 21 - 2:15:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 15, 1768).

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (June 19, 1766).

“EDWARD BROADFIELD has carried on the manufacture of STURGEON for fourteen years, and given a general satisfaction.”

Edward Broadfield told a dramatic tale of commercial rivalry, sabotage, subterfuge, and woe in his advertisement for pickled sturgeon from the June 19, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Journal.

He started by noting his qualifications and the quality of his product. He had “carried on the manufacture of STURGEON for fourteen years.” The pickled sturgeon he produced was as good as any imported from the Baltic, so good that the “honourable society of arts, manufactures and commerce” had presented him an award, including a cash prize, for the “best Sturgeon cured in America.”

The previous year some misfortunes forced Broadfield to take on a partner, who remained unnamed throughout the advertisement. The partner, in turn, attempted to force Broadfield out of his own business. The partner refused to send the necessary supplies to continue the business. Broadfield found himself in such a predicament, unable to pay his debts, that he left town in order to procure the necessary supplies on his own, leaving his wife to oversee his affairs while he was away.

In Broadfield’s absence, the partner sent “a French Indian and his wife, to supplant my wife.” Furthermore, he spread false rumors about Broadfield and attempted to bribe his wife to leave town. She did “quit the place,” but never received the promised payment for doing so.

This was all bad enough, but Broadfield’s reputation was further at stake. His wife left behind several kegs “branded with my brand” which the Indian and his wife then filled with their own pickled sturgeon. They sold and shipped it as though they were in partnership with Broadfield. His advertisement warned unsuspecting consumers about this trickery.

Broadfield announced that he continued business at Kensington, not at Lamberton where he had formerly pursued his craft. In most circumstances, a brand alone testified to the quality of the product in the kegs, but Broadfield needed customers to know that only pickled sturgeon that came from him directly in Kensington actually had his seal of approval. In addition, he listed one additional authorized seller in Philadelphia, “Mr. Jeremiah Baker, near the Crooked Billet, in Water-street.” Broadfield concluded by stressing that his fish was sold “by no other persons.”

Broadfield told quite a story in his advertisement. He attempted to leverage a frustrating, infuriating, and embarrassing series of events to rehabilitate his damaged reputation, warn others against the perfidy of his former partner, and attract customers for his own product. In the process of promoting his own pickled sturgeon, he aired a lot of dirty laundry. Perhaps a combination of sympathy and indignation resonated with customers.

June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:13:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 13, 1766).

“The unwary purchaser may make use of this to prevent their being taken in.”

Throughout the eighteenth century many advertisers emphasized their own virtues, especially their good character. As urban centers increased in size, residents did not necessarily always know all the merchants and retailers who lived in their area. In addition, mobility and migration were common. People were constantly coming and going in colonial America: arriving from Europe, moving from colony to colony, seeking new opportunities wherever they could find them. Many commercial exchanges began with the parties not knowing each other. Accordingly, advertisers frequently assured potential customers of their good character.

This anonymously placed advertisement, on the other hand, warned readers of the Virginia Gazette against trusting Robert Bolling. Less than two weeks earlier “an examination of the weights at Robert Bolling’s warehouse” were “found to have lost, from 2 and half per cent. to 5 per cent. or more.” Bolling, “the designing seller” was cheating his customers.

Maintaining a good reputation played an important role in inaugurating and continuing commercial exchanges in eighteenth-century America. According to this advertisement, Bolling had taken advantage of “unwary purchaser[s]” who bought tobacco at his warehouse, calling his character into question.

Had Bolling intentionally adjusted the weights? Was he even aware that they were off? The advertisements suggest that was the case by describing him as a “designing seller.” However, it’s also possible that a competitor, disgruntled employee, or unhappy customer placed this advertisement as a means of undermining Bolling’s reputation, though it seems that “the designing seller” might have tracked down the author of this advertisement fairly easily with a visit or letter to the printer of the Virginia Gazette.

Jun 15 - 6:13:1766 response Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 13, 1766).

At any rate, Bolling seems to have offered a response that suggested the original advertisement was nothing more than subterfuge designed by competitors who had “a great many ships to load” and wanted to prevent planters from selling their tobacco through Bolling’s warehouse. Empty or partially loaded ships diminished revenues. This advertisement suggested that the accusations against Bolling were nothing more than an attempt to direct business to another warehouse.

This was not the first time that commercial rivalries found voice in newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, nor would it be the last.