What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Advice to the cautious, who are about to buy, swop, and little jobs to the wise for nothing.”
On July 1, 1773, watchmaker John Simnet placed a new advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer. On that day, another of his advertisements appeared in the New-York Journal for the tenth time. While not uncommon for merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans to advertise in more than one newspaper simultaneously, they usually submitted identical notices to each printing office. Prospective customers usually encountered the same advertisement no matter which publication they happened to read.
Simnet’s advertisements in the two newspapers were not that much different. In each, he informed the public that he recently “removed” to a new location. He also proclaimed that he charged “half the price” of his competitors when it came to cleaning and repairing watches, in addition to offering a service plan in which he would “keep them in order at his own trouble, without expence (except abused).” In other words, as long as clients treated their watches well, Simnet provided small repairs free of charge. The watchmaker, a frequent advertiser, had been promoting these aspects of his business for quite some time, even before one of his current advertisements first ran in the New-York Journal on April 29.
He made additional appeals in his new advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer. In particular, he offered “advice to the cautious, who are about to buy, swop, and little jobs to the wise for nothing.” With the exception of small jobs undertaken gratis, these services had not previously been part of Simnet’s marketing efforts in the public prints. The description he deployed closely replicated the language that Thomas Hilldrup, a watchmaker in Hartford, used in advertisements that ran in all three newspapers published in Connecticut. In those notices, Hilldrup declared that he offered “advice to those who are about to buy, sell or exchange, and any other jobbs that take up but little time gratis.” Simnet almost certainly saw those advertisements, especially considering that he advertised in the Connecticut Courant for the first time in January 1773. He had been active in the greater New York market for more than two years, after relocating from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but had not considered it necessary to advertise in any of the newspapers published in Connecticut until Hilldrup arrived in the colony in the fall of 1772 and then devised an extensive advertising campaign over the next several months.
One other aspect of Simnet’s new notice merits attention, especially considering that he placed it in a newspaper that served Connecticut, New Jersey, the Hudson River, and Quebec. Simnet asserted that he was the “ONLY regular Watchmaker here, of the London Company,” a claim that he frequently made in other advertisements as a means of denigrating his competitors. In addition, he had a long history of picking fights and engaging in public feuds in his newspaper advertisements, first in Portsmouth and then in New York. It comes as little surprise that he would appropriate the marketing strategies of a competitor while simultaneously contending that he possessed superior skill and training, especially in a newspaper that he anticipated that competitor was likely to read. The cantankerous watchmaker often seemed as interested in taunting his competitors as attracting clients to his shop.