What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A SQUIB—-To the Tune of Miss Dawson’s Hornpipe.”
In June 1770, watchmaker John Simnet was unrelenting in the criticism of rival Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. For three consecutive weeks, he published advertisements featuring new insults in the New-Hampshire Gazette. For nearly a year and a half the two watchmakers traded barbs in the public prints, beginning almost as soon as Simnet set up shop in the colony, but their exchanges had previously been intermittent. Neither had previously directed so many advertisements at the other so quickly. Simnet likely incurred additional fees in choosing this manner of pursuing his vendetta against Griffith. Advertisers usually paid a flat fee for setting type and running notices for several weeks; inserting a notice once and replacing it with a different advertisement the following week created more work in the printing office. Auctioneers tended to run new advertisements with details about upcoming sales every week, but other purveyors of goods and services usually ran their advertisements for multiple weeks.
Simnet commenced this series of advertisements on June 15 with a two-part notice that first compared Griffith to a rat and then published one of his bills for the public to determine whether Griffith charged fair prices. In another two-part advertisement on June 22, Simnet reiterated the rat metaphor and supplemented it with a poem that denigrated both Griffith’s character and skills as a watchmaker. The advertisement in the June 29 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazetteagain had two parts. The first was fairly innocuous, deploying strategies that any watchmaker might have incorporated into an advertisement. It briefly stated, “WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR: Clean’d for thos who desire them done cheap, for a Pistereen, and Repairs in Proportion. By J. SIMNET: Parade.” It was in the second portion, “A SQUIB—-To the Tune of Miss Dawson’s Hornpipe,” that Simnet attacked Griffith. That poem was not nearly as clever as the one Simnet published the previous week. It mocked Griffith’s appearance and “foolish Face,” but did not mention his character nor the quality of his work. Yet it may have been all the more memorable as a means of repeatedly demeaning Griffith since Simnet provided instructions for setting it to music. Reader could sing or hum a bit to themselves, intentionally to see how Simnet’s lyrics fit the tune and unintentionally if the music got stuck in their heads. Rather than create an advertising jingle that made his own business more memorable, Simnet attempted to use music in a manner that encouraged the community of readers to repeatedly belittle his competitor.