What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WATCHES CLEANED in 30 Minutes.”
John Simnet, a watchmaker from London, made his presence in Portsmouth known in 1769 with a series of advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Initially he inserted notices with the intention of cultivating his clientele, but over the course of several months he found himself engaged in a public feud with Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a local watchmaker who took exception to Simnet intruding in his territory. For the most part, Simnet confined his advertisements to the New-Hampshire Gazette, though shortly after his arrival in New England he had placed one notice in the Boston Weekly News-Letter in an attempt to draw on that market. To that end, he offered to “pay the Carriage to and fro” for clients in Boston who sent their watches to him in Portsmouth via “Mr. Noble’s Stage.” In the summer of 1769, Simnet made another attempt to enlarge his market by placing an advertisement in the Essex Gazette.
Simnet advanced many of the same appeals that he had consistently deployed in his previous notices, but he also supplied new information for prospective customers. To establish his credentials, he proclaimed that he previously worked as “Finisher to Mr. Tompion, Graham, Storey, Toulmin; and every other Maker (of Note) in London.” Simnet had not previously mentioned the names of his former associates, only noted that he had followed his occupation in London for some time before migrating to New England. He likely did not expect colonists to recognize all of the watchmakers he listed, but did intend to impress them with the assertion that he had worked alongside and been entrusted by the most prominent watchmakers in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. As a newcomer in New England, Simnet was largely unfamiliar to his prospective customers, making it all the more necessary to convince them of the reputation he had previously established in London.
In addition, Simnett made several other appeals. He promised convenience and quality, pledging to clean watches in thirty minutes and “perfectly” repair them in six hours. Prospective customers would not have to part with their watches for days or weeks while he worked on them. He set prices that matched those charged in London, but also offered a guarantee. When he promised “no future Expence (Accidents excepted),” prospective customers understood that he would perform further repairs for free if he did not successfully fix watches the first time. This deal, however, applied only to recurring problems that Simnet did not manage to resolve, not to new issues caused by “Accidents” or wear and tear. Finally, Simnet declared, “Security deposited in Hand for Watches, if required.” In other words, he provided collateral of some sort when customers entrusted him with their watches. This had not been part of Simnet’s first advertisements, but after his rival Griffith accused him of stealing watches Simnet began incorporating such assurances into his marketing efforts.
In a short advertisement, Simnet advanced multiple appeals to convince prospective customers to hire him to clean and repair their watches. He underscored his own skill and experience by trumpeting the names of prominent watchmakers in London who had previously employed him. He also emphasized convenience, quality, and price while offering two types of guarantees. For the first, he made additional repairs for free if his initial efforts were not successful. For the second, he supplied collateral when accepting watches for repair. Simnet included some of the most common appeals that appeared in advertisement placed by artisans in eighteenth-century America, yet he also adapted his notice to address his own recent experiences with a rival who attempted to undermine his business.