March 16

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

Pennsylvania Packet (March 16, 1772).

“Proposes to engage his performance for one year, provided the owners do not abuse the same.”

When Thomas Morgan, a watch- and clockmaker, relocated from Philadelphia to a shop on Gay Street in Baltimore in the early 1770s, he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet, published in Philadelphia.  Why did he advertise in a newspaper published in the town he left rather than one published in his new town?  Baltimore did not yet have its own newspaper.  Colonizers in Baltimore and the surrounding area depended on the Maryland Gazette, published in Annapolis, and several newspapers published in Philadelphia, including the Pennsylvania Packet, as regional newspapers.  When he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet, Morgan anticipated that prospective customers in Baltimore would see it.

In addition, he deployed other marketing strategies.  He marked his new location in Baltimore with “THE SIGN OF THE ARCH DIAL,” a visual statement to all passersby about what kind of business he operated.  He also offered a guarantee for repairing and cleaning watches and clocks, stating that he would “engage his performance for one year, provided the owners do not abuse the same.”  In other words, the guarantee remained in effect only if customers treated their clocks and watches well.  That included not subjecting their timepieces to “unskilful hands” who did more harm than good.  Morgan lamented that “many good watches are greatly abused for want of experience” by artisans who purported to possess skills that they did not.  In so doing, Morgan made appeals similar to those that John Simnet, a watchmaker in New York, included in his newspaper advertisements.  He also offered guarantees of his work, contingent on how customers treated their clocks and watches, and warned against trusting inexperienced watch- and clockmakers who damaged the timepieces entrusted to them.

Morgan invited “Any Gentleman” to visit his new location in Baltimore, promising that they may “have new Watches and Clocks made after the neat and best construction.”  To encourage those previously unfamiliar with his work, he indicated that he already attracted new clients and “most gratefully acknowledges the many favours received from the Public, and hopes for the continuance of them.”  Morgan hoped that advertising in the Pennsylvania Packet would further ease the transition after setting up shop in a new town.

February 23

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

New-York Journal (February 20, 1772).

“Watches regulated, and such alterations which don’t require much time; gratis.”

For the past three years, the Adverts 250 Project has tracked newspaper advertisements placed by John Simnet, a “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” first in the New-Hampshire Gazette during the period that he lived and worked in Portsmouth in 1769 and 1770 and then in newspapers published in New York after he migrated to that city.  Simnet often promoted his years of experience working in London in his advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, but he also pursued a nasty public feud with one of his competitors.  That may have contributed to his decision to leave Portsmouth in favor of New York.

In a new city, Simnet adopted a much less aggressive approach in his advertising.  He deployed a variety of marketing strategies that did not focus on denigrating other watchmakers, though he did suggest that he possessed greater skill than any of his rivals.  In an advertisement that ran for the first time in the February 20, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, for instance, he trumpeted that he “had more practice, and general knowledge on new work [the mechanisms in watches] than any yet in this country could have.”  Drawing on his long experience and superior expertise, he provided a service to anyone considering buying, selling, or repairing watches.  Simnet offered to examine watches and inform the owners or prospective buyers of “the first cost, or value of any new, or old watch.”  Once they knew the value of watches “with certainty,” they could make informed decisions about buying, selling, or repairing watches.

To generate business and enhance his reputation, Simnet also declared that he made “such alterations which don’t require much time; gratis.”  For those jobs that did involve more time and attention, he stated that he “will clean them, fit glasses, springs, inside chains; and perform every particular article in repairing, at half the price, charg’d by any other.”  Perhaps Simnet discovered that bargain prices brought more customers to his shop “At the Dial … beside the Coffee-House Bridge” than cantankerous diatribes that insulted his competitors.  In this advertisement, he focused on his own skill, asserting that customers could depend on his work keeping their watches in good order for quite some time instead of having them become “an annual or continual expence.”  Simnet attempted to leverage his skill and experience “To the Advantage of those who wear WATCHES” as well as his own benefit in earning a livelihood through providing various services.

December 27

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 27, 1771).

“WATCHES and CLOCKS are clean’d and kept in Repair.”

As 1771 came to an end and a new year loomed, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to remind residents of Portsmouth and nearby towns that he “clean’d and kept in Repair” both clocks and watches.  He also sold “all Sorts of Watch Materials lately imported” and “performs gilding Work, either with Gold or Silver.”  He pledged that he performed all of these services “in the cheapest and best Manner.”

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette may have remembered that not so long ago another clock- and watchmaker, John Simnet, frequently placed advertisements that accused Griffith of damaging watches rather than cleaning and repairing them.  Sometimes Simnet identified Griffith by name, but other times he merely made insinuations.  For his part, Griffith expressed less interest in fueling a feud in the public prints, preferring instead to bolster his own business rather than denigrate a competitor.  That did not prevent him, however, from suggesting that Simnet, who had recently relocated to Portsmouth from London, was an itinerant as likely to steal watches as repair them.  In a series of advertisements, Simnet trumpeted his decades of experience in some of the best workshops in London, proclaiming his superior skill.  In addition to pointing out that Griffith lacked formal training, he also implied that his competitor possessed a defective intellect.

Griffith and, especially, Simnet staged quite a performance in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette before the newcomer decided that Portsmouth was not the place for him.  After a year and a half of sparring with Griffith, Simnet moved to New York.  He once again touted the skill and experience he gained on the other side of the Atlantic, but he did select any local competitors to target for abuse.  Perhaps he learned in Portsmouth that some consumers did not appreciate marketing strategies that pivoted on abusing others.  Free of the cantankerous Simnet, Griffith continued placing occasional advertisements that conformed to the standards of the period.  He made positive appeals, such as asserting that he did his work “in the cheapest and best Manner,” but did not make any direct comparisons to other artisans.

December 5

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

New-York Journal (December 5, 1771).

“JOHN SIMNET, of London, WATCH-FINISHER.”

Nearly six months had passed since John Simnet last placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal, but he concluded the year by placing his notice in every issue published in December 1771.  Simnet, a veteran watchmaker with decades of experience working in shops in London, did not advertise in any of the newspapers published in New York nearly as often as he had advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette when he ran a shop in Portsmouth for about eighteen months in 1769 and 1770.  A rivalry with another watchmaker, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, played an important part in Simnet aggressively taking to the public prints, frequently denigrating his competitor.  Readers may have been amused by the feud between Griffith and Simnet that played out before their eyes in the New-Hampshire Gazette, though Simnet may have alienated as many prospective customers as he gained since his advertisements were often significantly more mean-spirited than those placed by Griffith.

Simnet did not even mention his time in Portsmouth after he relocated from the smaller town to the bustling port of New York.  He presented himself as “JOHN SIMNET, of London, WATCH-FINISHER,” choosing not to acknowledge that he passed through New Hampshire.  He adopted a more evenhanded tone in his advertisements in the New-York Journal, though he could not resist the temptation to make a blanket statement about “Watch-Butchers” who further damaged rather than repaired watches customers entrusted to their care when he advertised in the summer of 1771.  He eschewed such attacks when he once again ran notices in December.  He trumpeted, however, that he was the “only general Manufacturer in this Country,” dismissing the training, skill, and experience of his competitors.  Despite that interlude near the end of his advertisement, Simnet focused most of his effort on positive appeals.  He emphasized price, addressing his notice “to “those who desire to preserve their Money and their WATCHES, And avoid unnecessary Expence.”  He listed prices for some of his services, reporting that he performed “All other Repairs in Proportion, at half what is usually charged.”  The watchmaker also declared that he completed difficult jobs quickly.  Simnet may have learned that such strategies served him better than the antagonistic approach he took to marketing during the time he resided in New Hampshire.

August 28

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 26, 1771).

“Some of the best workmen … that could be had in any part of England.”

In the summer of 1771, Bennett and Dixon introduced themselves to residents of New York as “Jewellers, Gold-smiths, and Lapidaries, from London” and invited prospective customers to their shop near the post office.  The partners recently imported “a great variety of jewellery,” including “necklaces, ear rings, egrets, sprigs and pins for ladies hair, rings, lockets, and broaches of all sorts, ladies tortoise-shell combs plain and sett,” and many sorts of buckles.  They promised low prices for both wholesale and retail prices.

Yet Bennett and Dixon were not merely purveyors of imported jewelry, accessories, and adornments.  They also accepted commissions and fabricated items at their shop.  In promoting that aspect of their business, they underscored the level of skill represented among their employees.  “[F]or the better carrying on the jewellery, goldsmith and lapidary business,” Bennett and Dixon proclaimed, they “engaged some of the best workmen in those branches, that could be had in any part of England.”  The partners imported not only merchandise and materials but also artisans with exceptional skills.  Prospective customers did not need to feel anxious that items they ordered from Bennett and Dixon would be of inferior quality or easily distinguished from imported jewelry.  Even though New York was far away from London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, consumers could still acquire custom-made jewelry that rivaled anything produced on the other side of the Atlantic.  Bennett and Dixon also declared that their customers did not have to pay a premium for jewelry as “good as in the City of London.”  Their artisans worked “as cheap” as their counterparts there, keeping prices reasonable for customers who placed special orders.

Colonial consumers often worried that they only had access to second best when compared to goods and services available in English cities, especially London.  Advertisers like Bennett and Dixon frequently reassured prospective customers that they had choices that rivaled anything available to consumers in the metropolitan center of the empire.

June 16

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

Jun 16 - 6:16:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 16, 1770).

They may depend on having their Commands executed after the newest and most genteel Fashions.”

When Daniel Stillwell, a tailor, placed an advertisement in the June 16, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette, he made one of the most common and important appeals deployed by colonists who followed his trade.  He pledged that clients “may depend on having their Commands executed after the newest and most genteel Fashions.”  Tailors and others in the garment trades often made appeals to price, quality, and fashion in their advertisements.  Stillwell, like other tailors, believed that price and quality might not have mattered much to those who wished for their clothing to communicate their gentility if their garments, trimmings, and accessories did not actually achieve the desired purpose.  Reasonable prices and good quality were no substitute for making the right impression.  Stillwell’s work as a tailor required a special kind of expertise beyond measuring, cutting, and sewing.  He had to be a keen observer of changing tastes and trends so he could deliver “the newest and most genteel Fashions” to his clients.

To that end, Stillwell informed prospective customers that he “has had great Opportunities of seeing the different Methods of working.”  Although he did not elaborate on those experiences, this statement suggested to readers that Stillwell refused to become stagnant in his trade.  Rather than learning one method or technique and then relying on it exclusively, he consulted with other tailors and then incorporated new and different techniques, further enhancing his skill.  In so doing, he joined the many artisans who asserted that their skill and experience prepared them to “give Satisfaction” to those who employed them or purchased the wares they produced.  Stillwell was no novice; instead, he “carries on his Business in all its Branches,” proficiently doing so because of the care he had taken in “seeing the different Methods of working.” Simply observing current fashions was not sufficient for someone in his trade who was unable to replicate them.  Stillwell sought to assure prospective clients that he possessed two kinds of knowledge necessary for serving them, a discerning knowledge of the latest styles and a thorough knowledge of the methods of his trade that would allow him to outfit customers accordingly.

April 22

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

Apr 22 - 4:19:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (April 19, 1770).

“FENCING, WITH BROAD AND SMALL SWORDS.”

When fencing master P. Wallace arrived in Charleston, he placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette to inform prospective pupils that he offered lessons with “BROAD and SMALL SWORDS.”  Having just arrived from Philadelphia, he acknowledged that he was “a Stranger” in the colony, but he hoped that would not dissuade potential students from availing themselves of his services.  To that end, he asserted that “his Knowledge … will be sufficient to recommend him, and that he shall be able to give Satisfaction to those who may please to employ him.”  Whatever reputation he had earned in Philadelphia did not transfer to Charleston, so he relied on “Merit” to “find Encouragement” among prospective pupils.

In addition to addressing students, Wallace’s advertisement also served as an introduction to the entire community, especially those already proficient in fencing.  To demonstrate his “Knowledge in that noble Science.”  Wallace issued a challenge to “any Gentleman who professes being skilled in the Art of Defence,” proclaiming that “would be glad to have an Opportunity to be proved” by them.  The newcomer sought to orchestrate a spectacle that would not only entertain his new neighbors but also establish his reputation and create word-of-mouth endorsements of his skill, provided that he performed well when others accepted his challenge.

This strategy also had the advantage of securing introductions to men of status who had already cultivated their own skills in “that noble Science” of fencing and would likely know others who wished to learn.  To accept his challenge, “Gentlem[e]n who profess being skilled in the Art of Defence” had to seek out Wallace.  The fencing master likely anticipated that they would bring friends and acquaintances, some of them prospective pupils, to any demonstrations.  Following those demonstrations, both challengers and observers could sign up for lessons as well as recommend Wallace to others in the market for instruction with the sword.

Wallace exuded confidence in his advertisement.  To some, he might even have appeared overconfident or arrogant, but that very well could have been calculated to convince others to accept his challenge.  Creating a spectacle had the potential to generate additional opportunities for the newcomer.

February 22

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

Feb 22 - 2:22:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (February 22, 1770).

“He has engaged Two exceeding good Workmen.”

While eighteenth-century artisans frequently promoted their own training and other credentials, relatively few devoted space in their newspaper advertisements to acknowledging the skill and experience of subordinates who worked in their shops.  William Faris, a clock- and watchmaker in Annapolis, however, incorporated several employees into the advertisement he placed in the February 22, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette.  Indeed, he said little about his own contributions to the business in favor of convincing prospective customers that he hired skilled artisans capable of executing their orders.

Faris opened his advertisement by announcing that “he has engaged Two exceeding good Workmen.”  He noted that one “has been a Finisher several Years to the celebrated Mr. Allen,” expecting that name to resonate with consumers familiar with clock- and watchmakers.  Faris leveraged the reputation of another artisan, perhaps even a competitor, to enhance the standing of his own business.  Having competent workmen in the shop allowed Faris to branch out.  He informed prospective customers that he also “executes any Orders he may be favoured with for Chair Work,” an endeavor made possible by hiring “a good Workman” who has produced “several Dozens of very neat black Walnut Chairs.”

In the midst of acquainting the public with his skilled staff, Faris also noted, though briefly, that “he still carries on” activities closely aligned with making clocks and watches.  He pursued the “Gold, Silversmiths and Jewellers Businesses,” doing that work “in the neatest and Best Manner.”  His own skill and experience made him qualified to assess the abilities of the workmen he employed.  By listing the several tradesmen who worked alongside him, Faris conjured images of a busy and bustling shop, one where customers could depend on the proprietor having sufficient assistance to see to their orders “faithfully” and “with the utmost Dispatch.”  At the same time, Faris assured them that they did not have to worry about inferior work undertaken by those he employed.  He vouched for their skill and experience.  Many colonial artisans disguised labor done by others in their shops when they advertised, but Faris sought to mobilize his workmen to his advantage when wooing prospective customers.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:21:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 21, 1770).

“The Taylor’s Business is carried on in all its branches.”

When Jonathan Remington, a tailor, moved to a new location early in 1770, he placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette so prospective clients would know where to find him.  Although he devoted much of the notice to giving directions, he also incorporated, though briefly, several marketing appeals.  “The Taylor’s Business,” he proclaimed, “is carried on in all its branches, in the genteelest manner, and with the utmost dispatch.”  Remington deployed formulaic language, though its familiarity to consumers may have been an asset.  Such brevity may have also allowed the tailor to keep down the costs of advertising while still promoting several aspects of his services.

In that single sentence, he communicated that he possessed a range of skills associated with his trade, declaring that he was qualified to pursue “all its branches.”  Prospective clients need not worry that they might present him with requests too difficult or beyond his experience.  He also made a nod to fashion, asserting that he did his work “in the genteelest manner.”  That appeal also implied the quality of his work.  Prospective customers would not look as though they had visited a second-rate tailor.  They could don his garments and confidently go about their daily interactions with other colonists without fearing that careful observation resulted in damaging judgments.  Remington’s pledge to tend to clients “with the utmost dispatch” testified to the customer service he provided.

Remington also attempted to attract new customers by leveraging his former customers as evidence of his abilities.  He expressed gratitude to “his friends and good customers for their past favours, and hopes for the continuance of them.”  In making that acknowledgment, Remington sought to maintain his current clientele while implicitly extending an invitation to new customers to visit him at his new location.  He reported that his services were already in demand, hoping to incite additional demand among readers of the Georgia Gazette who had not previously employed his services.  He played on consumer psychology that demand, or even the appearance of demand, could create additional demand.

Although not extensive, Remington’s advertisement delivered several marketing appeals intended to make his services attractive to prospective clients.  He relied on standardized language that allowed him to deliver messages grounded in the consumer culture of the period in relatively few words.

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.