December 3

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

New-York Journal (December 3, 1772).

“Every Particular in repairing at HALF the PRICE charged by any other.”

In early December 1772, watchmaker John Simnet inserted a new advertisement in the New-York Journal.  Simnet had a long history of advertising, first in New Hampshire and then in New York.  He sometimes promoted the services he provided, but other times denigrated the skill and character of one competitor or another.  This time he opted to compare his prices and ancillary services to those offered by other watchmakers, but he did not launch any attacks against particular rivals.

Simnet incorporated superlatives into his advertisement.  He mentioned his origins, declaring that he had been “many Years [a] Finisher and Manufacturer to all (of Note) of this Trade, in London and Dublin.”  In other words, he previously worked in only the best workshops in those cities before migrating to the colonies.  Upon his arrival he became the “first [who] reduc’d the Price of Watch Work in this Country,” suggesting that others charged far too much for the mending and cleaning services they provided.  Simnet also proclaimed that he “continues to bring it to the utmost Perfection,” leaving it to readers to determine if “it” meant prices alone or the entire watchmaking trade.

To entice prospective clients to avail themselves of his services, Siment listed his prices.  He charged two shillings to clean watches and one to clean watch glasses.  He replaced “Main Springs, inside Chains, [and] enamell’d Dial Plates, at Four Shillings each,” compared to others in the colonies who “(very conscientiously) Charge Twelve or Sixteen Shillings.”  He accused the industry of purposely charging three or four times what the prices should have been for replacing certain parts.  As for other fixing other parts of watches, Simnet asserted that he asked “HALF the Price charged by any other.”

If those prices were not enough to get clients into his shop, the watchmaker offered ancillary services for free.  He promised “no future Expence, wither for cleaning or mending” for any watches purchased from him.  Deploying one more superlative, Simnet proclaimed that such a deal “never was profess’d by any Watch-Maker” in the colonies.  Simnet had a high opinion of himself and the work undertaken in his shop.  He hoped that his confidence would convince prospective clients to choose him over his competitors, though he also compared prices and provided supplementary services as part of his sales pitch.

December 19

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

Dec 19 - 12:19:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 19, 1767).

“By far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.”

In their attempt to incite consumer demand and attract customers, Joseph and William Russell filled their advertisement for “English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS” with superlatives. Not content to rely on adjectives commonly used in retail advertisements (“large, neat, and compleat”) to describe their assortment of goods, they proclaimed that their inventory was “by far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.” Potential customers did not need to even entertain the notion of browsing in other shops because the Russells were certain to carry all the items they needed and wanted.

In case their selection alone did not entice consumers, the Russells guaranteed the lowest prices in Providence. They promised to sell “as CHEAP, if not CHEAPER, than any Person in this Town,” a claim that both Jonathan Russell and Thompson and Arnold disputed in their advertisements on the following page. The former advised consumers that he was “determined to sell at the very cheapest rate,” while the latter declared that they were “determined to sell as low as can be bought in any Shop or Store in this Town, or any other in New-England.” The Russells expressed confidence in their ability to charge the lowest prices because “they purchased [their goods] in England themselves.” Six weeks earlier they published a full-page advertisement that provided more explanation. William Russell had just returned from a trip to England and “brought over with him a large, neat, and compleat Assortment of … GOODS … which he purchased from the first Hands.” Eliminating English merchants from their supply chain allowed the Russells to pass along savings to their customers.

For readers not yet convinced to patronize the Russells’ shop, they also presented an argument that their business promoted the local welfare and customers could consider buying from them an act of civic responsibility. The shopkeepers stated that since “their Trade tends greatly to the Benefit of this Town, and the Country round” that “they doubt not but all the good People … will favour them with their Custom, instead of such Shops as send all the Money they receive out of the Government.” In the late 1760s a trade imbalance between the colonies and England contributed to a scarcity of specie as retailers engaged in trade with English merchants. By acquiring their merchandise directly the producers, “from the best Hands” in England, the Russells remitted less specie to associates on the other side of the Atlantic. In addition, they imported their wares “directly from LONDON,” but some of their local competitors acquired their merchandise via Boston and New York, enriching neighboring colonies at the expense of Rhode Island.

The Russells argued that customers who chose their shop enjoyed multiple advantages. They immediately benefited from the large selection and low prices, but their decisions as consumers also had ramifications for the collective economic welfare of Providence and the surrounding area.