What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“‘Tis our sole Wish, that the Gent who advertises in Astronomy will favour us with a Specimen.”
John Simnet, “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” seemed to relish nothing more than sparring with an adversary in the public prints. For eighteenth months in 1769 and 1770, he participated in a feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette. After relocating to New York, he initially published advertisements that did not denigrate his competitors, but eventually found himself embroiled in a war of words with James Yeoman.
As part of that altercation, Simnet updated an advertisement that first ran in the March 19, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal. On April 23, he removed a lengthy paragraph that cast aspersion on Yeoman in favor of a shorter paragraph meant to do the same. In both, he addressed insults that Yeoman delivered in his advertisements, insults that the rival watchmaker was so committed to circulating that he resubmitted the copy to run for additional weeks. (The April 9 edition of the New-York Journal included a new version of Yeoman’s advertisement, the type reset with new line breaks and the addition of the issue number in which that iteration first appeared.) Yeoman listed his credentials for repairing “CLOCKS, ASTRONOMICAL, Musical or Plain” before concluding his advertisement with an assertion that “it is the sole Wish of the said James Yeoman, to obtain Favours only proportioned to the Knowledge he has, and the Satisfaction he affords in his Business.”
In the updated version of his advertisement, Simnet mocked Yeoman by paraphrasing his rival’s words. “‘Tis our sole Wish,” he declared, “that the Gent who advertises in Astronomy will favour us with a Specimen of his Qualifications in that Science, for if he can cause the Planets, Eclipses, Comets, &c. to move on the Table, ‘twill save the Charge of Telescopes.” Simnet questioned Yeoman’s ability to repair astronomical clocks, challenging him to provide examples of his work for others to examine. Earlier in the advertisement, he mentioned the harm done to clocks and watches by “Persons not qualified to practice in this Business.” The new paragraph more explicitly leveled that accusation at Yeoman. Simnet seemed to hit his stride in his advertisements when he treated competitors with condescension, a tactic rarely adopted in eighteenth-century advertising.