June 29

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

Jun 29 - 6:29:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 29, 1770).

“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.

June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:22:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 22, 1770).

“His Clocks with both Hands gives the Lye,
His Tongue ne’er speaks the Truth.”

After placing an advertisement in which he compared his rival to a rat, watchmaker John Simnet did not bother to wait for a response from Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith before escalating their feud once again.  In the June 15, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Simnet placed an advertisement with two parts.  The first portion included the rat metaphor and the second portion a copy of a bill that Griffith issued to one of his customers.  Simnet called on “Judges” to insect the watch and assess whether the bill was reasonable before Griffith’s customer paid for the repairs and reclaimed his watch.

In the next edition, Simnet once again placed an advertisement in two parts.  The first reiterated the rat metaphor and a reference to Griffith as a “rough Clockmaker.”  The second portion was new; Simnet found new ways to denigrate Griffith in a short poem:

Near Portsmouth Stocks SHEEP G—ffi—h lives
(A Turkey legged Youth,)
His Clocks with both Hands gives the Lye,
His Tongue ne’er speaks the Truth,
Stand off, ye Pettyfogging Knaves;
This can you all out do,
Long NAT, can Filch us of our Time;
And of our Money too.

Although the poem was no great work of literature, it did include a couple of clever turns of phrase that simultaneously invoked measuring time and deficiencies in both Griffith’s character and skills as a watchmaker.  According to Simnet, Griffith’s clocks did not keep accurate time, yet another way that the supposed liar deceived his clients; nobody could expect Griffith to deliver the truth via any means, not in conversation nor on the dial of his clocks.  Simnet also accused Griffith of stealing from his clients in multiple ways.  He stole their money when demanding payment for inferior work.  He also stole their time in more than one fashion, through depriving them of knowing the correct time and also through wasting their time in dealing with him at all.

For his part, Griffith had not yet submitted a new advertisement for publication in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Instead, his notice that called Simnet a mountebank and a novice who “cruely butchered” watches ran once again.  Throughout their feud in the public prints, Griffith had been the more measured in his approach.

In the era of the imperial crisis that ultimately became the American Revolution, some colonists expressed their political views in advertisements that promoted their business endeavors.  By paying to insert their notices in newspapers, they gained some level of editorial authority.  Simnet and Griffith, however, did not leverage that authority to address current events.  Instead, they used it to engage in a dispute that repeatedly unfolded before the eyes of readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Purchasing advertising space allowed colonists to express their views and have conversations … or engage in arguments … seemingly with little editorial intervention from the printers.

June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:15:1770 New Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 15, 1770).

“If Rats could speak, they would declare their Sentiments.”

As spring turned to summer in 1770, the rivalry between watchmakers John Simnet and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith got even more heated.  In the June 8 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Griffith escalated their feud by publishing an advertisement calling Simnet a mountebank as well as a novice and stranger to the trade.  He had shown some restraint in taking several weeks to respond to an earlier advertisement in which Simnet had disparaged Griffith’s skill and stated that the watches he returned to customers “never had been properly repaired.”  Simnet, usually the more aggressive of the two competitors, published his response in the next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, once again escalating the war of words.

In that advertisement, Simnet did not promote his own proficiency but instead leveled two attacks at Griffith.  In the first, he compared Griffith to a rat scrounging for survival and expecting others to provide the sustenance he needed for no other reason that he needed it.  “[I]f Rats could speak,” Simnet proclaimed, “they would declare their Sentiments, say they must eat, and we live by gnawing down what you endeavour to rear.”  Simnet then declared that he tolerated his rival, “this Creature … with few Cloaths to cover his Flesh, and but very little Flesh to cover his Bones.”  In this metaphor, Griffith was not even a good rat who managed “to eat the Fruits of others Labour.”  All the same, Siment warned others to “take care” in their dealings with his competitor.

To that point in the advertisement, Simnet had not yet named Griffith, though readers of the New-Hampshire Gazettewould have been very familiar with the enmity the two watchmakers felt for each other.  The compositor also helped readers make the connection by once again placing the two advertisements one after another.  In the previous issue Simnet’s earlier advertisement came first, followed immediately by Griffith’s response.  In the June 15 edition, Griffith’s advertisement appeared once again, this time with a response from Griffith underneath it so readers moved directly from to the other.

In making his second attack, Simnet did name the “rough Clockmaker” that readers already knew Simnet compared to a rat.”  Simnet published a “Copy of a Bill by Nath’l. Sheaff Griffith, on Mr. Samuel Pickering of Greenland, for repairing his Watch.”  Simnet asserted that “Mr. Pickering desires the Watch may be inspected by Judges, before he pays for it,” but “Griffith refuses, and now keeps it in his Possession.”  Whatever the accuracy of that account, it suggested to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that Griffith did not want his lack of skill exposed to even greater scrutiny.  To that end, he was in a standoff with a customer over the price he charged for repairing a watch.  According to Simnet, Griffith expected Pickering to pay £1.4.11 without independent confirmation that he made appropriate repairs.  He demanded that Pickering pay before he would return the watch.  By publicizing that Pickering wished for “Judges” to examine Griffith’s work as well as the charges that appeared on the bill, Simnet further escalated his own dispute with the rival watchmaker by encouraging others to intervene.

Did this help or hurt Simnet in an era when advertisers rarely mentioned their competitors by name?  It was bold enough that Simnet declared that “Most of those who profess this Employ in this Country, are rough Clockmakers.”  Most artisans emphasized their own skill, stating that they were as proficient or better than others who followed their trade, but they usually did not denigrate the work performed by others as a means of enhancing their own status.  Ever since he arrived in New Hampshire after pursuing his trade for more than two decades in London, Simnet had disparaged local clock- and watchmakers, starting with general comments and eventually targeting Griffith in particular.  Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette may have considered the ongoing feud between Simnet and Griffith amusing, but was it effective or ultimately too unseemly at a time when advertisements did not often incorporate insults and barbs directed at the competition?  The true beneficiary of this series of advertisements may very well have been the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette who earned additional revenues every time that Griffith or Simnet chose to publish a new volley.

June 8

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

Jun 8 - 7:8:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 8, 1770).

“He is as great a Watch-Maker as he is a Mountebank.”

The feud between watchmakers Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith and John Simnet had been playing out in the New-Hampshire Gazette for more than a year when Griffith published a new advertisement in the June 8, 1770, edition.  That advertisement further escalated the conflict, though Griffith reacted to a particularly antagonistic advertisement that Simnet first published three weeks earlier.  Throughout most of their bickering in the public prints, the watchmakers engaged in innuendo but usually did not name each other.  On May 18, however, Simnet asserted that “All who please to apply, may depend on being faithfully served, with such Watches as Mr. Nathaniel Sheaffe Griffith can make, and mending in general as perform’d by that Genius, without any Charge.”  In other words, Simnet would fix for free any watches that his competitor further damaged in the process of attempting to repair them.  That advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette for several weeks.

In response, Simnet no longer felt compelled not to name his rival.  In his next advertisement he informed readers that he provided his services “at a much cheaper rate than the original Simnet, altho’ he has taken such repeated pains to inform the publick of his great skill and accuracy.”  Griffith alluded to the series of advertisements Simnet published since arriving in the colony, but then he continued with a description that drew on encounters with Simnet beyond the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Griffith asserted that Simnet went about “vainly flattering himself that the variety of his dress may induce people to believe he is as great a Watch-Maker as he is a Mountebank.”  Yet Simnet was a charlatan in all things, according to Griffith, “inimitable in a Branch” of watchmaking “that he is a Novice and a Stranger to,” despite his pretensions.

As a further insult, Griffith copies the format of Simnet’s most recent advertisement, appending a nota bene in which he delivered another scalding critique in the form of a spurious compliment.  “I desire to return my thanks to Simnet, Watch Maker, from London,” Griffith proclaimed, “for his good custom for the many Watches I mend and repair after they have been cruely butchered by him.”  Griffith reversed the accusation Simnet made in his advertisement, suggesting that he actually had to repair those watches that Simnet damaged through his incompetence.  Griffith likely intended that claim to further enrage his rival.  He added a parting blow: “For after he is paid his price, I have mine paid the more generous.”  Simnet’s customers, Griffith contended, were so frustrated that they gratefully paid Griffith to undo the damage done by the “Watch Maker, from London.”

Once again, the compositor recognized a good story, conveniently placing the two advertisements one after the other.  Readers perused Griffith’s advertisements first and then immediately saw Griffith’s rejoinder.  Even for those who did not require the services of either watchmaker, this spectacle likely provided entertainment as the war of words continued to escalate in the public prints.

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 18, 1770).

“That there may be no Cause of a single Complaint, any Person may have any Alteration without further Expence.”

The feud continued!  For more than a year watchmakers Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith and John Simnet traded barbs in the advertisements they placed in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The rivalry ran almost as soon as Simnet arrived in the colony, having previously spent more than two decades as a watchmaker in London.  The newcomer had been quiet for a few months, but in the middle of May 1770 he placed an explosive new advertisement.  Both Simnet and Griffith usually relied on innuendo, rarely naming their competition but instead making pointed comments that readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have known how to interpret after being exposed to the series of advertisements the two watchmakers inserted in the public prints.  In his newest advertisement, however, Simnet began with innuendo and then escalated his attack by naming Griffith in a nota bene at the conclusion.

Simnet sarcastically informed prospective customers … and the entire readership of the New-Hampshire Gazette … that “All who please to apply, may depend on being faithfully and punctually served, with such Watches as Mr. Nathaniel Sheaffe Griffith can make, and mending in general as perform’d by that Genius, without any Charge, and welcome.”  In other words, anyone who bought a watch or had it repaired by Griffith would certainly discover it was defective.  Rather than rely on the work of “that Genius,” they should instead bring their watches to Simnet, who would fix the problems caused by Simnet and do it for free.  That was the consolation he could provide to those who had been duped by that charlatan Griffith.

Such accusations built on the insinuations that appeared earlier in the advertisement.  Simnet proclaimed “that most of the WA[T]CHES he has been employed on, had before pass’d through the Hands of the best Performers hereabouts” and even though they had been subjected to such care still “they were in bad Condition, and never had been properly repaired.”  Even in recognizing the supposed “best Performers hereabout,” Simnet denigrated Griffith’s skill.  He went on to say that prior repairs had not been worth the money charged, especially since the “best Performers” used inferior materials.  Simnet then offered to make “any Alteration without further Expence” to benefit customers who had previously been the victims of watchmakers who did not possess his expertise.  He had thoroughly made his point by then; the nota bene was an even saucier addition.

The compositor for the New-Hampshire Gazette decided to have some fun with the placement of Simnet’s advertisement, inserting it immediately below Griffith’s most recent notice.  Although Griffith pledged that his clients would be served “cheaper than by any other Watchmaker,” he had otherwise ignored Simnet.  His competitor’s newest advertisement revived the rivalry, likely to the amusement of the compositor and many readers.

May 15

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

May 15 - 5:15:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 15, 1770).

“Said HILLER has to sell, a Variety of Watch Chains, Strings, Keyes, Seals.”

When Joseph Hiller, a clock- and watchmaker, set up shop in a new location, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to alert “the Public and his Customers in general, and those of them in the County of ESSEX in particular.”  Hiller had not only moved to a new location, he also moved to a new town.  He explained that he formerly operated a shop on King Street in Boston, but now customers could find him at “a Shop opposite the Court-House, on the Exchange, in SALEM.”  He hoped to retain those customers that he could, especially those who resided close to his new location, but he also aimed to attract new clients in Salem and its environs who may not have been previously inclined to seek out his services in Boston but would now consider his shop a viable option given its proximity.

To that end, he proclaimed that he would “execute all Sorts of CLOCK and WATCH WORK with such Accuracy, Fidelity and Dispatch, as to merit the Approbation of his Employers.”  Previous customers were already familiar with Hiller’s skill and service, so that portion of the advertisement served as an introduction to those who had not previously hired him.  He deployed appeals that artisans commonly incorporated into their advertisements, “Accuracy” testifying to the quality of his work and “Fidelity and Dispatch” applying to the customer service he provided.  While Hiller’s advertisement was not particularly innovative, it did demonstrate that he was competent, at least in how he represented his business in print.  Prospective clients could test those claims for themselves.

In an additional effort to entice customers into his new shop, Hiller appended a nota bene advising that he did more than make and repair clocks and watches.  He also carried a variety of accessories associated with his business: “Watch Chains, Strings, Keys, Seals.”  Selling these items supplemented the revenues that Hiller earned from his primary occupation; purchasing them allowed consumers to express their own tastes in embellishing their clocks and watches.  That Hiller made them available at all may have aroused the curiosity of prospective customers, encouraging them to visit his new shop to examine the accessories even if they did not wish to purchase a clock or watch or arrange for repairs.  As a newcomer in Salem, Hiller offered various reasons for consumers to make a call at his shop.

March 16

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 16, 1770).

“He has the best of clarified Oyl, for Clock and Watches.”

By the time that Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith placed his advertisement in the March 16, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, he and fellow clock- and watchmaker John Simnet had been engaged in a public feud for more than a year.  They often traded barbs in their advertisements, though they also published notices that focused exclusively on promoting their own skills and service.  Their rivalry may have prompted both to advertise more regularly.  Griffith certainly did not take to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to address “his Customers and others” nearly so frequently before Simnet set up shop in Portsmouth and began his own advertising campaign in early 1769.

For the most part, Griffith ignored Simnet in his March 16 advertisement, though he did proclaim that he provided his services “cheaper than by any other Watchmaker.”  He emphasized the supplies he had in his shop, “all sorts of materials for Clocks and Watches,” as well as customer service, promising that “those who Employ him, may depend on being faithfully and punctually served.”  He also added a component that did not previously appear in his advertisements.  In a separate short paragraph, Griffith stated that “He has the best of clarified Oyl, for Clock and Watches, which prevents their stoping in cold Weather.”  For the first time, Griffith marketed a product related to his business, a product that allowed his customers to care for their clocks and watches.  That product also generated additional revenue for Griffith by expanding his retail activities.

Griffith may have been selling “clarified Oyl” all along.  If that was the case, then it seems that his competition with Simnet in the public prints likely prompted him to incorporate this ancillary product into his marketing efforts.  Rather than merely taking swipes at his rival, Griffith devised new means of distinguishing himself and his business in order to entice readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to become patrons of his shop.

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 2

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

Feb 2 - 2:2:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 2, 1770).

“He still carries on Clock and Watch making as usual.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a clock- and watchmaker, was a prolific advertiser who frequently inserted notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette. The frequency of his advertisements may have been occasioned in large part by his rivalry with John Simnet, a competitor who previously practiced the trade in London for several years before migrating to the colonies and setting up shop in the same market as Griffith. Both men advertised and, in a rare occurrence in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, departed from merely promoting their own services in favor of denigrating the skill and even the character of the other. They did not explicitly name their rival, but context made the intent of their remarks clear to readers.

Simnet, the newcomer, was the more aggressive. In his first advertisement for 1770, he proclaimed himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” a bit of boasting that disparaged Griffith as much as it bolstered Simnet. First appearing in the New-Hampshire Gazette on January 12, that brief but provocative notice continued for several weeks. On February 2, Griffith placed a new advertisement, his first of the year. As he had done sometimes, but not always, in the past, Griffith refused to engage with Simnet. Without much fanfare, he sought to inform “his Customers, and others, that he still carries on Clock and Watch making as usual, at his Shop opposite Dr. Langdon’s Meeting House.”

Although he did not spar with Simnet, Griffith did offer appeals intended to resonate with prospective clients. He acknowledged his previous customers and stated that he continued his trade “as usual,” establishing his prior service to local consumers and the stability of his business. Griffith also reported that he had “all Sorts of Materials for said Business,” reassuring readers that he possessed the supplies necessary for his work. Griffith’s advertisement was not as flashy as Simnet’s, but perhaps it did not need to be. Griffith had much deeper roots in the community and may have believed that he did not need to be as strident as Simnet in his advertisements.

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.