What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Mr. SIMNET boasts with Gratitude the abundant Favours of the Gentry.”
The cantankerous John Simnet, “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” inserted a colorful new advertisement in the July 2, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal. He simultaneously promoted his own business, mending watches, while mocking James Yeoman, a competitor. The two traded insults back and forth in a series of advertisements in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in 1772. For many weeks, Yeoman advertised that he made and repaired “WATCHES, HORIZONTAL, REPEATING, or PLAIN; CLOCKS, ASTRONOMICAL, Musical or Plain,” prompting Simnet to replicate that headline in the headline of his own notice. He then posed a question: “IS any ingenious Artificer (of Spirit) within 100 Miles, capable of making either, or a Thing in Imitation of either?” The question alone carried the implication that Yeoman did not possess the skill or expertise to deliver on his promises. Not satisfied to leave it at that, Simnet provided a snide answer to the question, suggesting that Yeoman might be able to make something that looked like and astronomical or musical clock, but of such poor quality that “‘tis not worth a Dollar.” Even that would constitute “a wonderful Rarity.”
Simnet then shifted to discussing his own business, “boast[ing] with Gratitude the abundant Favours of the Gentry, &c. in Town and Country, which surpass Expectation.” In other words, he claimed that discerning customers from near and far entrusted their watches to him for repairs. He expressed just a little bit of surprise at how many hired him, while also explaining that serving so many customers “enable[d] him to continue to reduce the Price of mending Work.” More customers meant that he could afford to lower his rates. He made another dig at Yeoman and other competitors, describing prices as “very—very high.” In contrast, he did repairs “at HALF Price.” Simnet eventually made appeals related to his own business, but only after denigrating another watchmaker. Most advertisers did not resort to such tactics. Did Simnet have a difficult personality? Or did he believe that he ultimately benefited from any sort of attention that he could draw to his business?