December 8

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

Dec 8 - 12:8:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 8, 1769).

“WATCHES … preserv’d in perfect Repair … by JOHN SIMNETT.”

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have already been familiar with John Simnett’s work by the time he placed a short advertisement in the December 8, 1769, edition. For nearly a year he had advertised regularly, but, more significantly, he had also engaged in a feud with competitor Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith in the public prints. Although the two watchmakers usually refrained from mentioning the other by name, their advertisements made clear that neither much liked the other. Most of their advertisements included some sort of insult in addition to promoting their own work.

On occasion, however, one or both placed advertisements that did not include a negative characterization of the other. Such was the case with Simnet’s notice in the December 8 issue. Relatively brief compared to many of his others, it simply stated: “WATCHES For Two and Six Pence Sterling per Year, preserv’d in perfect Repair, (Accidents excepted) by JOHN SIMNETT, near the Parade.” Simnet introduced his trade, set the rate for the service he provided, clarified the terms, and informed prospective clients of his location, all without taking a swipe at Griffith.

Many readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette might have noticed other variations that made this advertisement different from most of Simnet’s others. The watchmaker usually identified himself only as “Simnet.” Dancing and fencing masters most often adopted a mononym in their newspaper advertisements, but this watchmaker who migrated from London after pursuing his trade there for two decades determined that he merited the flair of going by a single name in the press. He presented himself as much more capable than competitors who had trained and worked exclusively in the colonies, thus meriting the mononym as a proclamation of his illustriousness. Why did he include both his first name and surname in this advertisement, departing from his usual marketing strategy? Did he react to comments from others about his tone and demeanor in his advertisements?

October 27

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

Oct 27 - 10:27:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 27, 1769).

“Any Clock or Watch, sent to said Griffith, will be speedily refitted.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a “CLOCK and WATCH MAKER” from the colonies, and John Simnet, a “LONDON WATCH MAKER” who had migrated to Portsmouth nearly a year earlier, both placed advertisements in the October 27, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Neither advertisement ran for the first time; both appeared sporadically over the course of several weeks that fall. The rival watchmakers each attempted to keep their name visible to the general public and, especially, prospective customers.

The series of notices that Griffith and Simnet inserted in the New-Hampshire Gazette tell a fairly unique story about advertising in early America. Most advertisers sought to attract customers to maintain or even increase their own share of a crowded market. Most advertisers, however, did not deploy advertising as a means of depriving specific rivals of their own ability to participate in the marketplace. On the other hand, Griffith and Simnet almost certainly saw advertising as a zero sum game; any benefit that accrued to one necessarily occurred to the detriment of the other.

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette watched their feud unfold over the course of many months. Even though the watchmakers did not mention each other by name, their advertisements often included very pointed references that made clear their disdain for the competition. Their advertisements sometimes took a remarkably adversarial tone as Griffith and Simnet each critiqued and denigrated both the skill and the character of their rival. Even though neither advertisement in the October 27 edition leveled any accusations against the other watchmaker, readers likely would have found it impossible to peruse those notices without taking into consideration the usual enmity that motivated the two men.

Modern advertising frequently plays on unspoken rivalries. Commercials for fast food franchises and brands of soda, for instance, often rely on consumers taking into account the competition, even without making any direct reference to that competition. Griffith and Simnet developed a similar strategy in the eighteenth century. Promoting their own businesses included efforts to reduce the market share of their rival, sometimes launched explicitly but other times implicitly incorporated into their marketing.

October 23

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

Oct 23 - 10:23:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 23, 1769).

“McLean is now at Work on a Watch, the whole of which will be finished in the Province, except the Two Plates and Cases.”

During the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution many advertisers encouraged prospective customers to purchase goods produced in the colonies, launching the first wave of “Buy American” campaigns even before declaring independence. Some colonists expressed concerns about an imbalance of trade with Britain, a situation exacerbated by the taxes imposed on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts in the late 1760s. To remedy the trade imbalance, many colonists vowed to encourage “domestic manufactures” to strengthen local economies. Producing goods in the colonies created jobs while simultaneously providing alternative products for consumers to purchase. The nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Townshend Acts made domestic manufactures even more important. Advertisers increasingly called on prospective customers to give preference to goods produced in the colonies.

John McLean, a “Movement Maker, & Watch Finisher,” joined that movement, at least as much as he was able. In an advertisement that ran in the October 23, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette, McLean informed readers that he was “now at Work on a Watch, the whole of which will be finished in the Province, except the Two Plates and Cases.” Many American watchmakers did not actually make watches in the colonial era. Instead, they imported and sold watches and repaired watches, but the production of watches took place in London, Dublin, and other cities on the far side of the Atlantic. Given the constraints on constructing watches in the colonies, McLean made his best effort to support the American cause by making domestic manufactures available to consumers. His watches were not exclusively American products, but he suggested to customers that a significant portion of their production did indeed take place in Massachusetts, making them more desirable than imported watches.

McLean did not need to make his pitch any more explicitly. Other items in the Boston-Gazette provided context for readers to interpret his advertisement, as did public discourse more generally. The October 23 edition commenced with “A LIST of the Names of those who have AUDACIOUSLY counteracted the UNITED SENTIMENTS of the BODY of Merchants throughout NORTH-AMERICA, by importing British Goods contrary to the Agreement.” Another advertisement on the same page as McLean’s notice emphasized “North-American Manufactures” available at a shop located “Opposite LIBERTY TREE.” Readers knew how to interpret McLean’s pronouncement about working on a watch constructed primarily “in the Province.” They understood the politics he deployed to market his product.

September 22

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

Sep 22 - 9:22:1769 Ad 1 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 22, 1769).

“WATCHES. SIMNET, London-Watch-Maker.”

Over the course of many months, readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette became quite familiar with watchmaker John Simnet and the services he provided in 1769, in large part because he engaged in a public feud with competitor Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith that played out in the advertisements. Simnet once again took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette on the first day of fall in 1769, inserting not one but two advertisements in that issue. One ran on the third page and the other on the fourth page. Like most other colonial newspapers, a standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of only four pages, a single broadsheet with two pages printed on each side and then folded in half. Simnet arranged to have an advertisement appear on both pages that featured paid notices, increasing the likelihood that readers would notice his marketing efforts as they perused the September 22 edition. Having recently moved to a new location, he made sure prospective clients knew exactly where to find him.

Sep 22 - 9:22:1769 Ad 2 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 22, 1769).

One of those advertisements was fairly short … and misspelled the mononym Simnet used in all his advertising. Still, it unmistakably promoted a watchmaker who consistently described himself as “Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the old Country.” Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire less than a year earlier, having previously worked alongside noted artisans in London and Dublin. He advanced those credentials often as a means of implicitly comparing himself to the local competition that did not possess the same training or experience. In the other advertisement, Simnet described himself merely as a “London-Watch-Maker” but made a nod to the reputation he had established in the local marketplace. He declared that he had “near a Year’s Trial, by the Town [of Portsmouth] and adjacent Country.” Prospective customers did not have to rely solely on Simnet’s depiction of his prior experience on the other side of the Atlantic; they could assess for themselves the quality of his work done in New Hampshire now that he had labored there for sufficient time to establish a clientele.

Advertisers rarely placed more than one notice in a single issue of a newspaper in the colonial period. Simnet was an especially aggressive advertiser, both in the tone he took toward a rival and in the frequency that he inserted new advertisements in the public prints. Although he often returned to common themes, he composed distinctive copy for each advertisement. Mere repetition of the same advertisement did not suit the brazen watchmaker. Instead, he kept his self-promotion fresh in every new advertisement.

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 1, 1769).

“He will mend and clean a WATCH for one half what Simnet will, let him mend as cheap as he will.”

Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette were treated to the next chapter in the ongoing feud between watchmakers Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith and John Simnet when they perused the September 1, 1769, edition. Griffith had previously toned down his rhetoric targeting his rival, but a new development caused him to make direct comparisons to Simnet once again. A week earlier Griffith placed an advertisement to inform the community that “some VILLAIN or VILLAINS … broke open” his shop and stole a gold watch, five or six silver watches, several gold rings, and other items. To make matters worse, the stolen watches did not come exclusively from Griffith’s inventory. Many belonged to clients who had left them for repair. Griffith offered a reward to “Whoever apprehends said Thief or Thieves, so that the above Articles may be procured again.” Griffith faced ruin!

That advertisement ran a second time on September 1, this time immediately above an updated version of an advertisement that appeared two weeks earlier. The original advertisement did not make any allusions to Simnet; it simply encouraged prospective clients to entrust their watches to Griffith’s care if they wished to have them “speedily re-fitted and expeditiously returned.” He did his work “in the best and cheapest Manner.” Given the calamity that he had just experienced, however, the revised advertisement included a second paragraph that explicitly named his competitor. “AS said Nathaniel Sheaffe Griffith has begun anew, he will mend and clean a WATCH for one half what Simnet will, let him mend as cheap as he will.” Griffith went to extreme measures to save his business. No matter how much his rival might try to undercut his price, he vowed to charge only half as he faced the challenge of rebuilding.

Griffith also had a retort for Simnet’s oft-repeated credentials, which appeared once again in an advertisement immediately below Griffith’s revised notice. Simnet consistently argued that his training and experience made him the most skilled watchmaker in New Hampshire. He described himself as “Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the old Country.” Exasperated with the implied disparagement from Simnet, Griffith allowed that “I am not a Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the Old Country; but if I don’t do my Work well, I charge nothing.” Griffith valued honest labor and he expected prospective clients to value it as well. He also attempted to make up for not coming from the same background as his rival by pledging not to charge if clients found his work wanting.

Both Griffith and Simnet ran advertisements proclaiming that they set their prices at half what their competitor charged, giving prospective clients an opportunity to haggle for really low prices. A clever compositor arranged all three advertisements in a single column to better tell a dramatic story of their rivalry and the catastrophe that had recently befallen Griffith. Even readers who did not have watches to be repaired could be entertained by this spectacle as events continued to unfold.

August 27

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

Aug 27 - 8:24:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (August 24, 1769).

“He is determined … not to import any more Goods.”

In August 1769, Joshua Lockwood promoted “A VERY neat Assortment of CLOCKS and WATCHES” that he had “just imported … from LONDON.” He also carried “a large and neat Assortment of Silver and Metal-Mounted Holster, Saddle, and Pocket-Pistols.” He was careful, however, not to run afoul of the resolutions recently adopted by merchants and traders in Charleston, a nonimportation agreement similar to those already in effect in Boston and New York. In several of the largest urban ports, colonists leveraged economic resistance to the Townshend Acts, vowing not to import a vast array of goods from Britain while Parliament levied taxes on imported paper, tea, glass, lead, and paint. For his part, Lockwood alerted the public that he “is determined, and bound by Honour, and for the Good of the Country, until the late villainous Impositions laid upon us are taken off.” The watchmaker established for prospective customers and the community that he supported the nonimportation agreement, wedding commerce and politics in his advertisement.

Lockwood joined other merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who attempted to leverage the nonimportation agreement to sway consumers with their political sentiments. Unlike others, however, he used the boycott for another purpose: calling in debts. Lockwood anticipated that the tradesmen on the other side of the Atlantic who supplied his clocks and watches would demand “a Settlement” once he suspended placing new orders. They would not extend credit indefinitely to a customer who no longer actively purchased their wares. To pay his own bills, Lockwood called on “his Friends and Customers” to settle their accounts with him. He offered several months to do so, but warned that he would sue those who were “not so kind as to comply with his Request” by the first of the year. Newspapers from New England to Georgia carried advertisements that called on colonists to pay debts or end up in court. In that regard, Lockwood’s notice was not extraordinary. Using the nonimportation agreement as a means of encouraging those who owed him money to settle accounts, on the other hand, was innovative. He sought to harness (or exploit) a political movement for the benefit of his business in a new way. Plenty of advertisers asked consumers to patronize their shops because they supported nonimportation, but they did not use the boycott as a justification for calling in debts. What were the ramifications for Lockwood? Did readers find themselves in sympathy and more inclined to pay their debts to alleviate any hardships Lockwood might face as a result of suspending his orders from Britain? Or did they question Lockwood’s commitment to making a sacrifice on behalf of the cause and resent his effort to use the nonimportation agreement as rationale for taking colonists to court?

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 25, 1769).

“Work done as well as in any other Part of New-England.”

Even though he operated a shop in the relatively small town of New London, goldsmith and jeweler Robert Douglass, Jr., sought to convince prospective customers that he provided goods and services that rivaled those offered by his counterparts in larger cities. In an advertisement inserted in the August 25, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette, he emphasized that he “makes and sells all Kinds of Goldsmith’s and Jeweller’s Work, as cheap as can be bought in Boston or New-York.” Prospective customers did not need to send away to shops in those busy ports to find good deals, nor did they need to suspect that Douglass engaged in price gouging as a result of being some distance from urban centers with greater numbers of goldsmiths and jewelers who kept down their prices as they competed with each other.

In addition to making an appeal to price, Douglass pledged that “Whoever will please to favour [him] with their Custom, may depend on having their Work done as well as in any other Part of New-England.” Prospective customers also did not have to fret that they sacrificed quality when they chose to deal with a local goldsmith and jeweler. Douglass positioned his skills and expertise in direct competition with his counterparts in Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, and even Boston. Having invoked New York when it came to price, he also implied that his work rivaled that done by goldsmiths and jewelers there.

To further entice prospective clients to visit his shop, Douglass introduced a new employee. James Watson, “who makes and repairs all Kinds of Clocks and Watches in the neatest and best Manner,” had just arrived from London. His presence in Douglass’s shop linked it to the most cosmopolitan city in the British Empire. Local customers did not have to worry that they had settled for what was available when they visited Douglass’s shop. Instead, the goldsmith and jeweler suggested, they patronized an establishment on par with those in the largest cities in the colonies and even the metropolis of London. Despite ongoing disputes over the Townshend Acts, many colonial consumers still looked to London as a center of taste and gentility.

Douglass incorporated several common marketing strategies in his advertisement: price, quality, and connections to the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. He adapted each appeal to address anxieties about hiring a goldsmith and jeweler located in a small town, assuring prospective customers that the goods and services from his shop matched those from other shops in larger towns and cities. Local customers did not need to look beyond New London to discover remarkable value when they wished to hire a goldsmith, jeweler, or watchmaker.

August 18

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

Aug 18 - 8:18:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 18, 1769).

“I will properly Repair, and Rectify, and Refit a WATCH, better by half, in half the Time, and for half his Price.”

The rivalry between watchmakers John Simnet (who regularly referred to himself merely as “SIMNET”) and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith continued in August 1769. Their advertisements conveniently appeared next to each at the top of the second and third columns on the third page of the August 18, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Perhaps a canny compositor sought to create a dramatic scene and increase their entertainment value via their placement on the page.

Griffith placed the more subdued advertisement. In the past, he had directly targeted Simnet, though he had never mentioned the newcomer to the colony by name. Griffith had previously impugned Simnet’s skills by calling him an itinerant and implying that his mobility facilitated theft of the watches he accepted from clients. His advertisement on August 18, however, deployed formulaic language that any watchmaker anywhere in the colonies would have used in the 1760s. Griffith advised prospective customers that he “WILL speedily and properly, repair and rectify any CLOCKS or WATCHES out of Order, in the best and cheapest Manner.” Furthermore, he pledged that “Any CLOCK or WATCH sent to said GRIFFTH, will be speedily re-fitted and expeditiously returned.” In the course of only a few lines, he made appeals to his skill, the quality of his work, price, and convenience. He did not make any overt jabs at Simnet. Perhaps Griffith decided that doing so was unseemly or had not served his purposes or enhanced his reputation in the wake of past attempts.

Simnet, on the other hand, launched another barrage of insults against Griffith in the process of promoting his own work. In particular, he mocked the appeals that Griffith made in his advertisement. “Now here’s a promising Youth,” Simnett taunted, “tells us, he is best, and cheap, & speedy.” In early advertisements Simnet underscored his quarter century of experience in London and Dublin; he leveraged the longevity of his career to suggest that Griffith was an inexperience youth. Calling him “promising” was backhanded, at best. Simnet warned that prospective clients should not even waste their time with Griffith, suggesting that he was one of those “pretenders” who “get well paid, for what they don’t or can’t do.” In contrast, Simnet trumpeted, “I will properly Repair, and Rectify, and Refit a WATCH, better by half, in half the Time, and for half his Price.” He possessed the skills and experience to do so, having served as “Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the old Country.” Griffith had toned down his advertisements, but Simnet still felt enmity toward his rival, voicing it clearly and creatively in yet another advertisement.

Griffith and Simnet made choices about the content of their advertisements, frequently inserting new and updated notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette over the period of several months in 1769. Most advertisers did not directly engage their competitors, but these two watchmakers experimented with pursuing a feud in the public prints as a strategy for garnering attention. That is not to suggest that they coordinated their efforts to create a spectacle; that seems to have happened organically as each made decisions about the copy for their next advertisement. Simnet, newly arrived in New Hampshire, apparently believed that the squabble served him well, but Griffith tired of making his competitor so prominent in his own advertisements. Still, he felt the pressure from Simnet. Griffith rarely advertised before the English watchmaker appeared on the scene, but regularly promoted his services once Simnet launched his barrage of advertising.

July 14

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

Jul 14 - New-Hampshire Gazette Jul 14
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 14, 1769).

“Finisher to Mr. GRAY and Mr. ELLICOT, WATCH-MAKERS to his late and present MAJESTY.”

John Simnet was an industrious advertiser, perhaps in part due to competition with a rival watchmaker in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Their competition descended into a feud that took place via their advertisements in the public prints in 1769. Simnet regularly published new advertisements rather than instructing the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to once again insert notices that previously appeared in the pages of their newspaper. As a result, the copy in Simnet’s advertisements featured greater variation than readers encountered in notices placed by others who regularly advertised consumer goods and services. His new advertisements often contained variations on appeals he previously presented to prospective clients and new information intended to entice those not yet convinced by what they already knew about the watchmaker and his business.

Such was the case for an advertisement in the July 14, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Simnet reiterated a promise that he had previously presented: “Such Watches as have been repaired by me, if become foul, or require Alteration, may be clean’d, &c. gratis.” In other words, Simnet offered a guarantee for his work and pledged free service and maintenance if he did not manage to completely fix the problem the first time. As for new appeals to prospective clients, the watchmaker emphasized convenience by providing a timetable for his services: “WATCHES Clean’d in thirty Minutes—Repair’d in six Hours.” Customers did not even need to part with their watches overnight. That same week he announced this timetable in an advertisement in the Essex Gazette, but he had not previously discussed the amount of time necessary to make repairs except to state that he did his work “expeditiously.” Finally, Simnet expanded on an appeal that he deployed in earlier advertisements. He had noted his twenty-five years of experience in London, but in his newest advertisement he associated himself with prominent watchmakers, declaring that he had worked as “Finisher and Manufacturer to all of NOTE” in the watchmaking trade in England and Ireland. Most significantly, Simnet proclaimed that he had previously been employed as “Finisher to Mr. GRAY and Mr. ELLICOT, WATCH-MAKERS to his late and present MAJESTY.” He had worked on watches for George II and George III. Simnet did not name his local rival in this advertisement, but the competition almost certainly could not claim to have served such eminent clients! Supplying this additional information enhanced the reputation Simnet cultivated throughout his advertising campaign.

July 11

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

Jul 11 - 7:11:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 11, 1769).

“WATCHES CLEANED in 30 Minutes.”

John Simnet, a watchmaker from London, made his presence in Portsmouth known in 1769 with a series of advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Initially he inserted notices with the intention of cultivating his clientele, but over the course of several months he found himself engaged in a public feud with Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a local watchmaker who took exception to Simnet intruding in his territory. For the most part, Simnet confined his advertisements to the New-Hampshire Gazette, though shortly after his arrival in New England he had placed one notice in the Boston Weekly News-Letter in an attempt to draw on that market. To that end, he offered to “pay the Carriage to and fro” for clients in Boston who sent their watches to him in Portsmouth via “Mr. Noble’s Stage.” In the summer of 1769, Simnet made another attempt to enlarge his market by placing an advertisement in the Essex Gazette.

Simnet advanced many of the same appeals that he had consistently deployed in his previous notices, but he also supplied new information for prospective customers. To establish his credentials, he proclaimed that he previously worked as “Finisher to Mr. Tompion, Graham, Storey, Toulmin; and every other Maker (of Note) in London.” Simnet had not previously mentioned the names of his former associates, only noted that he had followed his occupation in London for some time before migrating to New England. He likely did not expect colonists to recognize all of the watchmakers he listed, but did intend to impress them with the assertion that he had worked alongside and been entrusted by the most prominent watchmakers in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. As a newcomer in New England, Simnet was largely unfamiliar to his prospective customers, making it all the more necessary to convince them of the reputation he had previously established in London.

In addition, Simnett made several other appeals. He promised convenience and quality, pledging to clean watches in thirty minutes and “perfectly” repair them in six hours. Prospective customers would not have to part with their watches for days or weeks while he worked on them. He set prices that matched those charged in London, but also offered a guarantee. When he promised “no future Expence (Accidents excepted),” prospective customers understood that he would perform further repairs for free if he did not successfully fix watches the first time. This deal, however, applied only to recurring problems that Simnet did not manage to resolve, not to new issues caused by “Accidents” or wear and tear. Finally, Simnet declared, “Security deposited in Hand for Watches, if required.” In other words, he provided collateral of some sort when customers entrusted him with their watches. This had not been part of Simnet’s first advertisements, but after his rival Griffith accused him of stealing watches Simnet began incorporating such assurances into his marketing efforts.

In a short advertisement, Simnet advanced multiple appeals to convince prospective customers to hire him to clean and repair their watches. He underscored his own skill and experience by trumpeting the names of prominent watchmakers in London who had previously employed him. He also emphasized convenience, quality, and price while offering two types of guarantees. For the first, he made additional repairs for free if his initial efforts were not successful. For the second, he supplied collateral when accepting watches for repair. Simnet included some of the most common appeals that appeared in advertisement placed by artisans in eighteenth-century America, yet he also adapted his notice to address his own recent experiences with a rival who attempted to undermine his business.