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.

December 22

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

Dec 22 - 12:22:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (December 22, 1769).

“The said Watson being a stranger, the said John Champlin doth strongly recommend him.”

James Watson, a clock- and watchmaker “Late from London,” inserted am advertisement in the December 22, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette to inform prospective clients that he “hath lately removed from Mr. Robert Douglass, silver smith’s shop, to Mr. John Champlin, silver smith’s shop, near the new court house in New-London.” This was not the first time that Watson and his services appeared in the public prints. Just four months earlier Douglass ran another notice, also in the New-London Gazette, announcing that he “employs Mr. James Watson, Clock and Watch Maker, just from London.” Apparently Douglass and Watson quickly discovered some reason to go their separate ways. In the process, Watson pursued the same strategy for integrating into the local marketplace. Rather than open his own shop, he established an affiliation with another artisan already known to local consumers.

In the earlier advertisement, Douglass communicated a guarantee on behalf of the watchmaker, declaring that “Watson will Warrant his Work for Two Years.” Champlin made an even stronger statement of support for the newcomer: “The said Watson being a stranger, the said John Champlin doth strongly recommend him to all his customers or others.” Furthermore, Champlin endorsed Watson’s skill and character, asserting that he “will warrant his ability and fidelity in any thing he shall undertake in said business.” In so doing, Champlin staked his own reputation on the work that he expected Watson to undertake in his shop and the interactions he anticipated Watson would have with the clientele he had already established.

Champlin still considered Watson a newcomer or “stranger” after four months in New London. Prospective clients likely did as well, making it all the more important that Champlin vouched for Watson. Over time the watchmaker could demonstrate his skill to local consumers, but at the start he depended in part on forging relationships with local artisans who practiced affiliated trades, hoping that their clients would also become his clients.

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.