What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“REPAIRS and cleans WATCHES in a faithful Manner.”
It had been several months since Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith last advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette when his notice ran in the March 29, 1771, edition, but the “Clock and Watch-Maker in Portsmouth” was likely a familiar figure to regular readers of that newspaper. For about a year and a half, throughout most of 1769 and well into 1770, Griffith and rival watchmaker John Simnet participated in a feud in the public prints. Although they rarely named each, their advertisements made clear the contempt each felt for the other. Simnet, a newcomer in New Hampshire, migrated from London and made his decades of experience in England central to his marketing efforts. He accused local watchmakers, Griffith included, of lacking the skill and expertise he possessed. In turn, Griffith asserted that Simnet was an itinerant just as likely to steal watches as repair them. In general, Simnet adopted the more abusive approach, regularly jabbing at Griffith even when Griffith declined to reciprocate.
This bit of entertainment, all of the proclamations and even poems that caricatured Griffith, came to an end when Simnet departed New Hampshire and set up shop in New York near the end of the summer of 1770. He placed advertisements in the New-York Journal, but then remained fairly quiet. If he had disagreements with other watchmakers, he chose not to air those grievances in advertisements. In turn, Griffith advertised less frequently in the New-Hampshire Gazette. His subsequent advertisements did not feature the bluster incorporated into many he published during the time Simnet kept shop in Portsmouth. For instance, his advertisement from late March 1771 simply informed prospective clients that he “REPAIRS and cleans WATCHES in a faithful Manner” and that he sold “all sorts of Watch Ware, such as Springs, Chains, Seals, Keys,” and other items.
Eighteenth-century advertisers rarely mentioned their competitors or engaged with them directly in the public prints. For a time, Griffith and Simnet were exceptions, but both reverted to standard practices after Simnet relocated to another market. He made a fresh start with prospective clients unfamiliar with his war of words with Griffith in New Hampshire. What about Griffith? What kind of lasting effects, if any, did his public feud with Simnet have on his business in Portsmouth and nearby towns? Did that feud continue to shape how prospective customers viewed the watchmaker?