September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:3:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 3, 1770).

“… practised by very few in ENGLAND, and those esteemed the best Mechanicks in Europe.”

Like many other artisans who migrated to the colonies in the eighteenth-century, James Yeoman emphasized his origins on the other side of the Atlantic.  In an advertisement that ran in the September 3, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Yeoman described himself as a “CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER, FROM LONDON.”  It was not clear from the advertisement how long he had resided in New York and practiced his trade there.  He extended “his best Thanks to the Ladies and Gentlemen of this City for the past Favours” and noted that he “he still continues his Shop … in Hanover Square.”  He had been in New York long enough that he already had customers.  All the same, he asserted his connections to London, aiming to take advantage of the cachet often derived from the metropolitan center of the empire.  For artisans, that cachet was often twofold, an association of their wares with cosmopolitanism and an insinuation that they possessed greater skill due to superior training compared to their competitors from the colonies.  For instance, when it came to replacing the parts of an “ever so nice mechanical Construction,” Yeoman stated that he provided that service “as reasonable and neat as if done in London.”

In that regard, the appeals he made in his advertisement paralleled those made by other artisans “FROM LONDON.”  Yeoman, however, did not stop there.  He added a nota bene that further linked him to artisans on the other side of the Atlantic, noting that he would “undertake to make Clocks for Churches, or Gentlemens Turrets, on an entire new Plan, practised by very few in ENGLAND, and those esteemed the best Mechanicks in Europe.” At the same time that Yeoman was advertising in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, John Simnet, “original maker from London,” inserted advertisements in the New-York Journal.  Simnet did not expound on his connections to London in any greater detail, while Yeoman made greater effort in his attempt to guide prospective customers to the conclusion that he did indeed possess greater skill due to his origins.  If only the “best Mechanicks in Europe” were capable of making clocks according to this “new Plan,” then Yeoman must have been skilled indeed.  At least that was the impression he sought to give in the nota bene that concluded his advertisement.  Anxious that describing himself as “FROM LONDON” did not sufficiently distinguish him from other clock- and watchmakers, Yeoman made his case for consumers in New York.

August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:31:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 31, 1770).

“Watches will be well repaired, Clocks put in good Order.”

It was the first advertisement that watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith placed in the New-Hampshire Gazette in more than two months.  On the last day of August 1770, he inserted a brief notice stating that he “HEREBY informs the Public, that he has removed to s Shop between the two Taverns, Foss and Tiltons, where Watches will be well repaired, Clocks put in good Order, in the best Manner.”  Griffith struck a different tone in this advertisement than the last one he published.  Previously, he devoted a much longer advertisement to insulting competitor and rival watchmaker John Simnet, who was “as great a Watch-Maker as he is a Mountebank,” according to Griffith.  In turn, Simnet placed a trio of advertisements that pilloried Griffith.  Those notices went unanswered.

Griffith did not return to the public prints while Simnet remained in New Hampshire.  Perhaps he knew that his cantankerous rival planned to call it quits in Portsmouth and relocate to New York.  If that was the case, Griffith may not have considered it worth his effort to prolong a feud with a competitor who was headed out of town, even one who had been as abusive as Simnet had been during the eighteen months that he worked in New Hampshire and placed advertisements in the local newspaper.  Indeed, Simnet began advertising in the New-York Journal a week before Griffith once again placed a notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

For Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, this meant less revenue generated from advertisements related to the conflict between Griffith and Simnet.  It also meant that they lost content that previously helped fill the pages and quite likely entertained readers who enjoyed watching the altercation between the watchmakers.  The last time Griffith and Simnet placed advertisements in the same edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, they conveniently appeared one after the other in order to better craft a narrative for readers.  Anyone who regularly read that newspaper would have already been familiar with the ongoing squabble that played itself in the public prints.  Life may have become more placid for Griffith after Simnet’s departure, but reading the New-Hampshire Gazette also became a little less interesting for anyone who enjoyed witnessing the bickering and creative taunts between the watchmakers.

August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:23:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 23, 1770).

“WATCHES REPAIR’D by J. SIMNETT.”

Near the end of the summer of 1770, watchmaker John Simnet went quiet in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  In late June and early July, he placed a series of advertisements attacking his competitor and rival Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.  That other watchmaker sometimes responded to Simnet’s taunts in the public prints, but he chose to leave the most recent tirade unanswered.  It seemed that Simnet had the last word in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

A very public feud that played out in a series of advertisements over the course of a year and a half in the New-Hampshire Gazette came to an end when Simnet relocated to New York and began placing advertisements for his services there.  His first advertisement in his new city ran in the August 23, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  In the largest font that appeared anywhere in the issue (including the masthead) he called attention to the “WATCHES” that he “REPAIR’D in a perfect and durable manner, with expedition, at an easy expence, and kept in good order, for 2s6 sterling per year.”

Simnet also gave his current location and described himself as an “original maker from London,” attempting to take advantage of the cachet associated with training and working in the largest city in the empire.  He did not mention that he had not arrived directly from London but had instead spent the last eighteen months in New Hampshire, nor did he proclaim that his skills were superior to those of any of his competitors in New York.  He frequently made such pronouncements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, targeting watchmakers in that colony in particular.  If prospective customers wished to assume that Simnet was indeed more skilled because he was “an original maker from London,” they were free to do so, but perhaps the sharp-tongued Simnet had learned a lesson during his interactions with Griffith in New Hampshire and opted to cultivate a different persona in the public prints in New York.  Only time would tell.  After all, his advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette initially took a neutral tone but became increasingly abusive toward another watchmaker over time.

August 19

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

Aug 19 1770 - 8:16:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 16, 1770).

“CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER, at the DIAL in WILMINGTON.”

Two clock- and watchmakers advertised in the August 16, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, but they likely did not consider each other competitors.  John Wood promoted a “PARCEL of neat Philadelphia made WATCHES” available at his shop “at the Corner of Front and Chestnut-streets” in Philadelphia.  Thomas Crow advised prospective customers that he made “gold and silver Watches” as well as “musical, Chamber, and plain Clocks.”  He also noted he had “removed his Shop to Market-street, opposite to William Marshall’s Tavern,” but he did not mean the Market Street in Philadelphia that would have put him in close proximity to Wood’s shop.  Instead, his advertisement identified Crow as a “CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER, at the DIAL in WILMINGTON,” Delaware, thirty miles down the Delaware River.  The two advertisers addressed different markets in their efforts to attract consumers.

Although Wood expected the majority of his customers to come from Philadelphia and its environs and Crow expected most of his customers to come from Wilmington and the surrounding area, they participated in a single media market.  Wilmington did not have its own newspaper in 1770.  Indeed, no printers published newspapers in Delaware during the colonial period.  Only after the American Revolution, in 1785, did Jacob Killen commence publication of the Delaware Gazette, the state’s first newspaper, in Wilmington.  In 1770, the Pennsylvania Gazette served as a regional newspaper for readers and advertisers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and portions of Maryland and New Jersey.  The Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal did as well, though the Gazette had been in print for much longer and had larger circulation numbers.

Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans placed most of the advertisements for consumer goods and services that appeared in the newspapers published in Philadelphia, but not all of them.  Advertisers from Wilmington, Delaware; Burlington, New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and other towns in the region also treated those publications as their local newspapers.  When Thomas Crow inserted his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, he expected that prospective customers in and near his town would see it and respond.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:26:1770 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (July 26, 1770).
“He purposes to return to this LAND of LIBERTY.”

In the summer of 1770, William Wylie, a watchmaker, took to the pages of William Rind’s Virginia Gazette to inform the community that he would soon depart for Britain.  He made “his grateful acknowledgments to those Ladies and Gentlemen, who have hitherto employed him,” but he had other purposes for placing his advertisement.  He requested “that those who have omitted sending the money for the repairing their watches” would settle accounts before his departure.  He did not explain why he was making the voyage, but did state that he needed the money “to accomplish his design, in going to Britain.”  Wylie also pledged to return to Virginia and wanted former and prospective customers to keep him in mind for their watchmaking needs.  He hoped that loyal customers would once again hire him after his temporary absence.

Wylie also injected politics into his advertisement.  He proclaimed that he planned “to return to this LAND of LIBERTY as soon as possible,” using capital letters for added emphasis for his description of Virginia.  Paying to insert his advertisement in the newspaper also allowed the watchmaker an opportunity to express political views in the public prints as he went about his other business.  As printer and editor, Rind selected the content when it came to news, editorials, and entertaining pieces, but he exercised less direct control over the content of advertisements.  Wylie could have submitted a letter to the editor in which he extolled the virtues of “this LAND of LIBERTY,” but with far less certainty that Rind would print it than an advertisement in which the watchmaker commented on his political views in the course of communicating with his customers.  Besides, presenting a homily on politics to readers of Rind’s Virginia Gazette does not appear to have been Wylie’s primary purpose in publishing the advertisement.  All the same, he made a deliberate choice to deviate from the standard format for the type of advertisement he placed.  Nothing about the goals he wished to achieve required that he opine about politics at all, but Wylie purchased the space in the newspaper and had the liberty to embellish his advertisement as he wished.  In turn, readers of Rind’s Virginia Gazette encountered political commentary among the advertisements in addition to the news and editorials elsewhere in the newspaper.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:13:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 13, 1770).

“WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR.”

John Simnet’s advertisement in the July 13, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette was uncharacteristically muted compared to others he had recently published.  The brief notice looked much like any other that an eighteenth-century watchmaker would insert in the local newspaper:  “WATCHES KEPT in REPAIR for Two Shillings and six pence Sterling per YEAR; Clean’d for those who desire them done cheap, for a Pistereen, and Repairs in Proportion.  By J. SIMNET:  Parade.”  Yet it differed in tone significantly from most of Simnet’s advertisements.  He arrived in the Portsmouth area in late 1768 or early 1769.  Over the past year and a half he engaged in a very public feud with Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.  The rival watchmakers both advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette, sometimes making only oblique references to each other but on other occasions leveling accusations of fraud, incompetence, and lack of character.  Most recently, Simnet ran advertisements that compared Griffith to a rat or denigrated his character and skills in verse.  Even after several weeks passed, Griffith did not respond to those attacks, at least not in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Had it not been for this rivalry, I likely would not have selected Simnet’s advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project today.  Uriah Hide of Lyme, Connecticut, placed a notice for “Clothiers Shears” made in the colonies in the New-London Gazette.  In that advertisement, he developed an argument in favor of giving preference to “the Manufactures of the Colony” over imported “European Manufactures.”  I often select advertisements that demonstrate the convergence of politics and consumer culture in the era of the American Revolution, but after spending eighteenth months following the feud between Griffith and Simnet I decided to include the next installment in their story in order to document each volley regardless of whether it was as explosive as the last.  It is also worth noting that Simnet’s advertisement appears deceptively simple, especially when compared to his other notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Although brief, his advertisement included an appeal to price and even listed how much he charged for routine maintenance for a year.  Relatively few eighteenth-century advertisers included specific prices in their notices, making Simnet’s attempt to entice customers with a guaranteed price notable.  Not as lively as most of his advertisements, this one engaged with prospective customers in different ways.

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.