March 19

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 17, 1769).

“WATCHES PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D.”

This advertisement stood out to me because John Simnet sold watches and also provided a service related to watches. He “PROPERLY AND EXPEDITIOUSLY REPAIR’D” watches. Pocket watches were intricate and watchmakers were the only people that could fix them. Simnet promoted himself as a skilled artisan in this advertisement, making it known that he would be able to fix watches correctly and quickly. According to the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, “Most colonists with watchmaking skills sold and repaired imported watches instead of making them.” Simnet’s advertisement seems to demonstrate that trend. He emphasized repairing watches at the beginning and did not mention “Gold and Silver Watches for Sale” until the end. He may have made those watches during the time he lived in London and Dublin and brought them across the Atlantic to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors also states that advertisements “show that a small number of watches were made in America” in the mid 1770s.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

To drum up business when he arrived in New England, John Simnet placed a series of advertisements in colonial newspapers. This notice from the March 17, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette was a variation on others that he had previously inserted in the same newspaper, though it scaled back on some of the appeals to price, quality, and experience in the earlier advertisements.

Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 16, 1769).

All of Simnet’s advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, were rather restrained compared to the much lengthier advertisement that he inserted in the February 16, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. In that notice he expended far more prose to convince prospective clients of his skills as a watchmaker. He lamented that “many People are put to Expence to no Purpose by those who undertake to repair their Watches,” suggested that some artisans who claimed to be skilled watchmakers charged fees for their efforts but did not produce results. Others, he proclaimed, caused further injury as a result of their attentions, leaving “many good Pieces of Work spoiled or damaged by unskilful Practitioners.” Such was not the case with Simnet! To demonstrate that prospective clients could entrust their watches to him, he provided his credentials: “Citizen of LONDON, and principal Manufacturer in England and Ireland, Inventor of and Skeleton Watch-Finisher.” He had acquired and refined his skills throughout his long experience as a watchmaker on the other side of the Atlantic. He made only a nod in that direction in his shorter advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, noting in one that he had been “Twenty-Five Years Watch-maker in London” and in another describing himself as “Watch-Finisher, and Manufacturer of London and Dublin,” but not indicating his years of experience.

In his lengthier advertisement in the Boston Weekly News-Letter, Simnet also emphasized customer service to a greater degree. Attempting to enlarge his market beyond Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he addressed “Gentlemen in or near Boston.” Realizing that most would not travel to the neighboring colony just to have their watches cleaned or repaired, he offered them the “Convenience” of paying for “the Carriage to and fro, for all Watches sent by Mr. Noble’s Stage” to his shop “opposite Mr. Stavers’s Tavern.” This was an eighteenth-century version of mail order service. A savvy entrepreneur, Simnet absorbed the costs of shipping to make his services more attractive to faraway clients. He also offered a premium to colonists who owned watches made by certain manufacturers: “All Watches of the name Upjohn, or Story clean’d gratis.” Simnet did not specify his connection to those watchmakers, but that probably mattered little to prospective clients interested in this free service. For Simnet, it may have been merely a way to initiate or cement relationships with clients.

Why were Simnet’s advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette truncated compared to the one in the Boston Weekly News-Letter? Perhaps the watchmaker felt that he faced less competition in Portsmouth but needed to distinguish himself if he hoped to enlarge his market to include Boston and its environs. He advanced a variety of appeals in each advertisement, but some of them better demonstrated the marketing innovations he was capable of devising.

February 24

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 24, 1769).

“Watches repair’d or clean’d.”

In late February 1769, the New Hampshire Gazette featured an attractive advertisement for John Simnet’s watchmaking services, including repairs and cleaning. The advertisement points out that Simnet was an experienced watchmaker who had moved to America from London. Colonists still felt connected to the mother country so readers may have appreciated Simnet’s ties to Britain. In fact, most colonists identified as British and emphasized English culture, especially fashion and consumer goods. The colonists looked towards London, where taste and style were set. T.H. Breen has called this the Anglicization of consumer culture in the colonies.[1]

Readers may have been enticed by the price of Simnet’s repair and cleaning services. He appealed to the general public by offering the best deal, promising customers “less Expence than usual in this Country.” Breen states, “Consumer demand was the driving engine of economic change. Knowledge of the availability of these goods sparked desire, and though humble buyers obviously could not afford quality items, they purchased what they could.”[2] Simnet’s advertisement assured readers that his price was affordable for a greater number of customers, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In her first entry as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, Chloe has focused on some of the appeals that watchmaker John Simnet made to prospective customers. Price was a popular marketing strategy throughout the colonies, but Chloe also points out that colonists continued to emphasize their cultural connections to London and the rest of the empire even as they contended with Parliament over the Townshend Acts and other measures after the Seven Years War.

Simnet also incorporated other appeals in his advertisement. Deceptively short, it presented a multitude of reasons that anyone who needed watches “repair’d or clean’d” should call on Simnet at his shop across the street from Staver’s Tavern. Like many artisans, Simnet promoted both his skill and experience. For instance, he informed readers that he had worked at his trade for twenty-five years. As Chloe mentions, he had spent that time in London. That likely had a double resonance for colonial consumers. Not only did it establish a connection to the cosmopolitan center of the empire, it also suggested that Simnet had acquired greater expertise than many colonial watchmakers for having operated his business in such a competitive environment for so long. Simnet came right out and said so when he proclaimed that he performed his services “in a neater manner … than usual in this Country.” Many artisans, especially those who had migrated from London like Simnet, attempted to convince potential customers that they had the skills to deliver services equal to their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. With his declaration that he cleaned and repaired watches better than others in New Hampshire, Simnet opted for a slightly different approach, one more aggressive toward his local competitors.

Simnet did not require a lot of words or a lot of space in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Instead, he deployed multiple marketing strategies in just a few lines. In addition to his purported skill as a watchmaker, he demonstrated his familiarity with the most common appeals artisans made in advertisements in eighteenth-century America.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 497.

[2] Breen, “Empire of Goods,” 476.

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1768 Newport Gazette
Newport Mercury (September 5, 1768).

“He will clean a Clock and keep it in good Repair three Years for One Dollar.”

When Robert Proud turned to the Newport Gazette to advertise that he “cleans Clocks and Watches” late in the summer of 1768, he determined that he needed to do more than promote the low prices he charged for his services. After proclaiming that he performed his work “as cheap as any One in America,” he listed his prices and laid a service plan for prospective customers. That plan included an initial cleaning as well as keeping clocks and watches “in good Repair” for a specified period. For clocks set his rate at “three Years for One Dollar” and for watches at “Half a Dollar [for] for One Year.” Most clock- and watchmakers, like other artisans, did not publish their fees in their advertisements. Proud backed up his assertion about his low prices by putting them on display for prospective customers to assess as they made a decision about whether to visit his shop. Some of his competitors occasionally offered to undertake additional repairs if customers were not satisfied with their initial efforts, but they usually limited such guarantees to a single year. By comparison, Proud’s service plan – three years for clocks – was quite generous.

That was enough to distinguish Proud from others who cleaned and repaired clocks and watches, yet he further elaborated on the service prospective customers could expect to receive in his efforts to attract their patronage. He efficiently completed his work, completing most jobs in a single day. For items dropped off in the morning, Proud either had them ready that evening or “next Day at farthest.” Prospective customers could expect the work done in a timely manner rather than consigning their clocks and watches to linger in Proud’s workshop. Furthermore, they did not need to interact with him directly in order to receive quality service, an appeal that Proud made especially for “any Person in the Country [who] will favour him with their Work.” Anyone who chose to have their clocks and watches delivered to his workshop rather than visiting in person and interacting directly with Proud could still “depend on being as well used as if present.”

Proud concluded his advertisement with a very different sort of appeal: he noted that he had fallen on hard times. “The Business is now so small,” he lamented, “that without some Increase, he cannot a get a comfortable Subsistence for his Family.” The situation was so dire that even though he had served the Newport community for twenty years that “from Necessity, [he] must, in a short Time, leave this his native Place, to seek his Bread elsewhere.” Proud pivoted from laying out his innovative service plan to attempting to provoke sympathy from readers. It must have been difficult to acknowledge his financial insecurity in the public prints, but by pairing that disclosure with his detailed service plan Proud suggested that he did not make false promises. Instead, prospective customers could depend on him following through on efficiently repairing their clocks and watches and returning them in a timely manner. His livelihood and the “Subsistence for his Family” was at stake if he did not deliver on the services and service plan he described in his advertisement.

May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (May 16, 1768).

“BURROWS DOWDNEY … MAKES and repairs all Kinds od Clocks and Watches.”

 

When it came to advertising, watch- and clockmaker Burrows Dowdney was industrious, advertising in more than one newspaper published in Philadelphia in the late 1760s. Although he deployed fairly standard language to describe his services, pledging “the utmost care and dispatch” in doing his work “after the neatest and best manner,” he adopted other means of distinguishing his advertisements from those placed by other artisans. In particular, Dowdney embellished his notices with visual images related to his occupation and his wares.

Yesterday the Adverts 250 Project examined one of those advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette. It included a woodcut of an engraved clock dial with hours in Roman numerals and minutes in Arabic numerals as well as other decorative elements. Dowdney placed another advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle the same week that he advertised in the Gazette, repeating the copy almost exactly but with a different and even more impressive woodcut. It depicted an elegant dial with an arched top that denoted the phases of the moon. Readers could also view the day of the month on the dial. These additional elements further testified to the complexity of the clocks Dowdney constructed, proclaiming to prospective customers that they were not intended merely for keeping time. Instead, they were meant for display, to create genteel living spaces, to impress friends and visitors. Although not depicted in the woodcut, readers could expect the ornamentation of the cases to rival the engraved dials.

Commissioning not one but two woodcuts represented a significant investment for Dowdney, but he may have considered it a necessary expense as he commenced his own business “in the Shop lately occupied by Mr. Emanuel Rouse” on Front Street. As a newcomer, he needed to attract a clientele for his shop quickly to avoid failing before even having a chance to get started. Commissioning woodcuts that featured much more detail than most of the images that appeared in colonial newspapers demonstrated his commitment and attention to detail, reassuring prospective customers that he did not merely reiterate the usual marketing pitches but did indeed construct clocks “after the neatest and best manner.” The woodcuts certified the quality and elegance associated with clocks made by Burrows Dowdney.

May 15

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

May 15 - 5:12:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 12, 1768).

“BURROWS DOWDNEY, Clock and Watch Maker, in Front-street.”

Relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers included visual images. Those that did tended to feature stock images that belonged to the printer and could be inserted interchangeably in advertisements from the appropriate genre, such as woodcuts of horses, houses, slaves, and ships. Woodcuts of houses could be used in any real estate notice. Woodcuts depicting runaway slaves could be used in any notice alerting colonists about fugitives that might be in their midst.

Some advertisers, however, did invest in woodcuts to enliven their advertisements, distinguishing them from others that consisted solely of text or that were decorated with generic images readers were accustomed to seeing in the pages of the public prints. Unlike the stock images, these woodcuts belonged to advertisers rather than printers. Even if the image happened to match the contents of other advertisements, such woodcuts appeared only in connection to those who had commissioned them. For instance, clock- and watchmakers regularly advertised in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, yet the woodcut depicting the face of a clock appeared solely in notices placed by Burrows Dowdney. That unique image made his advertisements distinctive and memorable for potential customers, especially since it was sometimes the only image on a page otherwise composed of text (as was the case on the final page of the supplement that accompanied the May 12, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette).

Many of the woodcuts commissioned by advertisers dominated the notices in which they appeared, but that was especially true for Dowdney’s advertisement. The image of the clock dial accounted for approximately half of the space his notice occupied on the page. Readers would have been able to identify his occupation and wares at a glance, even if “CLOCKS” and “WATCHES” had not been listed in all capitals in the copy that appeared to the right of the image. Printing technologies of the period did not particularly facilitate including images in advertisements, yet some advertisers still invested both money and energy in experimenting with woodcuts that would set their advertisements apart from others that flooded the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers.

December 21

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

Dec 21 - 12:21:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (December 21, 1767).

John M’Lane stop’d last Wednesday Night a Large Silver Spoon.”

Watchmaker John McLane advertised his services in the Boston Post-Boy for several weeks in December 1767. He relied on two marketing strategies to attract potential clients, one commonly used by artisans and the other a clever innovation that testified to his character in addition to his credentials.

McLane opened his advertisement with a recitation of his training to assure customers that he was qualified to work as a watchmaker. He had completed an apprenticeship, having “serv’d his Time in Dublin to one of the best Finishers there.” On its own, this might have impressed prospective clients, but McLane also reported that he received additional training when he “work’d in London for improvement.” Artisans who migrated across the Atlantic frequently asserted their connections to the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the empire, often providing details about their previous training and work.

McLane’s second strategy, however, deviated from colonial artisans’ usual marketing practices. He appended a nota bene that reported he had “stop’d last Wednesday Night a large Silver Spoon.” In other words, a man that McLane deemed untrustworthy had attempted to sell him a spoon, but the watchmaker suspected stolen goods. He confiscated the spoon and advertised descriptions of both the spoon and the man who attempted to sell it to him. The owner, upon recognizing the monogram or “Marks of the Spoon,” could contact McLane to have it returned.

When he “stop’d” the silver spoon, McLane prevented it from circulating in an informal economy or black market, an alternative means for many colonists to participate in the consumer revolution. Less scrupulous artisans would have purchased it at a bargain price and not questioned how the stranger who presented the spoon had acquired it. By taking this action, McLane demonstrated his character to potential customers in a manner they might remember longer than they would recall his training in Dublin and additional experience in London. Not only was he skilled, he was also trustworthy.

November 5

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

Nov 5 - 11:5:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (November 5, 1767).

“He has been over to London for Improvement.”

In their advertisements, artisans who had migrated across the Atlantic frequently asserted their origins as part of their attempt to attract customers. For instance, Joseph Beck promoted himself as a “Stay-Maker, from LONDON” in the November 5, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Establishing a connection to London laid the foundation for making other appeals to consumers. It often suggested some sort of specialized training in a trade (and some artisans explicitly noted that they had served out an apprenticeship with a master in London). It also signaled familiarity with the current fashions in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Artisans sought to allay anxieties that the items they made and sold in the colonies were inferior in quality or taste when compared to the wares available in London.

Not all colonial artisans, however, could proclaim that they migrated “from LONDON” in their advertisements. Many had been born and received their training in the colonies. Such was probably the case for Thomas Perry and Mervin Perry, “Watch-Makers in the Fly” in New York.  Like many of their competitors in New York and their counterparts in other cities and towns, the Perrys not only made and repaired watches but also imported them from London. Yet they realized they could acquire more cachet among consumers if they established other connections to London. It was not sufficient merely that they acquired their merchandise from London.

To that end, the watchmakers inserted a nota bene that informed potential customers that Marvin Perry had “been over to London for Improvement, and has had Instructions from the most eminent Masters.” Although he did not undertake a complete apprenticeship in London, Perry had supplemented his training and presumably improved his skills. He implied that readers could expect that the “Instructions from the most eminent Masters” improved the quality of Perry’s work. This additional training also confirmed that he performed his work “in the neatest Manner.”

September 24

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

Sep 24 - 9:24:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 21, 1767).

“Good, sound, and neat silver watches.”

Advertisements for imported goods – textiles, housewares, hardware – filled the pages of colonial newspapers. In most instances, artisans and manufacturers in England made items colonists either could not produce on their own or that surpassed the quality of similar items made by colonial crafters. As the eighteenth-century progressed, however, greater numbers of skilled artisans participated in transatlantic migrations, bringing their expertise to colonial cities and towns. They set up shop in their new places of residence; their skills and experience contributed to improving the reputation associated with domestically produced goods.

By the 1760s, residents of Philadelphia and major urban ports worried that observers in England, especially London, might look down on them as backwater provincials since they were so far distant from the center of the empire. Some advertisers in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia attempted to allay these anxieties with assurances that they made and sold goods of the highest quality and most recent fashions. Yet concerns about cosmopolitanism were not confined to the largest and busiest port cities. In Lancaster, more than fifty miles west of Philadelphia, Thomas Skidmore opened a workshop where customers interested in purchasing expensive watches “may be here supplied as in London.”

In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Skidmore, a “WATCH-FINISHER, from London,” insisted that local consumers were no longer “under the necessity of importing good watches from England or Ireland.” For only £12, he made “good, sound, and neat silver watches” in the town of Lancaster. Skidmore did not work alone; instead, he employed two assistants, “the one a movement-maker, and the other a motion-maker,” both of whom had previously followed their trade in England. Working together, the three produced “good watches” that Skidmore asserted rivaled any imported from Britain. Skidmore was so certain of the quality of the work done in his shop that he offered a guarantee that his watches would not require repairs in the first three years. He made appeals that would have been familiar to residents of Philadelphia, the largest city in the American colonies in the decade before the Revolution. His location in Lancaster, however, demonstrates that desire to participate in consumer culture extended beyond urban centers, far into the hinterland.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 20, 1767).

“For further Particulars inquire of EDWARD SPALDING, in Providence.”

Edward Spalding (sometimes Spauldin in other advertisements) had two purposes when he took an advertisement in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1767. First, he wished to sell a farm in Coventry. As long as he was purchasing space in the newspaper, he also opted to promote his business. He reminded readers that he “still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS and WATCHES” at his shop across the street from the printing office. In the past, Spalding advertised fairly regularly. He was one of the first advertisers to insert commercial notices in the Providence Gazette when it resumed publication the previous year. He must have considered it a good return on his investment since he decided to include commercial marketing at the end of his notice concerning real estate.

Spalding’s hybrid advertisement presents a conundrum for conducting any sort of quantitative study of advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspapers of the era did not have classifieds. They did not organize advertisements in any particular order or by categories that suggested the general purpose of the notices. Sometimes, as seen here, individual advertisements had multiple purposes. Spalding and the printers of the Providence Gazette did not classify this advertisement. How should historians do so? It would not be appropriate to categorize it solely as a real estate notice or solely as marketing consumer goods and services. More appropriately, it should count as both, but that sort of double counting does not address another issue. Together or separately, both halves of Spalding’s advertisement were relatively short compared to many others for both real estate and consumer goods and services inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers. This suggests that tabulating column inches devoted to advertisements (or portions of advertisements) might produce more accurate data for assessing the proliferation of advertising in relation to news and other content as well as comparing the quantity of advertising space utilized for various purposes. This, however, would be extremely labor intensive. It also requires access to the original newspapers rather than digital surrogates. Working with digitized sources allows for examining other sorts of questions concerning advertising in early America.

Earlier in my career I was much more enthusiastic about incorporating quantitative analysis into my study of advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America. Over time, however, I have determined that identifying general trends rather than hard numbers provides a sufficiently accurate portrait of the expansion of advertising in the era that the colonies became a nation.

June 16

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

Jun 16 - 6:16:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 16, 1767).

“Will be sold at the London retailing prices.”

Watchmaker Joshua Lockwood ran a shop at the corner of Union and Broad Streets in Charleston, South Carolina, where he sold “a very large and neat assortment of CLOCKS and WATCHES” recently imported from London. In an advertisement in the June 16, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he informed potential customers that his clocks and watches “are of the latest improvements,” signaling that the quality, style, and technology matched what they could purchase in London. His clientele did not need to worry about obtaining inferior timepieces simply because they lived in a small city at the edge of the empire.

Such assurances did not come with an inflated price. Lockwood pledged that his clocks and watches “will be sold at the London retailing prices.” Some prospective customers may have expected to pay a premium in order to obtain clocks and watches with “the latest improvements” that had been shipped across the Atlantic, but Lockwood indicated that this did not incur higher prices for his local buyers. They would be charged the same as if they lived in London and dealt directly with watchmakers there. There was no need to worry that distance and the smaller size of the local community lessened competition and raised prices.

Colonial advertisers most often compared their prices to those of their local competitors, asserting that they sold at the “lowest rates” in their town or colony. On occasion, however, advertisers made price comparisons that took into account the size of the community in which they lived and worked. Shopkeepers in the hinterlands beyond the major port cities, for instance, claimed that they set prices that competed with those in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Advertisers in smaller cities, such as Portsmouth and Providence, favorably compared their prices to the going rates in larger ports. Transatlantic comparisons represented the next link in the chain, as merchandisers in the largest colonial cities, like Lockwood, declared that their prices matched what counterparts in London charged. Regardless of their location, advertisers believed potential customers looked to the next larger community and suspected prices might be lower there. In turn, advertisers sought to ease such anxieties (and promote more sales) by persuading potential customers that they benefited from the same deals as if they shopped in a locale with a larger population and considered less remote.