December 27

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 27, 1771).

“WATCHES and CLOCKS are clean’d and kept in Repair.”

As 1771 came to an end and a new year loomed, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to remind residents of Portsmouth and nearby towns that he “clean’d and kept in Repair” both clocks and watches.  He also sold “all Sorts of Watch Materials lately imported” and “performs gilding Work, either with Gold or Silver.”  He pledged that he performed all of these services “in the cheapest and best Manner.”

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette may have remembered that not so long ago another clock- and watchmaker, John Simnet, frequently placed advertisements that accused Griffith of damaging watches rather than cleaning and repairing them.  Sometimes Simnet identified Griffith by name, but other times he merely made insinuations.  For his part, Griffith expressed less interest in fueling a feud in the public prints, preferring instead to bolster his own business rather than denigrate a competitor.  That did not prevent him, however, from suggesting that Simnet, who had recently relocated to Portsmouth from London, was an itinerant as likely to steal watches as repair them.  In a series of advertisements, Simnet trumpeted his decades of experience in some of the best workshops in London, proclaiming his superior skill.  In addition to pointing out that Griffith lacked formal training, he also implied that his competitor possessed a defective intellect.

Griffith and, especially, Simnet staged quite a performance in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette before the newcomer decided that Portsmouth was not the place for him.  After a year and a half of sparring with Griffith, Simnet moved to New York.  He once again touted the skill and experience he gained on the other side of the Atlantic, but he did select any local competitors to target for abuse.  Perhaps he learned in Portsmouth that some consumers did not appreciate marketing strategies that pivoted on abusing others.  Free of the cantankerous Simnet, Griffith continued placing occasional advertisements that conformed to the standards of the period.  He made positive appeals, such as asserting that he did his work “in the cheapest and best Manner,” but did not make any direct comparisons to other artisans.

December 5

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

New-York Journal (December 5, 1771).

“JOHN SIMNET, of London, WATCH-FINISHER.”

Nearly six months had passed since John Simnet last placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal, but he concluded the year by placing his notice in every issue published in December 1771.  Simnet, a veteran watchmaker with decades of experience working in shops in London, did not advertise in any of the newspapers published in New York nearly as often as he had advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette when he ran a shop in Portsmouth for about eighteen months in 1769 and 1770.  A rivalry with another watchmaker, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, played an important part in Simnet aggressively taking to the public prints, frequently denigrating his competitor.  Readers may have been amused by the feud between Griffith and Simnet that played out before their eyes in the New-Hampshire Gazette, though Simnet may have alienated as many prospective customers as he gained since his advertisements were often significantly more mean-spirited than those placed by Griffith.

Simnet did not even mention his time in Portsmouth after he relocated from the smaller town to the bustling port of New York.  He presented himself as “JOHN SIMNET, of London, WATCH-FINISHER,” choosing not to acknowledge that he passed through New Hampshire.  He adopted a more evenhanded tone in his advertisements in the New-York Journal, though he could not resist the temptation to make a blanket statement about “Watch-Butchers” who further damaged rather than repaired watches customers entrusted to their care when he advertised in the summer of 1771.  He eschewed such attacks when he once again ran notices in December.  He trumpeted, however, that he was the “only general Manufacturer in this Country,” dismissing the training, skill, and experience of his competitors.  Despite that interlude near the end of his advertisement, Simnet focused most of his effort on positive appeals.  He emphasized price, addressing his notice “to “those who desire to preserve their Money and their WATCHES, And avoid unnecessary Expence.”  He listed prices for some of his services, reporting that he performed “All other Repairs in Proportion, at half what is usually charged.”  The watchmaker also declared that he completed difficult jobs quickly.  Simnet may have learned that such strategies served him better than the antagonistic approach he took to marketing during the time he resided in New Hampshire.

November 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 14, 1771).

“WATCHES made in Philadelphia.”

When Parliament imposed duties on certain imported goods – glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea – in the Townshend Acts in 1767, colonists responded by adopting nonimportation agreements.  In so doing, they resumed a strategy that helped win repeal of the Stamp Act, using economic leverage in the service of political goals.  At the same time that merchants vowed not to import and sell a wide assortment of items, many colonists also advocated that consumers support “domestic manufactures” by purchasing goods produced in the colonies as alternatives to their imported counterparts.  When Parliament eventually relented and repealed all of the duties except the one on tea, colonial merchants and others resumed trade with Britain.  Imported goods flooded American markets.

Even as consumers eagerly embraced imported goods once again, some American entrepreneurs continued to promote domestic manufactures.  John Sprogell, Jr., for instance, marketed “WATCHES made in Philadelphia” in an advertisement in the November 14, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Like others who advertised goods made in the colonies, Sprogrell promised prospective customers that they would not sacrifice quality.  To that end, he declared that he had “employed journeymen from London” so his shop would produce “the best of WATCHES.”  He offered a guarantee, proclaiming that he would “insure [the watches] for one, two, or three years.”  They would not need any maintenance that would incur “expense to the purchaser,” with the exception of routine cleaning.

As the proprietor of the shop, Sprogell understood that his reputation was on the line.  “The public may be assured,” he asserted, “that he will use his utmost endeavour to give general satisfaction” because “the character of the maker lays at stake.”  Even though the journeymen who labored in the shop did much or all of the work, ultimately the watches were Sprogell’s products.  Inferior work would have an effect on his standing in the marketplace, so even as he arranged a means of providing the same quality as found in London he provided additional security for customers who chose his “WATCHES made in Philadelphia” in hopes that his various pledges and promises would entice them into his shop.

August 9

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 9, 1771).

“Griffith is now well settled in Business.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith frequently advertised his services as clock- and watchmaker in the New-Hampshire Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  For eighteen months in 1769 and 1770, he placed many of his notices in response to advertisements inserted by John Simnet, a rival who migrated to Portsmouth after gaining decades of experience as a clock- and watchmaker in London.  Simnet repeatedly denigrated colonial clock- and watchmakers in general and Griffith in particular, claiming that those who did not receive their training in England did more harm than good when they attempted to fix broken clocks and watches.  For his part, Griffith sometimes refused to take the bait, but on other occasions published pointed responses to the Simnet, accusing him of being an itinerant just as likely to steal watches as repair them.  Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette observed their feud for months.  When Simnet departed for New York, Griffith continued advertising, but returned to positive messages.

Such was the case in an advertisement that ran in the August 9, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette (though the notice was most likely misdated July 8).  Griffith announced “CLOCK and WATCHES, clean’d & repair’d as usual in the neatest compleatest and cheapest manner.”  Like other artisans, he emphasized quality, skill, and price.  He also made a nod toward customer service, stating that “his Customers and others may depend on being well used, with Punctuality.”  Griffith also mentioned that he was “now well settled in Business,” testifying to his experience without having to draw comparisons to a competitor with decades of experience who formerly mocked him in the public prints.  A year after Simnet removed to New York, many readers likely still remembered the war of words between the watchmakers that regularly played out in the newspaper.  Griffith likely experienced some relief at no longer being at the receiving end of Simnet’s harangues.  No longer debating whether he needed to respond to Simnet or how vociferously, Griffith ran advertisements that promoted his business without launching attacks on his competitors.  That may have suited him just fine, but readers lost out on one source of entertainment that formerly appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

July 14

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

Maryland Gazette (July 11, 1771).

“He further proposes to engage his Performance for One Year.”

In the summer of 1771, Thomas Morgan announced to “the Publick” that he “has opened a Shop” in Annapolis, “WHERE he intends to carry on the Business of Watch and Clock-making, in all its various Branches.”  In an advertisement that ran in the Maryland Gazette for five weeks, he assured “Gentlemen that will please to favour him with their Custom” that they would receive attentive and efficient service when they visited his shop.  Most artisans, as well as many other purveyors of goods and services, made similar promises about customer service in their newspaper advertisements.

In addition to making clocks and watches, Morgan also cleaned and repaired them.  To entice prospective patrons to give him a chance to demonstrate his skill, he proclaimed that he performed those services “in the best Manner.”  Furthermore, he offered a guarantee, a marketing strategy commonly adopted by watch- and clockmakers.  John Simnet, a watchmaker who set up shop in New Hampshire, in the late 1760s and migrated to New York in the early 1770s, declared in one of his advertisements that “Such Watches as have been repaired by me, if become foul, or require Alteration, may be clean’d, &c. gratis.”  Similarly, Morgan asserted that he would “engage his Performance for One Year, provided the Owner don’t abuse the same.”  Patrons who experienced difficulty could return their timepieces to his shop for additional repairs and cleaning free of charge, though Morgan assessed whether the problems originated with any sort of misuse on the part of owners.

While such guarantees protected the interests of clients, they also testified to the confidence watch- and clockmakers had in their abilities.  Artisans like Morgan and Simnet would not have offered guarantees if they anticipated that they would have to expend significant time and resources in fulfilling them.  Guarantees also communicated to customers that even though Morgan and Simnet would address any problems that arose, they strove to do the job right the first time.

June 27

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

New-York Journal (June 27, 1771).

“Work that has been damag’d by Watch-Butchers, repair’d.”

For more than a year, starting in the winter of 1769 and continuing well into the summer of 1770, watchmakers John Simnet and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith engaged in a public feud in the advertisements they placed in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Simnet promoted his decades of experience working in London, claiming that Griffith lacked both skill and expertise.  Repairs undertaken by Griffith, according to Simnet, amounted to even greater damage that customers then sought out Simnet to fix.  In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant just as likely to abscond with watches as repair them.  The quarrel between the two watchmakers ended only when Simnet relocated to New York.

Throughout their exchanges in the New-Hampshire Gazette, Simnet usually seemed more aggressive than Griffith, often picking a fight and daring his rival to respond.  Griffith sometimes did, but on other occasions he refused to take the bait.  Instead, he placed advertisements that focused on his own work.  When Simnet moved to New York, he inserted advertisements in local newspapers, but he did not immediately return to the strategy he deployed in New Hampshire.  Eventually, however, the cantankerous watchmaker could not resist.  Ten months after he first advertised in the New-York Journal, he placed a new notice that offered commentary on the skill of other watchmakers without singling out any particular competitor for abuse.  “THE Faults of the original Makers alter’d,” Simnet proclaimed.  “Work that has been damag’d by Watch-Butchers, repaired.”  He once again invoked his extensive experience, “thirty Years Finisher, to the Chief Manufacture in London,” but only after grabbing attention with his indictment of other watchmakers.

Artisans frequently highlighted their training, skill, and experience in their advertisements, intending to demonstrate their competence to prospective customers.  Very few denigrated their competitors, especially not in the colorful language that became a staple for Simnet in his advertisements.  Did Simnet return to this strategy after working in New York for nearly a year because he considered it effective in drumming up business?  Or did he have a prickly personality and could not resist creating a spectacle in his newspaper notices?  It very well may have been some of each.

March 29

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 29, 1771).

“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?

October 30

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 30, 1770).

“Said Report is FALSE.”

In late October 1770, Richard Clark, a watch- and clockmaker, took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to address a rumor circulating in Charleston.  “[I]t hath been reported by some MALICIOUS PERSONS,” Clark lamented, “That I was going to leave the Province.”  That was not the case at all.  “I therefore acquaint the PUBLIC,” he continued, “that said report is FALSE, as I never had such an Intention.”

Why would others have traded in such gossip?  Was it an attempt by a competitor to undermine Clark’s business by pulling away customers who thought he was leaving the colony?  Did disgruntled acquaintances seek to cause him financial difficulty if Clark’s associates demanded that he pay his debts in advance of his departure?  Did something else occur?  Clark did not speculate beyond ascribing the false reports to “MALICIOUS PERSONS” responsible for the mischief, though that does not mean that he did not have suspicious that he left unspoken.

The watchmaker took the opportunity to promote his business at the same time he corrected the record.  He “return[ed] Thanks to all those who have been pleased to favour me with their Custom,” establishing that he had a clientele who availed themselves of his services.  He invited them and others to visit his shop on King Street, where he cleaned and repaired watches and clocks “in the neatest Manner, and greatest Dispatch.”  He promised quality and efficiency to his customers, two standard appeals in newspaper advertisements placed by artisans.

Clark competed for customers in a crowded marketplace, one sometimes shaped in part by innuendo and rumor that appeared in print or passed from person to person by word of mouth.  For more than a year and a half, clock- and watchmakers John Simnet and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith engaged in vicious sparring matches in their advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Even if it was not a competitor who spread the false reports of Clark’s supposed plans to leave the colony, the watchmaker had to deal with the consequences of gossip that could damage his livelihood.  He turned to the public prints to address the calumnious reports and provide reassurances that he remained in business.

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.