What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Superior to any imported from Europe, for strength, evenness, fineness and cheapness.”
Consumers in Philadelphia had access to vast arrays of imported goods in the late 1760s, but Abraham Shelley, a “THREAD-MAKER, in Lombard-street, near the New-Market,” sought to convince readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette to purchase thread produced in his workshop. He offered a variety of merchandise: “all sorts of fine coloured threads, housewife and stocking ditto.” Prospective buyers did not need to fear that Shelley’s thread lacked in quality when compared to imported alternatives. Instead, he proclaimed, his thread was “superior to any imported from Europe” in a variety of ways: “for strength, evenness, fineness and cheapness.” This was due in part to the skill of the hands who worked in Shelley’s shop; they had been “bred to the business,” acquiring knowledge and experience of the trade over time.
As evidence of the quality of his thread, Shelley informed prospective customers that unscrupulous characters had attempted to pass off other threads as his own, an attempt to benefit from his reputation that had the potential to damage it by distributing inferior goods. He reported “that formerly some persons in this city bought threads at vendue, and sold them as [Shelley’s] manufacture.” To prevent further deceptions, he clarified that “all his sewing threads are made up 18 threads in each skane, and 65 inches round.” Those purchasing from third parties could confirm the specifications for themselves.
This was especially important since Shelley did not intend to undertake retailing the thread produced in his workshop himself. Instead, he invited “merchants and shopkeepers of this city, and towns adjacent” to purchase his thread in volume for resale in their stores and shops. His commentary on the “character of his goods” targeted not only end users but also middlemen and –women who distributed consumer goods to their own customers. Their livelihoods depended on stocking wares that those who visited their shops found satisfactory. Shelley assured them that they would not experience difficulty selling his threads or complaints after making sales. When it came to thread, retailers were accustomed to dealing in imported goods that arrived in shipments with textiles, ribbons, buttons, and other adornments for apparel, but Shelley encouraged them to invest in locally produced threads instead. The high quality of the thread from his shop minimized the risk of purchasing it for retail.