What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Said Atherton makes shears, in a new invented manner.”
When Cornelius Atherton advertised that he “makes and repairs fuller’s SHEARS” in the February 13, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Courant, he balanced some of the most familiar appeals to prospective customers with an innovative marketing strategy. Throughout the colonies, artisans emphasized quality and price in their advertising. Atherton was no different. He stated that he performed his work “in the best manner … at a reasonable rate.”
A nota bene that accounted for half of the advertisement, however, made a unique appeal to consumers: technological innovation. “Said Atherton makes shears, in a new invented manner, which is of the greatest advantage to the buyer, as one of the blades is put on with a screw, so that it can be taken off at any time to be ground, without putting the shears out of their proper order.” Atherton asserted that his product should be attractive to prospective customers because improvements to the design and construction facilitated repairs and maintenance.
Given that he advertised “fuller’s SHEARS,” Atherton addressed a relatively narrow audience of buyers. Fullers processed cloth, especially woolens, to various mechanical processes in order to clean and thicken it. Experienced fullers certainly would have been familiar with the challenges presented by working with the standard equipment of their trade. Atherton did not need to elaborate on the shortcomings of other shears; instead, he underscored the “new invented” design that bestowed “the greatest advantage” to those who used his shears. His customers would experience greater efficiency due to the convenience of being able to remove the blades to sharpen them when necessary.
In the late nineteenth century and beyond, this sort of advertisement would have more likely appeared in a trade publication intended for those who practiced similar occupations or those who supplied them with the necessary equipment. Advertising media was not yet differentiated in that manner in the eighteenth century, so Atherton’s notice ran among the various kinds of advertisements that general readers encountered whenever they perused colonial newspapers. Not all readers would have understood the technical details, but Atherton expected that those details would indeed make a difference to fullers and others who had occasion to use the shears that he produced.