March 22

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

Massachusetts Spy (March 19, 1772).

“To prevent deception, the paper which contains the Hooks is marked ABRAHAM CORNISH.”

Abraham Cornish deployed a variety of marketing strategies for the “NEW ENGLAND COD FISH-HOOKS” that he made in the North End of Boston.  In an advertisement that appeared in the March 19, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Spy, he described himself as “a regular bred FISH-HOOK MAKER, From Exeter, in England,” who produced “all sorts of FISH-HOOKS … warranted in every respect equal to any, and superior to most,” whether imported or made in the colonies.  Cornish was so certain of the quality of his hooks that offered a guarantee, stating that he “warrants every hook proof, and should any be found otherwise, he engages to give TWO good hooks for every one so defective.”  That two-for-one replacement policy testified to his confidence in the quality of his product.

Cornish also challenged prospective customers to compare his hooks to those of a competitor who marked hooks with the initials “IP.”  He asserted that “Every Fisherman” who did such a “trial” as well as “every impartial person” who performed a similar examination “would soon discover” the “superiority” of his hooks.  The success of voyages to New England and Newfoundland fisheries depended in part on the “quality of hooks in catching Fish,” so “Every Fisherman” should outfit themselves with hooks that Cornish made “in the best and most compleat manner.”

Cornish also cautioned buyers to be cautious about counterfeits, especially if they acquired hooks from retailers rather than directly from him.  “To prevent deception,” he instructed, “the paper which contains the Hooks is marked ABRAHAM CORNISH, &c. and the letters AC are marked on the flat of the stem of each hook.”  Both the hooks and the packaging attributed the hooks to Cornish.  Marking each hook with “AC” served as an enduring advertisement for his work, even after buyers separated the hooks from their package.  Cornish used “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) in describing the packaging.  What else did it include?  His newspaper advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a fish.  Did the packaging also have a visual image to make it distinctive and memorable?  Did the packaging include Cornish’s location?  Did it include the guarantee that he promoted in the newspaper?  Whatever might have appeared on the packaging, Cornish used it as an additional means of marketing his product.

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