What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He has made a considerable Improvement in the Construction of those Shears.”
When he started a new business in 1770, Cornelius Atherton placed an advertisement to alert prospective customers. He deployed several appeals to entice them to purchase the clothier’s shears that he manufactured.
Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury learned that Atherton claimed his shears were “equal in Goodness to any imported, and are sold upon as good Terms.” New York’s merchants had resumed trading with their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic earlier in the year, following the repeal of most of the duties imposed on imported goods by the Townshend Acts. Entrepreneurs like Atherton, however, did not surrender to the influx of manufactured goods from England, often perceived as being higher quality, but instead defended their role in the American marketplace. A movement to encourage “domestic manufactures” accompanied the nonimportation agreements adopted in the late 1760s. Atherton and others who made goods in the colonies heeded that call and then continued to promote their wares when trade resumed. When it came to quality and price, Atherton proclaimed, his clothier’s shears could not be beat by imported alternatives. He hoped that would be “an Inducement” to buy from him.
If that was not sufficient, Atherton offered another reason. He devoted the second half of his advertisement to describing an innovation in the construction of his shears. Emphasizing innovation was the most innovative part of his advertisement. Atherton explained that he “has made a considerable Improvement in the Construction of these Shears, so that they may be taken a part with a Screw, to be ground without putting them out of their proper Order.” This required “additional Workmanship” (that did not make the shears more expensive than imported ones), but resulted in “great Conveniency” when it came to maintenance and durability. This innovative construction made Atherton’s shears “something higher than the Common.” Such ingenuity merited attention from prospective customers.
In as short advertisement for clothier’s shears made in the colonies, Atherton brought together multiple marketing appeals. He resorted to some of the most common, quality and price, but expressed them in comparison to imported alternatives. In turn, this supported an implicit “Buy American” argument that would have been familiar to consumers in the late 1760s and early 1770s because it had been so frequently made, both implicitly and explicitly, in the public prints, including in advertisements. Atherton may have considered the innovation in constructing his shears the most compelling of the appeals he presented to prospective customers. That innovation contributed to quality and durability while also yielding greater convenience for his customers.