September 24

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 24, 1770).

“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.

February 13

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

Connecticut Courant (February 13, 1769).

“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.