March 14

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

Massachusetts Spy (March 11, 1773).

“The Fishermen who made trial of his Hooks last season, found them to correspond with his former advertisement.”

Even before thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain, entrepreneurs encouraged consumers to support American industry.  Abraham Cornish, for example, marketed “New England COD and MACKREL FISH HOOKS” produced at “his Manufactory at the head of Hutchinson’s wharf, North End, Boston” in the early 1770s.  When he commenced advertising in the Massachusetts Spy in March 1772, Cornish proclaimed that his hooks were “warranted in every respect equal to any, and superior to most.”  In particular, he singled out hooks “marked IP” to declare that every fisherman who tried his hooks and “every impartial person on examining” them “will soon discover their superiority.”  Nearly a year later, Cornish reported that “the Fishermen who made trial of his Hooks last season, found them to correspond with his former advertisement,” that they were indeed “superior to those imported from England.”

Cornish’s hooks, however, were not produced from start to finish in the colonies.  Instead, he imported the “best STEEL WIRE” from London and then used that material to make the hooks at his manufactory in Boston.  What mattered, Cornish asserted to prospective customers, was the final stage of production combined with the superior quality of his hooks and his low prices.  He confidently boasted that he made “the best Cod and Mackerel Hooks.”

In his effort to supply the fishing industry with hooks, Cornish simultaneously ran the same advertisement (with variations in spelling) in the Essex Gazette, promoting his product to prospective customers in Salem and other maritime communities served by that newspaper.  He added two notes, one identifying William Vans as the local agent who carried his hooks.  Customers did not need to visit or contact Cornish in Boston if they found it more convenient to deal with Vans in Salem.  Given that those buyers would not interact directly with Cornish, he advised that his hooks “are all marked A.C. on the Flat of the Stem of each Hook.”  That helped customers verify their authenticity when they acquired the hooks from sellers beyond Cornish’s manufactory.  Such maker’s marks served as perpetual advertisements for the hooks.

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.