January 12

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

Jan 12 - 1:9:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 9, 1766)

“Superfine Hyson Tea” and “Choice Bohea TEA.”

Given that Richard Clarke directed customers to his “Warehouse the lower End of King-Street” and James Jackson invited them to his “Shop in Union-Street,” it appears that the former was a wholesaler and the latter a retailer.  But they both peddled that increasingly popular eighteenth-century beverage:  tea.  Once reserved for elite consumers, tea became a staple and a necessity in eighteenth-century America.

(Update:  J.L. Bell notes, via Twitter,  that “Captain Bruce” worked for Hancock. Richard Clarke was later the lead importer during the 1773 tea crisis.)

Hyson Tea
Hyson Tea

These short advertisements, positioned next to each other on the page, offer two kinds of tea.  Hyson is a green tea that comes from the Anhui and Zhejiang provinces in China.  “Superfine Hyson” likely refers to what is today known as Young Hyson or Lucky Dragon, a finer variety with lighter flavor.  Bohea, now known as Wuyi, is a variety of black and oolong tea grown in the mountains in northwestern China.  Originally Bohea, with its smoky flavor, was considered a luxury item, but it eventually became one of the most popular varieties in colonial America.  In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin recorded provisioning General Edward Braddock’s forces with both “good green tea” and “good bohea tea” during the French and Indian War.

Bohea Tea
Bohea Tea


Pluff Tea Collection
Teas offered for sale by Oliver Pluff & Co, Charleston, SC.

In researching this entry, I discovered quite a few twenty-first suppliers and public history institutions and organizations who use colonial imagery to market tea to modern consumers.  The cachet is in the connection to the American past, sometimes even using the Boston Tea Party to sell products by counterintuitively suggesting that Americans should now purchase and drink the very tea that their ancestors tossed into the harbor in protest.

I admire the decorative labels on Oliver Pluff & Co‘s canisters (which they call “Signature Tea Tins”).  The company, located in Charleston, South Carolina, bills itself as “A Leaf from America’s Tea Heritage” (and seems to be the supplier of tea merchandise for many public history sites).  I have not tried their tea, so I cannot testify to its quality, but I plan to make a purchase in order to obtain the canisters.  Score one for marketing!

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