February 13

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Feb 13 - Massachusetts Gazette 2:13:1766
Massachusetts Gazette (February 13, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD By Andrews and Domett At Store No. 1. opposite the Swing Bridge, South Side the Town Dock.”

Andrews and Domett marketed bags of cocao, cotton, brown sugar, redwood, copper, chalk, iron hollow ware, flour, indigo, Bohea tea (an item advertised often during Colonial times, previously featured on Adverts 250), chocolate,  mustard, snuff, pipes, soap, flax, and rice. Each of these items are interesting on their own, so I chose a few of the items to focus on which some might not recognize, as they are not commonplace items during the twenty-first century, though they were in eighteenth-century America.

I did not recognize “Iron hollow Ware.” I hypothesized that this item was a type of Colonial dishware. Of course, this lack of knowledge led to an investigation. Iron hollow ware was a type of cooking pot that was made from cast iron. Today there are many individuals who collect this and other Colonial cookware for their personal home collections as a hobby. To learn more about “Iron hollow Ware” consult this book.

Feb 13 - Indigo in Bucket
Indigo.

Another item on the list of goods in the advertisement that I find intriguing, is the “French Prize Indigo.” Indigo is a powder derived from plants that was utilized during Colonial times as a dye to create blue clothing. Its importance was high, as blue was a highly desirable color for clothing, despite the fact that it could only be derived from indigo plants at this time. In appearance, it was a blue powder which is derived from the leguminous plant of the Indigofera genus, a plant that has over 300 identifiable known species in the world. Only two varieties of this plant are used to make indigo, including the indigofera tinctoria, which is native to both India and Asia, and the indigofera suffructiosa, which is native to South and Central America. Due to the fact that indigo was an import, it would likely be one of the more pricey items on the list in the advertisement. The University of Minnesota has an excellent historical account of “Indigo in the Early Modern World.”

During the late nineteenth century, German chemist Adolf von Baeyer created synthetic indigo and production of the synthetic dye began during the early twentieth century. Research about formulating a chemical composition for synthetic indigo was furthered due to the fact that dyes derived from natural indigo were not a significant enough source due to the rise of its use within the nineteenth-century clothing industry. The color of indigo is always a blue hue, but use of different amounts of indigo can result in a variety of shades that the substance produces when using it for dying.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Kathryn focuses on some of the goods marketed to colonial consumers. Each item stocked by Andrews and Domett merits its own investigation. What, for instance, distinguished “Castile & Crown Soap” from each other? Colonial consumers certainly would have known, but as Kathryn points out many of the goods commonly advertised and purchased in the eighteenth century are no longer as familiar to twenty-first century consumers. Advertisements are often classified or catalogued as ephemera (especially advertising media other than newspapers, such as handbills, trade cards, or billheads), but consumer goods had their own ephemeral qualities as well.

In addition to the items for sale, I am interested in the format of this advertisement. Rather than listing their wares in a single, dense paragraph, Andrews and Domett utilized two columns with only one item per line, making it easier for potential customers to identify items of interest. The advertisement also strategically includes fonts of different sizes as well as capitals and italics. Why did “CHOICE COCAO” and “A few Quintals choice Dumb Fish” receive special treatment in this advertisement? Did Andrews and Domett imagine that these would be especially popular with customers once they knew these items were available? Or perhaps these items had been overstocked and tied up too many of the shopkeepers’ resources. Did they merit special attention in the advertisement because the shopkeepers needed to sell them most quickly?

I also wonder who made some of the decisions about the format of the advertisement. To what extent did Andrews and Domett describe to the printer how they wished their advertisement to appear in the newspaper? Did they give detailed instructions about columns, font size, and type? Vague or general instructions? No instructions at all? Advertisements like this one may testify to the creativity of the printer as much as the marketing savvy of the advertisers.

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