GUEST CURATOR: Mary Aldrich
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“To COVER, … The fine BAY HORSE, called OLD ENGLAND.”
This advertisement is for the stud services of a “fine BAY HORSE, called OLD ENGLAND” with a lineage traced back to the great Godolphin Arabian and Flying Childers. Even as early as 1766 the Godolphin Arabian was considered a horse central to the modern thoroughbred breed, having gained prestige in the 1730s. To have Old England mentioned as being the descendent of the Godolphin Arabian and Flying Childers, an undefeated horse of the 1720s, would have immediately tipped off potential horse breeders that Old England was from very good stock. I am sure many, if not all, of the other horses mentioned were notable in their own right as well. This was attested to by the fact that the advertiser listed the prizes that many of the horses in Old England’s pedigree won for their owners.
It is interesting that the advertiser signs the advertisement as “the Public’s Most Obedient Servant.” For the most part the majority of people used horses for work and would not be interested in a horse bred for racing. His audience would likely have been the people who had extra income to breed and racehorses. It is good to know as well that John Leary was “A Lover of the Turf.” That projected a sense of camaraderie among the potential horse breeders who wanted Old England to cover their mares.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Notices about horses “to cover” constituted their own genre of newspapers advertisements in the eighteenth century. They appeared frequently in the public prints, and they were easily spotted because they tended to include a woodcut of a horse. Usually these woodcuts would have been among the very few images that accompanied advertisements.
For instance, this issue of the New-York Mercury included approximately fifty advertisements. Only three had an image: Old England and another advertisement for a horse “to cover” as well as a notice that the Minerva would soon be sailing for Bristol. The first two featured different woodcuts of horses and the final one a woodcut of a ship.
As I have explained previously, such woodcuts belonged to the printer, who kept on hand a small collection of ships, houses, runaways (men and women; slaves, servants, and wives), and horses that could be used interchangeably in any advertisement about vessels arriving or departing, real estate to buy or lease, runaways, and horse breeding, respectively. That horses were included on this list suggests how common advertisements promoting their availability “to cover” mares were in eighteenth-century newspapers. In addition, several broadsides (what we would call posters today) for horses “to cover” also survive from the eighteenth century.
The woodcut in Old England’s advertisement does not do justice to the beauty of that horse, but it did help to distinguish that notice from the others that appeared on the same page.