April 5

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Apr 5 - 4:3:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (April 3, 1766).

“He is now preparing a large Quantity of Clay Candlesticks.”

Although electricity was being experimented with during the colonial period (most famously by Benjamin Franklin), the light bulb itself would not arrive on the scene until around a century later. People during the colonial period used candles as a source of light when going about daily activities, especially after dark.

As candles are normally made of wax, I was intrigued by the part in this advertisement about “Clay Candlesticks.” Having never heard of something of the sort, I decided to try to find something about what these candlesticks would have looked like. However, I found no evidence that the candles themselves were made of clay instead of wax. Rather, it seems that the clay part may have referred to the candlestick holder.

This advertisement speaks to the time gap between us and the colonial period. Today, we take electricity for granted and forget our roots. A candle, no less a simple candlestick holder, rarely has much value to us. It interested me how technology has changed so much that we have lost appreciation for such an object as this that was once essential in colonists’ lives.



Maia and I struggled with this advertisement. She could very well be correct that “Clay Candlesticks” referred to candlestick holders. Neither of us turned up any information that definitively confirmed candles themselves were sometimes made of clay in the colonial period. (Please, if you know otherwise, we would love to hear about it!) We suspect that Arthur H. Hayward’s Colonial and Early American Lighting (1962) may provide some helpful guidance, but we are still working on obtaining a copy.

Some of the wording in this advertisement suggests that Jonathan Hall did make candles using some sort of clay. He states that his “Clay Candlesticks” were “suited for the intended Illumination,” implying that they gave off light. The price and quantity – “Two Pistareens per Hundred” – also suggests he sold candles that would be consumed as they burned. Why would anybody have purchased a hundred candlestick holders? (Retailers might in order to resell them, I suppose.) Buying a hundred candles, on the other hand, makes much more sense.

I considered waving Maia off from this advertisement, insisting that she choose another one that would yield more definitive conclusions. In the end, however, I felt that this advertisement effectively demonstrated the larger point she made in her analysis: the expansive gulf between colonists’ lives and our own. It’s not just that we do not regularly use candles as a primary source of light after dark. In addition, the exact nature of “Clay Candlesticks” confuses us because we cannot readily identify this product that apparently merited no further explanation for the colonists that Hall attempted to attract as customers. In my book, this certainly demonstrates change over time as well as changes in our relationships to material culture and everyday household goods.

Once again, if you know anything about “Clay Candlesticks” from the colonial period, please leave a comment and let us know.

One thought on “April 5

  1. The Royall House and Slave Quarters posted this puzzle on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RoyallHouseSlaveQuarters/posts/1039825229430476. One illustrated reply so far: “This is very intriguing! The first thing that springs to mind is Hogarth’s “Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn” (1738) where candles are shown stuck into what looks like lumps of clay. Perhaps what is being advertised are more decorative versions. I’ll be happy to keep an eye peeled and many thanks for sharing!” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strolling_Actresses_Dressing_in_a_Barn#/media/File:StrollingActresses.jpg


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