GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.”
I chose this advertisement because it dealt with a material whose impact on society I did not know a lot about overall: leather. This short advertisement attempted to sell “A PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.” I did realize that throughout history leather played a role, but did not fully understand its importance in the colonial world. Obviously there was demand for it. But why was leather in demand? I engaged in some research to find out more about it. According to Colonial Williamsburg, leather was used for myriad of items: equestrian equipment, fashion items and storage products. It even was used for luxury items like “ fur and leather hand muffs” and “razor cases.”
The importance of equipment used in harnessing horses cannot be overstated. During the colonial period the primary mode of travel, other than walking, was horseback or a horse drawn vehicle. There would have been thousands of colonists using horses to travel across towns or colonies. None of that travel would have been possible without bridles, saddles, harnesses, and other leather goods. That is one of the main reasons leather was a commodity that was worth selling. It was a necessary component of colonial travel, as well as a resource used in fashion. A colonist reading this advertisement would have recognized the value of leather goods.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Megan has selected an advertisement that differs from many other advertisements for consumer goods and services in one significant aspect: “MATT. ROCHE, Prov. Mar.” signed this notice. Roche was not a producer, supplier, or retailer. Instead, he was a local official, a provost marshal (a law enforcement officer roughly equivalent to a sheriff). As part of their own institutional history, the U.S. Marshals Service states that “as soon as the colony of Georgia was founded in 1733, the office of provost marshal was established.” Other colonies, including Virginia, also had provost marshals. Their duties included collecting fines, apprehending and transporting criminals, and, most significantly for the purposes of understanding this advertisement, “taking inventory of a deceased person’s estate.”
Roche did not seek to sell his own goods or make a profit from transactions with customers. That was not his way of earning a living. Instead, in his official capacity he participated in settling the estate of “the late Mr. William Smith.” Note that Roche did not have his own shop, auction house, or warehouse for dispersing the “PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.” Instead, those interested in purchasing this commodity needed to seek it out at “Joseph Pruniere’s store adjoining his house.” Notice as well that Roche did not announce an ongoing sale. The “PARCEL” had been divided into lots that were to be sold on a specific date (“Tuesday the 4th of November, 1766”) at a specific place. This was an auction intended to quickly and efficiently liquidate the deceased Smith’s inventory of sole leather in order to move forward with settling his estate. Roche inserted an announcement of the sale in the Georgia Gazette, but he did not attempt to incite demand by resorting to any particular appeals to entice buyers, unlike shopkeepers whose livelihoods depended on attracting customers.
Most likely many colonists eventually wore shoes constructed from this “PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER,” but the path from producer to consumer took unanticipated turns along the way.