November 17

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-17-11171766-new-york-mercury
New-York Mercury (November 17, 1766).

“To be sold cheap by John Keteltas … pewter tea-pots.”

In this advertisement from the New-York Mercury, John Keteltas announced that he had an assortment of goods imported from London and Bristol to be sold “cheap” at his store located “in Queen-street.” I decided to focus on his listing for “pewter tea-pots.”

I first decided to do some research on pewter as a material. Pewter is an alloy metal that is made up of mostly tin. Pewter was often used for domestic items such as dishes and cups and even teapots. Pewterers often marked their pewter creations with a signature “touchmark” so people could identify who created the item. Consumers who purchased pewter items would also on some occasions put their own touchmark, often their initials, on their items. Some wealthy families would have their family crest stamped onto their pewter item as their touchmark.

In A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts, Joseph Bagley writes that pewter as a material flourished during the eighteenth century in Boston, but by the late 1700s, shortly after this advertisement was published, pewter saw a decline in popularity. “The eventual decline in the use of pewter happened in the late 1700s, when cheaply made English ceramics flooded the market, replacing the equally inexpensive pewter goods with whiter-colored wares and their sometimes colorful decorations.”[1] Pewter domestic wares were common, but other options became increasingly available and more popular.

Tea played an important role in the daily lives of colonial families. In Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America, Benjamin Carp notes that in the eighteenth century drinking tea was a regular event for families of all classes. He writes, “During the eighteenth century, tea became the drink of respectable British and colonial households everywhere.”[2]

John Keteltas advertised an essential item made of a common material. Considering he also promised his items to be sold at a cheap price, we can assume that a wide variety of people might respond to his advertisement in their search for a “pewter tea-pot.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

It is impossible to know from John Keteltas’ advertisement if the “pewter tea-pots” he sold had the sort of touchmarks that Mary described. Artisans of all sorts frequently marked their work in one way or another in the eighteenth century. While they did so out of pride in the items they had created, this practice served other purposes as well. Pewterers and others marked their wares as a means of permanently associating their skill and expertise with the goods they produced. In this manner, they branded the items that came out of their workshops. They transformed their creations, the goods that consumers would display and use in their households, into advertisements through the act of marking them. In one sense, such items never fully left the possession of artisans to become the property of their customers. Even when customers used a family crest or other means of personalizing their possessions, such marks competed with any touchmark that belonged to the creator. No matter how often they were used to serve the needs of consumers, marked items also continued to promote the work of the artisans who produced them. Every time a colonist used an item with a touchmark or other device he or she was exposed to a form of perpetual marketing.

The Adverts 250 Project focuses primarily on newspaper advertisements, though other forms of printed marketing materials (such as trade cards, broadsides, catalogs, and billheads) are sometimes featured. Yet not all advertising in colonial America was printed. Some of it was verbal, delivered by word of mouth, town criers, auctioneers, or street hawkers. Or, in the case of the “pewter tea-pots” sold by John Keteltas and other items made by artisans, material goods themselves could serve as advertisements. Furniture with paper labels affixed combined printed advertising and material goods, as did books with labels of various sorts. In such cases, commodities became advertisements for more commodities.

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[1] Joseph M. Bagley, A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts (Hanover: University Press of New England, 2016), 95.

[2] Benjamin L. Carp, Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 55.

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