March 16

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (March 16, 1767).

“Baizes, Duffels, Shalloons, Tammies, Calimancoes.”

William Cornell placed this advertisement for the array of textiles he sold. By today’s perspective the list seems foreign. However, in colonial America any person reading this advertisement would have known each material, including what style, how expensive, and common uses.

One textile on the list that may seem unfamiliar is baize. The Oxford English Dictionary describes baize as “A coarse woollen stuff, having a long nap, now used chiefly for linings, coverings, curtains, etc., in warmer countries for articles of clothing.” The OED also states it was used for shirts and petticoats. Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband, John Adams, and refered to a “Green Baize Gown,” making a recommendation to keep him warm during the cold nights: “I would recommend to you the Green Baize Gown, and if that will not answer, You recollect the Bear Skin.” This suggests baize could be heavy enough to be used for warmth during cold winter nights, just as warm as a “Bear Skin.” (Today, baize is most famously used to cover pool tables.)

Tammies were another textile Cornell sold that may seem unfamiliar. According to the Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820, tammy is a lightweight fabric, but because of its simple weaving the material is also strong. Due to its durability but light weight it was utilized for linings, children’s garments, or curtains. Tammy was also often dyed yellow, a color that quickly faded when exposed to light. Yellow tammy may have been chosen for linings that would have been less exposed and thus less likely to fade.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Daniel and I met to discuss William Cornell’s advertisement, we considered several aspects to examine in greater detail. Daniel ultimately opted to investigate some of the unfamiliar textiles, but during the research and writing process he also contemplated what this advertisement told us about colonists’ understanding of urban geography and how to navigate port cities.

In an era before standardized street numbers and addresses, colonists relied on a variety of landmarks to give directions. Advertisers frequently assumed that potential customers, especially in towns and smaller cities, were familiar with both local places and people. For instance, Cornell offered nothing by way of directions except noting that his shop was “Adjoining to Captain Robert Stoddard’s.” Apparently Stoddard was sufficiently known among residents of the port city that Cornell considered this sufficient for directing potential customers to his own business.

Some advertisers relied on their names alone, neglecting to offer any other sort of directions. Such was the case for Samuel Sanford (who advertised “A few Puncheons of Jamaica Rum”), Gideon Wanton, Jr. (who carried “Ticklenburgs [and] Osnaburgs,” textiles that did not appear in Cornell’s notice), and Joseph West (who sold “A Quantity of dry Cod Fish”).

Others provided a street name, a landmark, or a combination of the two to aid potential customers in locating them. John Hadwen, for instance, peddled his wares “At his Shop in Thames Street,” while Napthali Hart, Jr. sold a similar array of goods “At his Store on Mr. GEORGE GIBBS’s Wharf.” George Cornell maintained “Batchelor’s Hall,” presumably a boardinghouse, “IN Mill-Street, near the Ferry Wharf.”

Two other advertisers offered more complex directions. Christopher Smieller, a baker, announced that he “has removed from Mr. William Gyles’s Bakehouse, to that of Mr. Joseph Tillinghast.” Francis Skinner, a bookbinder, provided the most complicated – or perhaps the most exact – set of directions. Customers could find him “at his House the third below Trinity Church, on the East Side of the Street leading to the Neck.”

Regardless of how many or how few words any of these advertisers used, each expected readers and potential customers could make their way to their respective businesses based on the information they provided. Even the largest American cities were not yet so large in the 1760s to necessitate street numbers and standardized addresses to facilitate commerce. That changed by the end of the eighteenth century: advertisements increasingly included street numbers and a new kind of publication, the city directory, listed standardized addresses for residences and businesses alike. Both innovations transformed how early Americans, both locals and visitors, thought about navigating city streets.

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