March 14

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Essex Gazette (March 14, 1769).

“CHOICE green Coffee … also blue and white China Cups and Saucers.”

This advertisement features a series of goods sold by William Vans. His merchandise included green coffee, ground ginger, rum, indigo, and china cups and saucers, all imported from faraway places around the globe. I focused on two of these goods that were extremely popular among the colonists and played an important role in colonial life.

Coffee and tea were both introduced in Europe in the early seventeenth century and became increasingly popular in the colonies in the eighteenth century. When coffee and tea became common drinks, colonists desired something other than normal cups to drink them. According to Beth Carver Wees at the Metropolitan Museum, the colonists decided to buy ceramic and silver vessels. Vans sold imported “blue and white China Cups and Saucers” along with his coffee and tea. In addition, this created business for silversmiths and was viewed as a sign as someone’s wealth if they owned a lot of accessories for drinking coffee and tea. Some of these included covered sugar bowls, cream pots, teakettles, and hot-water urns. People often bought them for the intricate design or for the shiny complexion. The establishment of coffee shops helped colonists pass along information and news, making it a lot easier to gather support when the colonies rebelled against Britain.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

William Vans was not the only purveyor of “blue and white China Cups and Saucers” to advertise in the March 14, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Among the vast inventory of goods in stock at his shop, Francis Grant listed “an Assortment of China, Glass, Stone and Delph Ware.” Susanna Renken concluded her advertisement for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds” that named dozens of varieties with a brief note about “a Box of China Ware to sell” at her shop in Boston. Of the nine paid notices that appeared in that issue, one concerned real estate, one outlined legal proceedings to settle an estate, and the remaining seven promoted goods to consumers or commodities to traders. A substantial proportion of advertisers named china among their wares. Colonial retailers both served a market that demanded “China Ware” and sought to incite greater demand for such products.

As Luke suggests in his analysis of Vans’s advertisement, this was possible because both retailers and consumers recognized how certain goods complemented others. Rather than specializing solely in spices and beverages, Vans also sold china cups and saucers for drinking his “CHOICE green Coffee” and “Most excellent Bohea Tea.” Grant hawked “Loaf and Brown Sugar” along with his “Assortment of China.” Consumers did not purchase just tea or just china or just sugar. Instead, they acquired these items simultaneously. Many likely also purchased other accessories to incorporate into their coffee and tea drinking rituals from among the “all Sorts of European Goods” peddled by Vans and the “general Assortment of English and West-India GOODS” advertised by Grant. In other advertisements, Renken offered all sorts of textiles, some of which could have been used to make cloths to adorn the tables where customers drank tea or coffee sweetened with sugar and served in china. The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century occurred not only because of a proliferation in the availability of goods but also because the acquisition of one item often required obtaining other items in order to enhance the experience of consuming any of them. Advertisements in early American newspapers provide a map of the consumption habits of many colonial readers.

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