GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“LOST … A Stone Sleeve Button with a red Cypher set in Gold.”
On April 20, 1769, the Postscript to the Boston Weekly News-Letter contained this advertisement for a lost “Stone Sleeve Button with a red Cypher set in Gold, and with a gold Chain.” I was interested in this piece of jewelry. According to Thomas Hamilton Ormsbee, “Although carelessness, loss by theft, and general wear and tear have taken a heavy toll on colonial jewelry so that comparatively small amount is still extant, portraits of well-to-do citizens and their families from Puritan-founded New England to South Carolina and newspaper advertisements of colonial goldsmiths show that jewelry of all sorts was in high favor. In fact, it was a natural accessory to the elaborate satin and brocaded costumes affected by both men and women of substance and social standing.” Who made the jewelry that colonists owned? “Some of this jewelry was imported; much was made by the various gold and silversmiths of the colonies.”
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
For the purposes of this project, Matt selected an especially interesting source to support his analysis of today’s featured advertisement. In a “Flashback” article published online in March 2009, Collectors Weekly republished Thomas Hamilton Ormsbee’s two-part series on “Colonial Americans and Their Jewelry” originally published in the March and April 1941 issues of American Collector magazine. As the twenty-first-century editors explain, “This article discusses the various types of fine jewelry that was popular among 18th-century Americans, using advertisements written by jewelers and notices written by Americans who had lost previous pieces as examples.” The advertisements for the lost “Stone Sleeve Button with a red Cypher set in Gold, and with a gold Chain” falls in the latter category. Matt selected an article that demonstrates how multiple advertisements can provide a revealing overview of the history of a particular product in early America when considered collectively.
That article also references other sorts of advertisements from eighteenth-century newspapers. Ormsbee declares that items created and sold by jewelers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths were “evidently as tempting to the ‘have-nots’ of that time as [they are] today, for news items about robberies were fairly numerous.” He then tells the story of a Boston goldsmith who inserted an advertisement in the March 21, 1765, edition of the Boston News-Letter to list the jewelry stolen from his shop and offer a reward. The Boston-Gazette later reported that the thief had been caught and punished with “40 stripes at the public Whipping Post,” but did not indicate whether the goldsmith recovered his merchandise. Although the anonymous colonist who placed today’s featured advertisement described the jewelry as “LOST” rather than stolen, he or she did worry that anyone who found it might attempt to sell it rather than return it to its rightful owner. “If offer’d to Sale,” the advertiser pleaded, “it is desired it may be stop’d.” In other words, confiscate the jewelry and inform the printer to contact the advertiser that the lost jewelry had been recovered.
Ormsbee’s two-part series about eighteenth-century advertisements for jewelry is a lively read that includes images of both jewelry and portraits of colonists wearing their precious possessions. Alas, the article does not include images of the advertisements, privileging images of material culture over the print culture that provides important context for understanding the significance of jewelry in colonial American commerce and culture.