March 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (March 30, 1767).

“Coarse & fine Broad Cloths, Bearskins, … German Serges, … Shalloons, … Checks, … Paper for Rooms.”

Elias Dupee planned to sell a variety of goods to the highest bidders at the “New Auction Room in Royal Exchange Lane” in Boston. A dozen or so different kinds of textiles accounted for half of the items he listed in his advertisement, but he also had everything from footwear to furniture on offer for curious consumers, including “Paper for Rooms.” What did Dupee mean by this strange entry? He promoted an item that we now know as wallpaper.

Imported “Paper for Rooms” (or paper hangings, as they were also known in the colonial and Revolutionary eras) entered the American marketplace in the seventeenth century, but wallpaper became increasingly popular during the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. In many ways it was quite appropriate for Dupee to sell “Paper for Rooms” alongside an assortment of textiles, especially given that the production of textiles and wallpaper were closely linked. In Wallpaper in America, Catherine Lynn states, “By the early eighteenth century, specialists in block-printing, many of whom had learned their craft decorating textiles, took over wallpaper production from book printers, and textile patterning came to dominate wallpaper design.”[1] An emerging wallpaper trade drew on the expertise of textile designers who had mastered techniques for repeating elements in their patterns. Further facilitating this development, “the same blocks could be used to print on papers as well as on woven fabrics.”[2]

Like the textiles in Dupee’s advertisements, the “Papers for Rooms” would have been imported. Lynn notes that “English styles … dominated the pre-revolutionary wallpaper market in America.”[3] Although the Acts of Trade and Navigation played a role, they probably were not the final or most important factor. English paper hangings were better quality than those produced elsewhere in Europe. Not until the late eighteenth century did French wallpaper equal those produced in England. In the 1780s and 1790s, American advertisers disputed the relative merits of English and French paper hangings compared to those produced in the fledgling United States. For Dupee’s customers in 1767, however, fashion and quality dictated purchasing “Papers for Rooms” produced in England.

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[1] Catherine Lynn, Wallpaper in America: From the Seventeenth Century to World War I (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), 30.

[2] Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 30.

[3] Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 25

October 16

GUEST CURATOR: Lindsay Hajjar

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

oct-16-10161766-boston-news-letter
Boston News-Letter (October 16, 1766).

In Union-Street, opposite to Mr. James Jackson’s; BOHEA Tea by the Chest.”

This advertisement was directed at consumers in the Boston area who not only knew their way around (including how to get to Union Street), but also who James Jackson was. Joseph Dennie pinpointed a very specific location and called upon readers to purchase distinct goods. The fact that the seller uses “Mr. James Jackson’s” as a landmark could mean that the seller did not have a shop sign of his own. The seller knew that the people of Boston were interested in the goods he had and that if he used a commonly known place such as “opposite to Mr. James Jackson’s” he would be able to turn over the most profit.

T.H Breen says how important it was for the colonist to stay connected to England for trade purposes because they wanted to feel as if they had never left England while at the same time having left. Being Anglicized, or making themselves feel English, was important for a lot of colonists because even though they were living in the New World the Old World connections gave them a sense of identity. Joseph Dennie knew that the good he was selling would be in high demand because they were valued throughout the British Empire.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Lindsay chose an advertisement that appears relatively plain at first glance, but it reveals quite a bit about how colonists navigated Boston and how they conjured imaginative maps of themselves as consumers.

In an era before American cities adopted standardized street numbers (an innovation ushered in shortly after the Revolution), urban residents and visitors used landmarks to give directions and find their way around. Some advertisers indicated that their shops were located on a certain street and specified the number of “doors” from the nearest intersection. Others, as Lindsay indicates, had their own shop signs. Dozens of shop signs crowded the streets of Boston in the eighteenth century. We know of most of them not because they survived but rather because they were included in advertisements from the period. Not every shopkeeper had his or her own sign, but some advertisers indicated their proximity to shop signs that would have been familiar to potential customers. Joseph Dennie used a similar method, but chose an individual, James Jackson, rather than a shop sign to orient his prospective clients.

Dennie’s short advertisement also mapped global networks of global commerce and identity. Lindsay notes that customers would have enjoyed the grocery items Dennie sold because they were also popular in England, but that tells only part of the story. The “BOHEA Tea by the Chest” came from China. Nutmegs, mace, and cloves came from the Spice Islands in the East Indies (modern Indonesia). Cinnamon came from Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka).

Many colonists were anxious about their status as Britons. They did, after all, live in faraway outposts of the empire. Importing, purchasing, and consuming exotic grocery items from distant lands helped to confirm their identity as they participated in the same rituals of consumption as their counterparts in London and throughout England.

October 9

GUEST CURATOR: Jordan Russo

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

oct-9-1091766-boston-news-letter
Massachusetts Gazette (October 9, 1766).

“A large and general Assortment of silver and other Ribbons, Necklaces, Earings and Pendants.”

This advertisement caught my eye because Jolley Allen ran a store in Boston. I live nearby in Medway, Massachusetts. Allen probably thought the items he sold would be bought mostly by women. His advertisement lists many items that women would want to look more fashionable, including “silver and other Ribbons, Necklaces, Earings and Pendants.” As Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, explains, “Like us, eighteenth-century people needed clothing for warmth and comfort, but they quickly abandoned those needs if fashion or the occasion dictated.”

Another reason Allen directed his advertisement towards women was because “the exercise of choice in the marketplace may have been a liberating experience” for women.[1] The choice of where to shop and what to purchase allowed women to bring business where they wanted. Jolley Allen probably knew this was the case and listed so many items to attract women to his store.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

This advertisement may look familiar to readers who visit the Adverts 250 Project regularly. Guest curator Nicholas Commesso selected an advertisement by Jolley Allen to feature and analyze on September 29, less than two weeks ago. Doesn’t this advertisement deviate from the methodology established for the project, a commitment to feature a new advertisement every day? Why did I allow Jordan to choose this advertisement instead of sending her back to the Massachusetts Gazette or either of the other two newspapers printed in colonial America on October 9, 1766?

I could justify that decision by noting that Allen’s extensive advertisement merits attention more than once. It possessed features commonly found across advertisements during the colonial period, such as the implicit emphasis on female consumers that Jordan examined today. Allen also incorporated a variety of distinctive features into his advertisement, such as the money-back guarantee that Nick examined or the unique decorative border that was the focus of my analysis. This single advertisement included a multitude of significant aspects that tell us about colonial culture and commerce and the development of marketing techniques in eighteenth-century America. Considering how much was “going on” in Allen’s advertisement, no short analysis by a guest curator (nor my own slightly extended additional commentary) could do this advertisement justice.

Still, that was not the deciding factor when Jordan submitted this advertisement for my consideration and I approved it and told her to move forward with research and writing. After all, I did not know at that time that she would take a different approach than Nick did in his analysis. Although this advertisement looks familiar, it is actually a different advertisement than the one Nick examined on September 29. The copy was almost identical, though today’s version added an additional sentence after the nota bene. In addition, careful analysis reveals that the type was set differently, both for the body of the advertisement and the decorative border, which should come as no surprise considering that today’s advertisement was printed in the Boston News-Letter, but Allen’s advertisement featured on September 29 came from the Boston Evening-Post. While this might seem like a technicality (after all, Allen composed only one advertisement but submitted it to multiple newspapers), that the “same” advertisement appeared in more than one publication tells us something interesting about colonial entrepreneurs attempting to maximize exposure for their advertisements, as guest curator Elizabeth Curley demonstrated with John Taylor’s advertisements last week.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 489.

 

February 27

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Feb 27 - 2:27:1766 Boston News-Letter
Boston News-Letter (February 27, 1766).

“WHITE Lead, red Lead, Spanish Brown, Verdigrease, Prussian Blue.”

Paint itself was not sold as we have it now; separate parts had to be purchased and were mixed right before they were needed. The entire job needed to be completed as soon as possible because the mixed ingredients would harden if left for the next day.

The white and red lead advertised here were not often used as paint by themselves but as an additive to other paints in order to change and fortify the mix. For someone who had paints and wanted to change slightly the color he or she would add this red or white lead.

According to Robert Foley, “Spanish Brown” on the other hand was one of the cheapest and therefore most common paint in the colonies. In England and the colonies, this paint was derived from grinding up dirt with the presence of iron oxide and adding linseed and turpentine. This inexact science produced a multitude of brownish colors that was determined by other elements present in the dirt and the amount used. This paint was used mainly as the “first coat” and primarily on houses, barns, and outbuildings.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

William Gooch used the Sign of Admiral Vernon to identify his shop on King Street in Boston. Given that he sold paints and painting supplies, I wonder how colorful the Sign of Admiral Vernon might have been. After all, a well-painted sign would have testified to the quality of Gooch’s wares.

Feb 27 - 10:17:1743 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (October 17, 1743).

The sign was certainly a landmark. As early as 1743 Joseph Sherburne stated that his new shop was located “opposite to the Sign of Admiral Vernon.” In 1750, James Gooch & Son (presumably William) listed their location as “at the Sign of Admiral Vernon, at the Lower End of King-Street, Boston” in an advertisement for imported groceries, spices, tea, coffee, and tableware. William Gooch operated his business out of the same shop as his father, but the merchandise changed significantly.

Feb 27 - 12:17:1750 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (December 17, 1750).

The Sign of Admiral Vernon was fitting in a port city like Boston. It was named for Edward Vernon (1684-1757), who served in the Royal Navy for forty-six years. Although famous during his own lifetime, most people today are probably much more familiar with two of his namesakes.

Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, was named for Admiral Vernon. Washington’s elder half-brother, Lawrence, had served under Vernon. He named the plantation, which passed to his widow upon his death. It was not until her death that George Washington became proprietor of Mount Vernon, though he had previously lived at and managed the estate.

Grog, another name for rum diluted with water and lemon or lime juice, derives from Admiral Vernon’s nickname. In 1740, Vernon devised a means of keeping water fresher and staving off scurvy aboard Royal Navy vessels. Having earned a reputation for wearing coats made of grogram cloth, he became known as Old Grog and the rum ration, over time, simply became grog.